Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy Kopp joined MACo’s Legislative Committee for its last meeting of the General Assembly Session in Annapolis today.
The Comptroller shared an update on the Taxpayer Protection Act of 2017 and spoke about the need for enforcement capabilities to fight income tax fraud. As described by the Office of the Comptroller,
The proposed legislation will strengthen the ability of the Office of the Comptroller to prevent tax fraud, protect taxpayer information, and hold fraudulent filers and tax preparers accountable.
The Treasurer spoke about efforts to anticipate the impact of changes coming down from Washington, and extended any support that her office might provide. She also touted the merits of Maryland’s College Savings Plans.
For more information about the work of MACo’s Legislative Committee and the 2017 Session, see updates on Conduit Street.
Esri has released the informative “story map,” A Nation Derailed: How America’s transportation infrastructure fell into disrepair—and why we need to fix it, quick. Building upon the recently released Infrastructure Report Card by the American Society of Civil Engineers, as well as popular campaign rhetoric by President Trump, Esri tells the story of America’s needs to invest in roads, bridges, railways, ports, and airports.
From the report:
America’s vast transportation infrastructure is one of the nation’s most impressive modern achievements. This sprawling network of roads, bridges, railways, ports, waterways, and airports stretches from sea to sea, enabling the rapid distribution of people, goods, services, and even ideas throughout the country and beyond. It is the connective tissue that physically unites the nation, and it’s critical for the prosperity of the American economy.
We often consider transportation infrastructure within the context of our personal lives—commuting to work on the Interstate, for example, or flying home for the holidays. But the primary purpose of America’s transportation infrastructure is to facilitate the movement of materials and manufactured products. The U.S. freight system moves roughly 55 million tons of goods—worth just under $50 billion—every single day.
The highlight of the report is the series of visually pleasing interactive maps providing a significant amount of detailed data.
Sorting through the multitude of State budget documents for county information can be overwhelming. Fortunately, MACo does quite a bit of the hard work for you! Viewers can find many relevant budget documents, as well as links directly to county-specific information, on MACo’s website at this link, here. This page is updated throughout the session as new documents become available, and was updated yesterday with all final Conference Committee reports on the operating budget.
The Senate Finance Committee gave a favorable report on an amended version of MACo’s energy facility siting legislation (SB 931) on March 28 while the House Economic Matters Committees passed out a separate bill (HB 1350) with amendments making the bill identical to SB 931. The amendments were the result of a consensus between MACo and numerous other stakeholders, including the Public Service Commission (PSC), the Maryland Municipal League, utility scale solar developers, utilities, agricultural and land conservation groups, and environmental groups. Addressing energy siting concerns was a 2017 MACo Legislative Initiative.
As amended, the bills would:
- require the PSC, as part of its review of an application for a certificate of public convenience and necessity (CPCN) for an energy generating station to give due consideration to: (i) the consistency of the application with the comprehensive plan and zoning of each county or municipal corporation in which any portion of the generation station is proposed to be located; and (ii) the efforts by affected parties to resolve any issues presented by such a county or municipal corporation
- require the PSC to provide notice of any CPCN application to the executive branch of any affected local government in addition to the local governing body, include a copy of the application to the affected local governments with the notice, and offer to provide a copy of the application to state legislators representing the affected local governments
In a separate letter, MACo also reiterated 4 other commitments that were made outside of the bill language:
- The Power Plant Research Program will conduct an informal study on improving notice and communication between the State, local governments, and energy developers.
- MACo, utility scale solar developers, and other interested stakeholders will work together to develop proposed best practices for developers operating in Maryland.
- Senate Finance Chair Thomas “Mac” Middleton will hold interim discussions with interested stakeholders on setting protections regarding energy development on lands subject to a State land preservation or conservation easement or in a Rural Legacy Area.
- MACo will commit to not introduce legislation directly affecting the PSC’s CPCN process for the next several years unless there is a significant change in the energy development landscape or the provisions of SB 931 are not working as intended.
Under a veto threat from Governor Larry Hogan, the Maryland Senate passed a bill Tuesday to limit how the state defines and takes over struggling schools.
The House and Senate would need to work out the differences in their versions before sending the bill to Governor Hogan, who has vowed to veto it. Both chambers, however, passed the bill with enough votes to override a veto.
According to The Baltimore Sun,
Advocates pressed for the legislation as a way to prevent the governor and state school board from enacting controversial reforms Hogan recommended as Maryland seeks to meet new federal requirements under the Every Student Succeeds Act. Among the most hotly contested issues were whether the General Assembly should forbid the state school board from putting all failing schools into a single “reform” district, turning those struggling public schools into charters or granting their students vouchers to attend private schools.
In addition to saying the bill thwarts the executive branch’s authority, Hogan said it jeopardizes nearly $250 million in federal aid for the state’s poorest schools, a scenario first raised by the nonpartisan legislative analysts that advise the General Assembly.
Supporters of the bill say they believe the plan would be compliant with the federal law and the funds wouldn’t be at risk.
They say they must act now, before the Maryland State Board of Education adopts policies that lawmakers dislike in advance of a September deadline to comply with federal law. Top advocates say they’re setting broad policy and leaving details to the school board, likening the measure to “guard rails” that would take the most controversial options for helping struggling schools off the table.
The lengthy and complicated legislation defines how much the state should rely on testing when determining if schools are failing. It also rules out letting private operators take over public schools at the state’s direction.
Under the federal education law, which replaced No Child Left Behind, the state must identify the Maryland’s most persistently struggling schools, including the bottom 5 percent of schools with high poverty rates known as Title I schools and high schools that don’t graduate at least two-thirds of their students.
Hogan said in a statement that hamstringing state education experts, as he says the state legislation would do for political reasons, is a “moral outrage” that is “designed to hide the failures of school leaders and administrators who have been operating these schools for years at the expense of the very children they claim to be serving.
“Every child in Maryland deserves a great education, regardless of which neighborhood they happen to grow up in, but this legislation would make that nearly impossible,” Hogan said.
Republicans attempted to filibuster debate in the Senate, with the Minority Leader J.B. Jennings attempting to read more than 380 pages of the Every Student Succeeds Act. Democrats used their super-majority to vote to limit debate after more than an hour of discussion.
An article in Stateline, a publication of Pew Charitable Trusts, highlights the ways that truckers and hotel workers can help tip off police to possible cases of human trafficking. For more information see How Truckers, Hotel Workers Can Fight Sex Trafficking, from Pew Charitable Trusts.
This year’s General Assembly is considering legislation to require the Maryland Police Training and Standards Commission to expand its curriculum to include special training on the criminal laws concerning human trafficking, including services and support available to victims and the rights and appropriate treatment of victims. SB 220 has passed the Senate unanimously and is now in the House of Delegates.
According to analysis by the Department of Legislative Services,
The various local government agencies that conduct police entrance-level training and in-service training may need to modify existing training programs to meet the bill’s requirements. Some local governments can modify their training programs with existing resources, while others may incur some additional minimal costs.
At MACo’s Winter Conference last December, the Women of MACo hosted a speaker on human trafficking and how local laws can help stop human trafficking.
Learn more about the events and offerings at MACo’s Summer Conference:
It’s not too late to nominate exemplary individuals, organizations, exhibits, program, and products that contribute significantly to the community by interpreting, promoting, preserving, researching and/or supporting the Lower Eastern Shore historical legacy with a Heritage Award. Nominations are due April 10.
- The Heritage Award
- The Legacy Award
- Best New Heritage Initiative
- Heritage Interpretation
- Heritage Interpreter of the Year
- Heritage Tourism Program or Event
- Tee O’Connor Heritage Professional Award
The award winners will be guests of LESHC and recognized with a special award in a ceremony at the LESHC Annual Luncheon Meeting May 3, 2017 at the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center.
The Board of Public Works (BPW) recently unanimously approved a program open space acquisition on 163 acres in St. Mary’s County to provide for the development of both active and passive recreational opportunities, and important water access to the Patuxent River.
According to DNR’s press release,
The property, known as the Snow Hill Farm, will be owned and managed by St. Mary’s County.
“This partnership among local, state and national entities translates to an extraordinary opportunity to help develop a new waterfront park in Southern Maryland,” Natural Resources Secretary Mark Belton said. “The property will provide expansive and extensive shoreline and beach areas, a protected cove, a motorized boat launch and plenty of open space for more passive recreational pursuits. It will be ideal for canoeing, fishing, hiking, kayaking, picnicking and more.”
The Program Open Space acquisition was leveraged with funding from the Department of Natural Resources, St. Mary’s County and the U.S. Navy. The $1.5 million acquisition is being shared among the partners with the Navy contributing $383,553 through the Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration Program in exchange for a conservation easement on the property.
Program Open Space is a nationally-recognized program that symbolizes Maryland’s long term commitment to conserving the state’s natural resources while providing exceptional outdoor recreation opportunities for citizens and visitors alike. Since 1969, the program has provided funding for acquisition of 378,731 acres for open space.
The General Assembly is passing House Bill 150, the Budget Bill and the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act of 2017 (BRFA) in what could be record time this session – this morning, both chambers approved the Conference Committee report, when the Conference Committee was only just appointed last Friday. Of importance to counties:
SDAT Cost Shift Officially Dead
Both the Senate and House budget subcommittees voted to reject the Governor’s proposal to make counties responsible for nearly all operating costs for the assessment and directorial functions of the State Department of Assessments and Taxation (SDAT) – 70 percent in fiscal 2018, and 90 percent for every year thereafter. The Conference Committee did not overturn those decisions, taking this cost shift officially off the table for good.
Highway User: More Than Last Year, But Less Than Proposed
The Conference Committee adopted the Senate’s position to reduce the Governor’s proposal to provide transportation capital grants to counties. Counties’ share was reduced from $27.4 million to $12.8 million. This includes $4 million of capital grants which counties have received since fiscal 2016. Baltimore City’s share was maintained at $5.5 million, and municipalities’ share remains at $20.1 million. Bottom line: 23 counties will receive $8.8 million in additional local transportation aid from last year.
In addition, for FY18 only, “highway user revenues distributed to Baltimore City may be used to pay or finance students’ costs of discounted Maryland Transit Administration fares for eligible public school students in Baltimore City.”
New Statutory Language Restricts Local Transportation Aid
In response to concerns expressed by the Department of Legislative Services (DLS) regarding the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT)’s programming of local transportation aid, the Conference Committee adopted BRFA language prohibiting MDOT from programming capital transportation grants to local governments in the Consolidated Transportation Program (CTP) beyond the budget request year. The new language is intended to address concerns expressed by DLS that the Governor’s “capital grants” are titled incorrectly and programmed inappropriately in out years. It states:
Except as authorized by law, the Consolidated Transportation Program may not include capital transportation grants to counties or municipal corporations for any period beyond the budget request year ….
For the period beyond the budget request year, the financial forecast:
- Shall maximize the use of funds for the capital program; and
- Except as authorized by law, may not withhold or reserve funds for capital transportation grants to counties or municipal corporations.
Disparity Grants Restored, Then Cut $2.4 Million
The Governor’s budget funded disparity grants at fiscal 2017 levels. The Conference Committee rejected that flat funding provision, but also reduced the minimum grant amount from 67.5% to 63.75% of the disparity grant calculation provided in fiscal 2018 only. This reduces the total disparity grant amounts under the statutory formula for fiscal 2018 by $2.4 million.
The Conference Committee also adopted the Senate’s proposal to restrict funding for disparity grants for jurisdictions receiving an increase until the Maryland State Department of Education certifies that each jurisdiction has increased local spending on public schools above the Maintenance of Effort (MOE). The Conference Committee specified, however, that increased allocations to public schools under this language will not increase MOE requirements in fiscal 2019. The report language is available here.
Relieved From Mandate Relief
Both chambers agreed to strike the Governor’s “mandate relief” proposal, which would have capped the growth of most formulaic appropriations at projected general fund revenue growth, less 1.0%.
MACo will provide additional information as it becomes available.
Cecil County Executive Alan McCarthy recently announced that services delivered in three different departments will be combined and housed under one new department, to be called the Department of Land Use and Development Services.
According to the county press release,
In accordance with this reorganization and consolidation, services provided by Planning & Zoning, Permits & Inspections and the plans review function of the Department of Public Works will all be combined as divisions within the new Department of Land Use and Development Services.
Dr. McCarthy states, “This reorganization will result in greater efficiency with the plans review and permitting processes by bringing all employees that administer this function together in one place.”
Currently, depending upon the type and approval phase of a construction project, constituents must conduct business in three different county offices. Feedback provided by developers and construction companies strongly suggest that this consolidation and reorganization will streamline and simplify the development process, and be generally well received.
There are efficiencies realized through this new organization resulting in a reduction of one current position and the reclassification of some existing positions. It is expected that further efficiencies resulting in increased savings will occur as this new organization plan is evaluated. It is expected that the Department of Land Use and Developmental Services will be fully operational on or about May 1, 2017.