Maryland and Virginia Officials Pledge Action on Overdose Deaths

As the number of overdose deaths continue to escalate, so does the urgency to take action. While there is no one simple approach, leaders in Maryland and Virginia continue to make reducing the use of heroin and its associated deaths a priority. As reported in the Washington Post:

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has declared reducing heroin use a priority and put his lieutenant governor in charge of finding solutions. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) introduced a package of heroin-related bills in the past week that would, among other provisions, increase criminal penalties for drug dealers who supply lethal doses and reduce penalties for drug users who seek help for friends who have overdosed.

The governors’ actions reflect mounting concern among public officials up and down the East Coast about the escalation in overdoses, which some say has become a public health epidemic. Despite a sense of urgency to pass legislation, however, experts say there is no simple or inexpensive cure for heroin addiction — and there are differing views on which approach to try first.

“This is one of those things no one likes to talk about, but it’s gone too far,” said Cecil County Executive Tari Moore (R), who pushed to make heroin one of the top four legislative priorities of the Maryland Association of Counties. “We can’t hide from it anymore. . . . We have to own it. We have to do something.”

“It’s impacting every aspect of our society,” Hogan said last month. “It’s going to continue to get worse unless we get a handle on it.”

Hogan has pledged to find more funding for treatment and to convene a summit of experts and activists to advise him. His spokeswoman said Friday that he and Lt. Gov. Boyd K. Rutherford (R), who will lead the effort, plan an announcement with state leaders “very soon.”

For more information read the full article in the Washington Post.

Counties Lament Lack of Roadway Dollars

As county officials reviewed Governor Hogan’s proposed fiscal 2016 budget, many were disappointed to find that additional funding was not provided for local roads and bridges. Local transportation funding restoration is MACo’s top legislative priority for the 2015 session.

As reported by the Baltimore Sun,

Hogan’s transportation budget brought disappointing news for local government officials.

While campaigning last year, Hogan had promised the Maryland Association of Counties and the Maryland Municipal League that he would restore hundreds of millions of dollars in “highway user revenues” that O’Malley diverted from transportation to plug holes in his recession-era budgets.

“We were definitely disappointed. We were hoping and anticipating to see some additional highway money in there for local government,” said Andrea Mansfield, legislative director for the counties.

Mansfield said the loss of the grants means that counties will struggle to maintain vital infrastructure, but she said county officials would understand Hogan’s decision.

“They are grown-ups and they understand budget realities,” she said.

There is hope that this issue will be revisited later in the session.

Administration officials said restoration of the highway money remains a priority for Hogan, and they hope an improved March revenue estimate provides money the governor can use for that.

For decades, local roadways were funded as one of the modes of transportation receiving 30% of Highway User Revenues (motor fuel tax and vehicle registration fees). The local share was slashed during the recession-driven budgets, and the former $555 million has been drastically cut back to $167 million – with a mere $26 million to be shared among 23 county governments (that figure used to be $282 million). The cumulative loss of local roadway investment is approximately $2.1 billion.

Fiscal 2016 County Budget Outlook

As previously reported on Conduit Street, Governor Larry Hogan unveiled his first proposed budget last week aimed to resolve the FY 2015 and FY 2016 shortfalls and address the state’s structural budget deficit. The General Fund budget increases by 2.4% (or 0.5% after certain exclusions) and the largest spending reductions are to medical providers, employee compensation, school funding, and unspecified agency reductions.

The table below summarizes the Governor’s Proposed Fiscal 2016 county budget actions. Additional county-by-county details can be found in the “Supporting Local Government” section of the Budget Highlights book.

Operating Budget – Direct Aid
Education Aid Reduces funding for education by $76 million – freezes the per pupil amount at the FY 2015 level of $6,860 and delays the implementation of the phased-in change for the calculation of wealth in the education formula by one year.Geographic Cost of Education Index is cut in half – approximately $68 million
Community Colleges Reduces funding by $13 million by modifying the community college aid formula
Libraries Extends the time for phasing-in the increase in the per-resident amount from 5 to 10 years; Per-resident amount increases from $14.00 to $14.27 instead of $15.00 in FY 2016
Transportation No additional funding is provided for local transportation; FY 2015 grants for potholes ($10m to counties) and municipal roadways ($16m statewide) were discontinued
Local Health Departments Funding is being reduced to the FY 2014 level of $41.7 million for FY 2015 and FY 2016
Police Aid Funding is being reduced to the FY 2014 level of $67.3 million for FY 2015 and 2016
Disparity Grant Funding is being reduced and capped at the FY 2014 level of $127.7 million
Program Open Space Deletes a statutorily scheduled $50m repayment of Program Open Space funds diverted in past years, and redirecting some funding from the state transfer tax to the general fund, instead of POS and related programs statutorily receiving those funds
Park Lands – Payment in Lieu of Taxes Eliminates payments to counties from State Park revenues for FY 2015 and 2016
Video lottery terminal local impact grants Maintains $7.85 million (FY 2015 – $4,073,964 and FY 2016 – $3,887,697) that would otherwise be allocated as local impact grants within the Education Trust Fund

Operating Budget – Other Actions

Local Income Tax Reserve Fund Transfers $100 million from the local income tax reserve fund to the General Fund requiring the State to repay the transfer
Freeze on Mandatory Spending Freezes the education aid foundation grant in fiscal 2016 and caps growth at 1% from fiscal 2017 to 2020.

Caps funding increases for statutorily mandated programs beginning in FY 2017 to the lessor of formula growth or general fund revenue growth less 1%

Capital Budget

School Construction Public school construction totals $260.7 million in bonded projects, plus $30 million in pay-as-you-go projects
State’s Public Safety Radio System $30 million in bonds for improvements in the State’s public radio system

New Baltimore City Law to Tackle Abandoned Houses

A new Baltimore City law will allow officials to take an earlier and more aggressive approach to handling abandoned houses. As reported in the Baltimore Sun:

A law set to take effect next month will allow Baltimore officials to take over an abandoned home earlier than currently allowed, when an empty property begins to show signs of neglect but before it has a chance to fall into the level of disrepair that risks dragging down the entire neighborhood.

The law, sponsored by Henry, approved by the City Council and signed last week by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, is the city’s latest tool against the 16,000 vacant properties that blight the landscape — leftovers from an era when the population was nearly twice as large, and magnets for the crime that for many defines Baltimore. Many believe that the city cannot move ahead until it solves the problem; Rawlings-Blake has made it a policy priority.

The article notes that under the new law the circumstances in which the city can force the sale of an abandoned house have been expanded and the city can begin running the clock for the process after receiving the first 311 hotline complaint. Additionally, the city can petition the district court to force a sale after the property owner ignores repeated notices to keep up the home.

For more information read the full article in the Baltimore Sun.

The Actual State Share of School Construction Costs

Each county in Maryland contributes towards school construction costs for Maryland’s K-12 school system.  The total contribution of all counties statewide is significant. While the State has fulfilled its aim of investing $250M per year since 2004, and Governor Hogan has proposed to continue a high level of school construction funding, counties allocated $981M for capital projects in K-12 education in FY 2014 alone.

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Belle Grove Elementary School, Anne Arundel County. Image courtesy of Anne Arundel County Public Schools Belle Grove Elementary School, Anne Arundel County. Image courtesy of Anne Arundel County Public Schools

The portion of building expenses that the State pays is based on the relative wealth of a county, providing more assistance to counties who are poor, according to a certain formula. Even in these counties, however, the State only contributes funding towards eligible costs, such as building and site development, renovation and limited renovation, leaving the counties to absorb all of the rest.

All counties, no matter how poor according to the State’s index, pay 100% of the following expenditures:

  • Site acquisition; leasing or purchasing school facilities;
  • Relocation and temporary storage costs;
  • Architecture, engineering, and construction inspection services; including master plans, feasibility studies, programs, educational specifications, or equipment specifications;
  • Renovation projects to replace, upgrade, or renovate building systems that have been replaced, upgraded, or renovated within 15 years;
  • Construction of administrative or support facilities, including administrative offices, warehousing, resource, printing, vehicle storage, and maintenance facilities; and ancillary construction costs such as: (1) Permits; (2) Test borings; (3) Soil analysis; (4) Bid advertising; (5) Water and sewer connection charges; (6) Topographical surveys; (7) Models; (8) Renderings; or (9) Cost estimating; and
  • Moveable equipment and furnishings

What this means is that county governments actually pay a much larger share of total school construction costs than the school construction formula implies.  For example, the official wealth-driven State share of a local school project in Wicomico County was 96% for FY 2014.  However, in the construction of the James M. Bennett High School, Wicomico’s most recently completed new school building, the final percentage breakdown on funding provided for the project to date is 52% Wicomico County; 48% State of Maryland and the budget estimates for the completed project anticipate a final funding split of 58% Local and 42% State.

school construction formulaactual school construction costs

In Anne Arundel County, the State share of a local school project has been 50% for several years.  However, in four recent construction and renovation projects, the actual State share of total construction and renovation costs was far lower – between 17% and 26%. For example in the construction of Belle Grove Elementary, the project total was $17 million, and the state contribution was $2.7 million, or 16.6%.  For examples of the state-local share of other projects in Anne Arundel County, see Anne Arundel County’s State Funding of Total Project Cost Anne Arundel 2013.

Here is a cost breakdown of Anne Arundel County’s Belle Grove Elementary renovation project from Anne Arundel County Public Schools:

  • Plans/Engineering & Ancillary Construction Costs $1,832,682.43
  • Construction Costs $13,920,755.02
  • Furniture, Fixtures & Equipment $864,292.68
  • Project Total $16,617,730.13
  • State Participation $2,768,000.00
  • % State Participation of Total Project 16.66%

formula ann anrundelanne arundel actual

Partners for Open Space Defend POS at Appropriations Hearing

PARTNERS for OPEN SPACE

At a January 20 briefing before the House Appropriations Committee on the Chesapeake Bay, representatives from Partners for Open Space defended the importance of Program Open Space (POS) to both the State and local governments.  As part of their testimony, the representatives submitted a handout that summarized the program and made a series of recommendations to ensure future funding. The handout was prepared with input many of the concerned stakeholders, including MACo and county parks and recreation directors.

The handout detailed the history of POS, its recent funding challenges, the accomplishments of the program, and offered a series of recommendations designed to keep the program functioning and sustainable.  From the handout:

A 1969 law created the real estate transfer tax that provides dedicated funding for land preservation. This formula funding is why the state of Maryland has been a national leader in preserving land and providing parks and recreation. Consistent funding levels for Program Open Space are essential to support key new land acquisitions, parks, active recreation facilities and farms. …

Recommendations:

No Diversion – Do not divert dedicated Program Open Space funding to other purposes.  By law the transfer tax is supposed to be dedicated to land conservation, park creation, historic preservation and agricultural preservation and should be used for those purposes.

No Cap – Legislators have proposed a $100 million cap on the program.  This program has tremendous economic and environmental benefits and has significant ongoing need for funding.

 Return to Cash Funding – Bond funding creates unnecessary competition for the state’s limited debt capacity.

Lockbox  – As was done for the Transportation Trust Fund in the 2014 General Assembly session,  “lockbox” legislation should be passed to create a dedicated trust fund to hold annual Program Open Space transfer tax revenue for its dedicated purpose.  We must protect open space  at a similar rate as acres being  developed. This powerful vision will ensure that Maryland, despite its high density of population and ever increasing levels of development, will remain among the most attractive, scenic and desirable states in which to live and work on the Eastern seaboard, and will produce incredible economic advantages for Maryland.

Partners for Open Space Handout

Maryland Board of Public Works – 1/28 Agenda & Summary

Maryland’s Board of Public Works reviews projects, contracts, and expenditure plans for state agencies – many of which have effect on county governments. It meets on alternating Wednesdays at the State House reception room, and its meetings are both open to the public.

The Board’s next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, January 28, 2015. Material for the upcoming meeting is available online:

For “frequently asked questions” about the Board’s charge and meetings, visit the Board’s website.