An overview of MACo’s advocacy on school construction and capital budget legislation in the 2020 General Assembly.
County governments partner with the State of Maryland to fund school construction projects throughout Maryland. K-12 school renovation and construction projects make up a substantial portion of any county’s capital budget, and the needs of Maryland students are consistently a high priority.
This year, for the first time since the Civil War, the General Assembly adjourned early on March 18, due to precautionary social distancing measures taken to curb the spread of COVID-19. Consequently, many bills did not have hearings or did not move forward due to time constraints to meet the new deadline. For more information on Maryland’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic visit MACo’s COVID-19 Resource Page.
Built to Learn Act of 2020
MACo strongly supported the Built to Learn Act of 2020 with amendments. This legislation responds to many of the recommendations Maryland counties have made for the State
program over the past several years: it provides a robust state funding commitment to school construction, technical support for smaller counties, and the potential for a more equitable split of school construction costs between the State and the counties.
The Built to Learn Act 2020 has many of the same big picture ideas as legislation from the 2019 Session including leveraging casino “lockbox” funds to pay debt service, providing $2.2B in additional school construction funding to be used within the next 10 years, and having the Maryland Stadium Authority be the State conduit to manage and oversee these new projects.
Counties raised concerns over vaguely defined criteria to be established by the State after passing that would require county and county boards of education to give priority in funding to certain schools projects without consideration of the local and community needs.
The Built to Learn Act of 2020 passed through the General Assembly with amendments and will be sent to the Governor for his approval.
Building Opportunity Act of 2020
MACo also supported The Building Opportunity Act of 2020 with amendments. This bill was part of the Governor’s legislative package and was the 2020 legislation to propose a large funding infusion for the State’s schools. The Building Opportunity Act of 2020 would have provided $2.2 billion for schools over the next five years. Under this legislation, the Maryland Stadium Authority would provide management and oversight of public school facility projects. Unlike the 2019 version of the bill that was limited to counties funded with casino revenues, this year’s version would make funds available to all public school facility projects in the state.
MACo proposed that the MOU add clarifying language that would allow the State to forward-fund school construction costs in order to help counties that cannot dramatically increase spending within a year’s time.
Despite significant changes from last year’s introduction, the Building Opportunity Act of 2020 did not have a hearing in the House and did not advance in the Senate following its public hearing.
School Procurement – Prevailing Wage
MACO opposed legislation that would extend the application of the State’s prevailing wage law to projects where any amount, even the smallest share, of funds are from the State. This would override the State’s sensible rule that the “majority partner” of a project applies such rules, meaning projects are subject to the prevailing wage rate when at least 50% of the money used for construction is State money. Applying the state prevailing wage for all projects where the state helps with funding, regardless of the regional cost of living differences, would significantly increase total project costs for counties across Maryland and potentially result in fewer local projects being funded each year. Thankfully, Procurement – Prevailing Wage – Applicability did not advance after its public hearings.
Capital Projects – Renewable Energy
MACo opposed legislation that would place a costly mandate on county governments to carry out new state policy to install geothermal energy systems during construction of public schools as well as for any construction that uses at least 50% state funds. Counties agree that studying renewable energy sources is important in understanding what is the most efficient, reasonable option for each site, but this legislation went too far in mandating one standard to all projects. Public School Construction and State Buildings – Use of Geothermal Energy did not advance in the House Appropriations Committee following its public hearing.
MACo opposed legislation that would have placed a costly mandate on county governments to carry out new state policy to place the maximum number of solar panels on a roof as specified during new construction or major renovation projects. Counties pointed out that complying with such a mandate, regardless of the viability of solar energy option for a site, would be costly and burdensome. Counties suggested a requirement to consider the viability of solar installations (and other renewable energy options like geothermal) for state-funded projects would be more acceptable. State-Funded Construction and Major Renovation Projects – Solar Panels – Requirement did not advance in either chamber following public hearings.