MACo To Ways & Means Committee: Prioritize Schools, Infrastructure

On Tuesday afternoon, January 31, MACo’s President Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, Board Member Allegany County Commissioner William Valentine, Associate Director Barbara Zektick and Executive Director Michael Sanderson spoke to the House Ways & Means Committee on MACo’s 2017 legislative initiatives. The MACo panel followed Department of Legislative Services’ analysts, who presented a wealth of information contained in the report, Overview of State Aid to Local Governments: Fiscal 2018 Allowance.

County Executive Kamenetz started the briefing by calling the Committee’s attention to this year’s budgetary provision making 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. He remarked that making counties pay for an agency over which it lacked any managerial authority compromised the agency’s impartiality concerning assessments, and generally would lead to inefficiencies in governance.

About school construction, he said:

School construction costs have risen rapidly over the past ten years for a variety of reasons, including labor markets, regulatory changes, increases in enrollment, and programmatic shifts. Even though costs have increased, the State’s commitment has not. This has left counties primarily responsible for shouldering cost increases.

Commissioner Valentine asked for support for a Local Infrastructure Fast Track for Maryland, calling attention to counties’ many infrastructure needs:

Prior to FY 2010, local governments received 30% of highway user revenues – and now they receive less than 10%. And yet, local governments own and maintain 83% of our roads. County leaders from all across the State, from both parties, and from both rural and urban areas agree that these devastating cutbacks have gone much too far and lasted too long.

Committee Vice Chair Frank Turner asked about the rationale for the SDAT cost shift, suggesting that it seemed unfair to counties.