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Hot Topics: Highway User Revenue | Justice Reforms | County Budgets | Education | Land Use | Transportation

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2016 MACo Summer Conference: August 17-20, 2016 | Ocean City, MD
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#MACoCon | Conduit Street Coverage

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Largest DOT Loan Ever Funds MD Amtrak Service

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT)’s Build America Bureau is loaning Amtrak $2.45 billion to improve service along the Northeast Corridor – the largest single loan DOT has ever made. The loan comes through DOT’s Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) Program.

Vice President Joe Biden’s office reports that Amtrak will use the loan to:

  • Add approximately 40% more seats on Acela service along the Northeast Corridor, which connects Washington, D.C. through Maryland to Boston;
  • Increase Acela service frequency along the Corridor;
  • Provide track upgrades between the New Carrolton and Baltimore stations; and
  • Improve stations and platforms at four stations, including Washington Union Station and Baltimore Penn Station.

Vice President Biden stated,

This loan is a key step to providing investments needed to help keep high speed trains moving throughout the region, and to help all commuters in the Northeast Corridor. We need these kinds of investments to keep this region – and our whole country – moving, and to create new jobs.

DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx said,

There’s no better way to say ‘we’re open for business’ than closing the largest loan in DOT history.  America needs to go big on infrastructure, and we’re not just talking the talk.  The Build America Bureau has put the pieces in place to get big, transformative projects done, and this is just the first big marker.

Vice President Biden’s office provides more information in its press release.

Van Hollen Drives Home Prioritizing I-81 Improvements

In an interview with Herald-Mail Media yesterday, U.S. Representative Chris Van Hollen highlighted the importance of prioritizing improvements to Interstate 81, stating,

“It’s an issue of critical importance to the state and certainly to Washington County; it needs to be a priority. I think the people who live here know that this has been a priority for a long time.”

Herald-Mail Media reports that:

Van Hollen noted that U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., the Republican chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, had said widening I-81 through Maryland was a good candidate for federal FASTLANE funding.

Van Hollen and U.S. Rep. John Delaney, D-Md., recently criticized Gov. Larry Hogan for not applying for a FASTLANE grant this year. But Hogan’s office noted that the project wasn’t eligible because design work is incomplete.

“When John Delaney and I pushed this as a FASTLANE project, that was not a partisan issue,” Van Hollen said. “That was something that Bill Shuster had identified as something that should be front and center, and I will say I was a little surprised to learn that it was not in a place in the state of Maryland where it was ready to go.”

Widening I-81 is part of an overarching economic development strategy to improve Western Maryland’s ability to compete with neighboring states for business, Van Hollen stated.

Looming Federal Tax Reform Creates Uncertainty for Counties

It remains unclear how municipal bonds would be treated in the legislative version of the House plan. 

US House of Representative’s Speaker Paul Ryan released a blueprint of tax reform this summer, with plans for legislation in the coming year. As described by Reuters,

Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives said on Friday [June 24] they would advance legislation next year to chop individual and corporate U.S. tax rates.

The blueprint released this summer did not include legislative text, leaving specifics on several topics affecting county governments, including the tax exemption on municipal bonds, difficult to determine.

As the House Ways and Means Committee and House leadership continue to look at comprehensive tax reform, MACo and county associations across the country advocate for protection of the municipal bond tax exemption.

In the fall of 2015, MACo reached out to the Maryland Congressional Delegation on the topic of municipal bonds. MACo’s letter stated,

Tax-exempt municipal bonds are the most important tool in the United States for financing state and local infrastructure. Municipal bond financing supports schools, hospitals, water, sewer facilities, public power utilities, roads and mass transit. From 2003-2012, Maryland state and local governments used $19.2 billion in municipal bonds for infrastructure investment. . . As you represent Maryland in the federal fiscal debates, we ask that you join with MACo . . . and help defend the tax-exempt status of municipal bonds.

Read MACo’s full letter here.

For more information, see our previous posts, MACo Asks Maryland’s Congressional Delegation to Protect Municipal Bonds and MACo, State Treasurers Ask Congress to Protect Municipal Bonds.

 

Commission Entrenched In Modernizing Procurement

The Commission to Modernize State Procurement met on Thursday, August 25 at 3 pm, where commissioners reported out on the Initiatives, Efficiencies and Workforce workgroups’ recommendations responding to the duties listed in Governor Larry Hogan’s Executive Order forming the Commission.

Regarding Duty (C)(1)(h), “expansion of the Small Business Reserve [(SBR)] Program to all agencies,” Special Secretary of Minority Affairs Jimmy Rhee reported recommendations by the Commission’s Initiatives Workgroup to increase the SBR goal from 10 to 15 percent, require a mandatory SBR set-aside, and brand the SBR Program as a premier diversity contracting program.

Regarding Duty (C)(1)(m) to simplify the Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) certification process, Rhee reported workgroup suggestions to improve applicants’ access to information by improving electronic communications, eliminate a requirement for applicants to release business ownership details in a public forum, and provide applicants with advanced notice of questions to be asked by the MBE Advisory Committee (MBEAC) during the evaluation process.

Regarding Duty (C)(1)(o) to establish “standards allowing the State to obtain the overall best value instead of only the lowest price,” commissioners discussed implementing additional measures in the bid evaluation process other than lowest cost, and providing procurement officers with greater discretion to determine the best procurement method on a solicitation-by-solicitation basis.

David Brinkley, Secretary, Maryland Department of Budget & Management reported that the Workforce Workgroup had met twice since the Commission’s previous meeting, and is refining its recommendations, particularly on Duty (C)(1)(d), “development of a statewide procurement training curriculum centered around a statewide procurement manual that prepares agency procurement staff to perform the procurement function at all levels of purchasing.” However, the workgroup required more information about whether the Commission would recommend centralizing procurement functions across the State to supply sufficient recommendations on this latter topic. He suggested that his workgroup favored centralization over the status quo.

In line with Duty (C)(1)(j), “simplification of the current Request for Proposal (RFP) template to make it easier for businesses to understand and respond,” the Efficiencies Workgroup is refining the State’s standardized RFP language,  and reducing the terms and conditions in line with Duty (C)(1)(l), “review the mandatory terms and conditions of procurement contracts.” The workgroup evaluated Duty (C)(1)(k), “reduction in the number of documents businesses are required to submit with proposals prior to a contract award,” but thus far has only identified two documents it could recommend eliminating. However, some reports and documents could be automated to improve efficiencies, it was reported to the Commission.

The workgroup is also evaluating existing law to see whether it accommodates existing and proposed information technology procurement, and taking a deep look into A&E processes, which were described as “broken, but not as broken as the universities’.” The workgroup’s technology subgroup is benchmarking existing state procurement programming, which was described as highly functional, but cumbersome and unintuitive. The workgroup will likely recommend that the Administration commission a more comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of existing and potential State procurement programs.

Finally, it was reported that the Efficiencies Workgroup looked into Duty (C)(1)(p), “development of a mechanism that would deter bidders from submitting frivolous protests,” and had concluded that evidence from other states did not indicate that requiring protests bonds deterred unwanted behavior significantly.

Public comment was delivered by Dr. Andrew Ross of the Children’s Guild, who requested that the Commission give attention to improving value-based (rather than cost-based) procurement of human services, and Scott Livingston, Esquire of Rifkin Weiner Livingston LLC. Livingston provided a number of recommendations, such as favoring competitive negotiations over two-step bidding, evaluating suitability and legal basis for utilizing bridge contracts in between awards, improving the speed with which agencies deliver procurement records in cases of appeal, and evaluating the appropriateness of the 30-day limitation for construction contractors to make a claim when the State requests changes in work. He also recommended that the State fund attorneys’ fees when a protester wins an appeal due to State illegal action, which engaged Commission Chair Lt. Governor Boyd Rutherford in a back-and-forth and gave attendees, including Livingston, the opportunity to appreciate the Lt. Governor’s extensive background in government procurement.

Green purchasing and veteran-owned business initiatives are among topics to be discussed at the Commission’s next meeting on Tuesday, September 20.

Minutes from previous meetings are available on the Commission’s website.

Questions, comments, or concerns about the Commission may be sent to Commission staff at procurement.modernization@maryland.gov.

 

 

MACo Weekly News and Notes…from Twitter

The social media site Twitter has become a fast-moving setting for news, information, and advocacy on public affairs. We welcome followers of MACo’s own twitter feed for updates from the Conduit Street blog and other MACo hot topics, and often use Twitter to reach our own audience, and to hear from others following the same issues as county leaders.

Here are some tweets that caught our eye this week:

 

For more news and information:

Follow MACo
Follow Executive Director Michael Sanderson
Follow NACo
See Tweets on #mdpolitics

Worth A Thousand Words…2016 #MACoCon in Pictures

MACo’s Summer Conference – “Cyber Solutions: Counties in the Digital Age” – on August 17-20, 2016 focused on the technological advances and challenges affecting local governance. More than 1,100 attendees and 225 exhibiting companies participated, engaging in educational sessions, briefings, and forums. The full conference schedule and program of events can be viewed online.

Save the date for MACo’s next Summer Conference: August 16-19, 2017 at the Roland Powell Convention Center in Ocean City, MD.

Photography was sponsored and provided by Grant L. Gursky Photography

 

Tougher Methane Standards Considered by Climate Change Commission, MDE

At its 2016-08-22 meeting, the Mitigation Working Group of the Maryland Commission on Climate Change (MCCC) began discussions on how to address methane emissions as part of the MCCC’s larger efforts to reduce Maryland’s greenhouse gas emission by 40% of their 2006 levels by 2030. The State is on track to meet a previously set reduction goal of 25% by 2020.

A prior version of the MCCC was created through Executive Order by former Governor Martin O’Malley in 2007 and modified in 2014. The new MCCC was created by statute (SB 258 of 2015) and was only slightly changed from the 2014 version. MACo successfully requested that a county representative be added to the MCCC during the discussions of SB 258 and Prince George’s County Council Member Deni Taveras is MACo’s representative on the MCCC.

The Working Group considered a three-pronged proposal from MDE to address methane emissions:

  • Address in-state methane emissions from existing facilities, including landfills, compressor stations, and wastewater treatment plants
  • Address out-of-state methane emissions from states that are “upstream” of Maryland (because of its location, a significant portion of Maryland’s air pollution issues comes from other states)
  • Address potential methane leakage from natural gas hydraulic fracturing (commonly known as “fracking”) if it happens in Maryland

MDE representatives stated that they have already begun work on updated regulations to minimize methane emissions from in-state facilities. MACo Legal and Policy Counsel Les Knapp is a member of the Mitigation Working Group. Knapp cautioned that county governments need to be central participants in the methane regulations, urged MDE and the State to continue its efforts to address out-of-state methane sources, and requested that affected counties be part of the hydraulic fracturing debate. MDE stated it will hold stakeholder meetings, including with the counties, on the potential methane regulations soon.

In addition to methane leakage, the Working Group is also looking at: (1) electric and other zero emission vehicle initiatives; and (2) enhanced economic analysis/social equity issues for certain types of development projects. The Working Group plans to finalize its methane emission recommendations by October 24 and its other recommendations by November 28.

Useful Links

MCCC Webpage

MDE Greenhouse Gas Update to Mitigation Working Group

Conduit Street Overview of New MCCC

Fun Fact: Did You Know that Johns Hopkins Hospital Was Built On An Old Insane Asylum?

Question: Did You Know that Johns Hopkins Hospital Was Built On An Old Insane Asylum?

It’s true! Johns Hopkins is one of the most important parts of Baltimore, as well as being one of the top universities in the nation. In the late 19th century wealthy philanthropist and banker Johns Hopkins was looking for a place to found his hospital and medical school. Originally, he was considering building the campus on his massive Clifton estate. However, Hopkins was a man who was always out for a bargain, and an abandoned mental hospital ended up being quite a bargain indeed. With a price that was right, Hopkins made the deal and also made Baltimore history by founding what is arguably the most important institution in Maryland.

Source: CBS Baltimore

Do you have a fun fact to share about your county? If so, please send it to Kaley Schultze to be featured in MACo’s weekly Fun Fact on Conduit Street.

Compare Maryland School Districts’ Internet Costs, Services, Providers

Education SuperHighway has collected data on US school districts internet spending and collated it to allow for comparison of service and costs between districts.

Screenshot 2016-08-26 09.31.26
Education SuperHighway’s report includes cost and bandwidth analysis of internet service in Maryland schools.

EducationSuperHighway is a non-profit focused on upgrading the Internet access in every public school classroom in America so that students may take advantage of digital learning. The organization is working with the National Governor’s Association and promoting cost-saving solutions, including use of federal grant programs, to improve internet access in schools.

The Compare and Connect Report from Education SuperHighway includes information from each of Maryland’s 24 school districts. In several districts, the State, the County, or network Maryland are listed among internet service providers. Education SuperHighway recently met with MACo staff about additional opportunities for school districts to partner with counties on internet services.

For most of the districts, Education SuperHighway has collected:

  • Internet Access $/megabits per second
  • Internet Access Total Bandwidth
  • Internet Access Per Student
  • Services providers
  • Monthly costs
  • Total cost per student

To see this data, register for free at Education SuperHighway.

Schools for the Future and How to Build Them

The State’s 21st Century School Commission heard expert testimony this week on innovative school designs and the costs of school construction.

Presentations included:

  • Classrooms of the Future from Victoria Bergsagel, Architects of Achievement and Mary Filardo, 21st Century School Fund
  • The Cost of School Construction
    • Comparison of Conventional School Facilities and the Monarch Global Academy and a School Facility Cost Containment Study from Alex Szachnowicz, P.E., Chief Operating Officer, Anne Arundel County Public Schools and David Lever, former Executive Director of the IAC
    • Case Study Analysis of Alternative Approaches to School Construction from Gary McGuigan, Maryland Stadium Authority and Jay Brinson, City School Partners o Will Mangrum, City School Partners

Bergsagel’s presentation was delivered via Skype from the West Coast. She featured several examples of innovative school design throughout the world that enhance students’ learning experiences by:

  • creating connections between the school’s location (genus loci),
  • bringing children into nature as part of the curriculum,
  • modular designs that allow for different interactions between students and teachers,
  • creative designs that create a joyful learning setting,
  • tech-focused learning that takes advantage of local industries.

Filardo spoke about the potential for use of school spaces for a variety of needs in the community, especially as the country’s population ages. She described the possibilities for schools to host:

  • daycare
  • job training
  • meals and exercise for older adults

To better pursue multi-use schools in this way, Filardo advised improving the ability to make intergovernmental agreements and to reconsider the design of schools with these potential uses in mind.

Szachnowicz described how Anne Arundel County had used public-private partnerships to meet increasing enrollments in two areas of the county. Through partnership with Greenberg Gibbons Commercial Corp., the school system added a 12-room addition to Meade High School to accommodate and influx of students from BRAC. In another part of the county, the school system contracted with The Children’s Guild to build and operate a school for a fifteen year term for K-7th grade students.

For more information about each presentation at the Commission, watch the video of the meeting and review the meetings material’s.

The next meeting of the 21st Century School Facilities Commission will be held on September 15, 2016. The subject of the meeting will be “Needs of Facilities to Meet Needs of Students.”