MACo’s Legislative Committee voted at the September 16, 2020 meeting to adopt the Association’s four priorities for the 2021 Maryland General Assembly Session. These issues cover a broad range of important county concerns that MACo will proactively advocate for in front of the General Assembly.
DEFEND COUNTY BUDGET SECURITY
The State and Counties together face an unprecedented public health and fiscal challenge, poised to strain every facet of the public sector. The plan to proceed will call for austerity and sacrifice, but the State must resist the lure of simply sending these fiscal problems down to local governments. County governments are not only the front lines for public health and safety during these challenging times, they also face their own revenue shortfalls from the drop in central funding sources.
Counties insist that any combination of budget realignment and revenue enhancement required to balance the State’s fiscal plan should be reached without undermining this balanced fiscal partnership and urge State policymakers to maintain the State’s strong commitment to school construction while also ensuring adequate, fair, and reasonable funding that upholds positive education outcomes for all of Maryland’s students.
ENSURE FUNDING FAIRNESS AND COUNTY ROLE IN ELECTIONS
The State Board of Elections (SBE) often makes unilateral decisions that place substantial administrative and cost burdens onto local Boards of Elections, whose operations are supported by county funding. Without proper resources to offset substantial costs for equipment purchases/leases, equipment storage and transportation, staff compensation and training, and other overhead, these state-mandated expenditures represent significant unfunded mandates on county governments.
MACo advocates to codify the 20-year precedent that voting machines and related systems be a split funding responsibility between the State and counties, require the State to fund salary increases for its employees overseeing elections at the local level, and ensure proper local input for large contract/procurement decisions that oblige county funds.
BUILD OUT BROADBAND: BROADBAND ACCESSIBILITY ACT OF 2021
Weaknesses in current broadband internet service occur in every jurisdiction, due to both geography and demography – too many Marylanders have been left on the wrong side of the “digital divide.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of broadband connectivity across the state. Students have transitioned to online learning, many professionals have shifted to telework, and applying for unemployment or small business assistance programs often requires access to the internet. Affordable high-speed internet is an essential component of a county’s economic development, while lack of reliable broadband is a major barrier to socioeconomic opportunity, health, education, and quality of life.
MACo advocates for prioritizing funding to build out broadband access in Maryland, enhancing incentives and orchestrating opportunities for broadband deployment, and leveraging existing resources and infrastructure for broader use.
PUT PUBLIC HEALTH FIRST – PROTECT SERVICES AND PROMOTE FUNDING
County public health and emergency agencies protect communities against epidemic threats, infectious diseases, addiction, mental illness, poverty, and violence, and provide care for everything from chronic diseases to critical life-threatening incidents. Despite their critical roles, these agencies face gaps in funding and outdated technology and infrastructure that challenge the delivery of vital services. Local health departments are still reeling from drastic state funding cuts from the last recession that remain unrestored, all while they serve on the front lines of a historic public health pandemic.
MACo advocates that public health and emergency agencies should be properly supported with necessary funds to support staff, services, supplies, and technology not only in these times of crisis but for the everyday preventative and responsive health services they provide.
Each year MACo adopts a slate of top legislative initiatives, typically representing the wide swath of services counties deliver to Maryland residents. The Initiatives Subcommittee meets through the summer to refine and focus a list of dozens of proposed initiatives into no more than four as required by the Association’s bylaws. The slate is then presented to the Legislative Committee for adoption.
For more information contact MACo Legislative Director Natasha Mehu