Montgomery, Howard Get Connected Via Bus Rapid Transit

Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett and Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman are partnering to get connected via the  U.S. 29 Bus Rapid Transit project. From
The route would connect the two counties with service from Columbia to Silver Spring. Both county executives are hoping this plan would reduce traffic congestion and spur economic growth.
“Montgomery County and Howard County, as you know, are [in] close proximity, and we have an opportunity now to build on that proximity. Something that’s very important to us is the Route 29 Corridor,” said County Executive Leggett.
Leggett said he expects the project to be done by 2020.

Who’s Responsible For All These Bridges?

According to the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA)’s recently released 2017 Bridge Report, 6 percent of Maryland’s bridges are structurally deficient, and 20 percent are functionally obsolete. From the report:

  • Of the 5,321 bridges in the state, 308, or 6%, are classified as structurally deficient. This means one or more of the key bridge elements, such as the deck, superstructure or substructure, is considered to be in “poor” or worse condition.
  • 1,072 bridges, or 20%, are classified as functionally obsolete. This means the bridge does not meet design standards in line with current practice.
  • 268 bridges are posted for load, which may restrict the size and weight of vehicles crossing the structure.

At the State Highway Administration (SHA)’s budget hearing on February 16, upon reviewing the Department of Legislative Services (DLS)’s analysis, Senate Budget and Taxation Committee Chair Edward Kasemeyer asked Maryland Transportation Deputy Secretary Jim Ports about the report. WJZ-13 had just covered the story. How come ARTBA reported that 6 percent of bridges in Maryland were structurally deficient, when the DLS analysis reported that less than 3 percent of the bridges in the State Highway network met that classification? Deputy Secretary Ports clarified that SHA only maintains a little more than half of the bridges in Maryland: local governments maintain the rest.

In fact, according to the Maryland Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE)’s 2011 Report Card for Maryland’s Infrastructure:

In Maryland, approximately 55 percent of bridges are on the state highway system, while the remaining 45 percent are owned by local and other jurisdictions … Only approximately 4.2 percent of the bridges on the state system are structurally deficient, a figure well below the national average of structurally deficient bridges (12.1 percent). Of the 359 structurally deficient bridges in the state, nearly 69 percent of them are owned and maintained by local municipalities.

After the decimation of highway user revenues to local governments in 2010, this percentage could only have gotten worse. It seems clear that local governments, and their bridges, could benefit from a Local Infrastructure Fast Track for Maryland (LIFT 4 MD).


DLS Suggesting Highway User “Swap” For General Fund Relief

As reported earlier today, the Department of Legislative Services (DLS) has recommended that the General Assembly eliminate the extra local transportation funds provided in the Governor’s proposed budget, to be distributed to local roads and bridges. They recommend only continuing funding current funding levels.

In a Senate budget subcommittee briefing, DLS staff indicated that they will be recommending using the Governor’s proposed “capital grants” to backfill a proposed cut to traditional formulaic highway user revenues to counties. They will propose diverting those funds to fill gaps in the General Fund supporting the Maryland State Police. More on those recommendations will apparently come later in subsequent budget hearings.

But what about the “lockbox” law that Maryland voters passed by referendum in 2013, prohibiting the use of Transportation Trust Fund transfers to balance the General Fund? Surely that protects diversion of highway user revenues, which flow from the Transportation Trust Fund?

No so. The “lockbox” law includes an exemption for highway user revenues. Under the Maryland Constitution,  Article III – Legislative Department,  Section 53:

[T]he funds in the Transportation Trust Fund may be used only:

(1) For the purpose of paying the principal of and interest on transportation bonds as they become due and payable; and

(2) After meeting debt service requirements for transportation bonds, for any lawful purpose related to the construction and maintenance of an adequate highway system in the State or any other purpose related to transportation. ….

This section does not apply to an allocation or use of highway user revenues for the counties, municipalities, or Baltimore City that is authorized under Title 8, Subtitle 4 of the Transportation Article[.]

At today’s hearing, Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn testified that he disagreed with the proposal, in part because it runs against the intent of the “lockbox” law. Did voters realize, when they voted for this Constitutional amendment, that it would not protect against raiding funds for local roads and bridges – 83 percent of the cited “highway system in the State?”

Seems unlikely.

Counties Nationwide Fight For A Local Infrastructure Fast Track

A Local Infrastructure Fast Track not only matters to Maryland counties, but to counties nationwide. Yesterday, the National Association of Counties (NACo) testified before the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on modernizing the nation’s infrastructure system. NACo Representative Cindy Bobbitt, chair of the Grant County, Okla. Board of Commissioners, emphasized counties’ vast transportation infrastructure responsibilities. Counties own and maintain 45 percent of public road miles and nearly 40 percent of bridges, and are involved in a third of the nation’s public transportation systems and airports.

In Maryland, counties own and maintain 74 percent of the public roads. Local governments own and maintain 83 percent of our transportation network.

NACo reports:

[Bobbitt] noted that county infrastructure plays a critical role in moving freight and other goods to market, while modernizing industries, higher crop yields and new methods of energy extraction create immense stress on rural roads.

Additionally, Bobbitt underscored that the federal-state-local partnership on infrastructure, informed by county input, is crucial for economic competitiveness.

“Counties stand ready to work with our federal partners to achieve our shared goals — improving transportation, increasing public safety and boosting our economy,” she said.

Watch the testimony here:

Howard Seeks To Improve Regional Transit System

The Regional Transportation Agency of Central Maryland plans to add new buses to its transit system serving Howard, Prince George’s, Anne Arundel and the City of Laurel, reports Mass Transit MagazineThe $2.5 million, 10-year lease-to-purchase contract would serve to replace aging buses from the late 1990s and 2000s which have long surpassed mileage thresholds and are driving up maintenance costs. From Mass Transit Magazine:

[Howard County Executive Allan] Kittleman is proposing to purchase seven EZ Rider buses by ElDorado, a company based in Riverside, Calif., through a cooperative purchasing program. The county can enter the program through an agreement under the Baltimore Metropolitan Council, a nonprofit organization of regional county executives Kittleman began chairing last month.

If approved by the County Council in March, the buses, which seat up to 33 passengers, could hit the streets by the end of 2017. Kittleman needs the Council’s approval because the agreement covers appropriations over a decade.

Searching for funding in the budget for transportation priorities is a major challenge, according to county officials. …

A draft county budget for next year includes around $4 million for another 10 buses to replace aging buses. Around $79,000 will come from Anne Arundel County, $45,000 from Prince George’s County and $278,000 from Howard County in the next fiscal year.

This spring, the county’s transportation office plans to identify gaps and underserved areas in the transit system as part of a five-year plan required by the state. The plan, last completed in 2009, is two years overdue because of limited state funding to finance the study.

[Howard County Transportation Director Clive] Graham hopes to shift the system from “one of last resort to one of choice.”


MACo Supports Bill Promoting Smart Tax Policy

MACo Executive Director Michael Sanderson testified in support of Senate Bill 111, which  would create a new exemption from the transfer and recordation tax for the transfer of property from a sole proprietorship to a limited liability company (LLC) if the sole member of the LLC is identical to the converting sole proprietor. The bill also addresses a loophole to prevent unfair tax avoidance. From MACo’s testimony:

Current law offers a variety of exemptions for transfers accomplishing a corporate restructuring. Small business owners who operate as sole proprietors are not able to benefit from these exemptions. SB 111 could benefit small business in the state by extending these same exemptions to the transfer of property from a sole proprietorship to an LLC if the owner of the business is the same as the member of the newly formed LLC.

The bill also provides a reasonable assurance that the new tax-free conversion will not trigger a new avenue for unfair tax avoidance. An LLC that is formed using this tax exemption would not be eligible to make further transfers of controlling interest without triggering suitable taxation under existing Maryland law. While this potentiality is not the intent of the bill, without this extra provision regarding subsequent property sales, a new avenue for tax avoidance could be opened, depriving land preservation and other programs their appropriate revenues.

Friday update: The Committee passed the bill Friday morning, with technical amendments, and will report it to the floor for full consideration next week.

DLS Releases Abundance Of Helpful Local Financial Data

The Department of Legislative Services has released several reports that detail information on local governments and local effects of the state budget. As always, these reports represent an extraordinarily valuable resource for county officials and financial managers.

Local Government Finances and Demographics

From the Introduction:

The Department of Legislative Services has prepared this overview document to provide legislators and the public with a better understanding of the fiscal and social issues confronting local governments in Maryland. Topics discussed in this report include the following:

• Structure of Local Governments
• County Salary Actions
• Demographic Indicators
• Public School Funding and Student Enrollment
• Local Government Finances
• Local General Fund Balances
• Tax Rates for Local Governments
• Local Debt Measures
• Local Revenue Growth
• Balance of State Payments

Overview of State Aid

This report includes detail on virtually every component of state aid to local governments in the proposed FY 18 budget. Most areas are shown county-by-county, with comparisons to the prior year, and with additional analysis reflecting trends or changes important to the programs.

County Revenue Outlook

This report looks at local revenue sources and tax bases, with a variety of comparisons across jurisdictions and over time. Once again, the detail in these analyses makes the report deeply valuable for local professionals and policy makers.

Two Year Charts

State Aid to Local Governments – Two Year Charts by Aid Program

State Aid to Local Governments – Two Year Charts by Governmental Entity

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.

MACo, Bill Sponsor Develop Electric Vehicle Enforcement Fix

The House Environment & Transportation Committee heard House Bill 36, Vehicle Laws – Plug-In Electric Drive Vehicles – Reserved Parking Spaces on Thursday, January 26. The bill would create a statewide scheme for enforcing parking spaces set aside for plug-in electric drive vehicles.

MACo testified that the bill as introduced would unwisely limit enforcement options. However, after MACo worked with the bill sponsor’s office, the sponsor agreed to offer amendments that would address MACo’s concerns, allowing MACo to drop its opposition. From MACo’s testimony:

MACo does not contest the effort to make this violation a statewide offense. In fact, many counties already enforce this under local laws. However, terms of the bill requiring local governments comply with towing provisions applicable to private parking lot owners under Subtitle 10A of Maryland Vehicle Law, Title 21, have the unintended consequence of prohibiting local governments from being able to enforce the terms of this bill in many cases.

Additionally, using green paint markings violates the U.S. Federal Highway Administration’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), adopted into Federal law under 23 C.F.R 665 and adapted into the Maryland MUTCD pursuant to Maryland Code, Transportation Article, Section 25-104. MUTCD, Section 3A.05 states, “Markings shall be yellow, white, red, blue, or purple.”

MACo’s testimony is available here.

Parking Enforcement Should Remain A Local Matter

MACo opposed a bill which compromises local authority over parking enforcement. The bill prohibits a local government from increasing a penalty, assessing a fee or late charge, or referring for collection an unpaid parking citation within 30 days after issuance of the citation.

The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee heard Senate Bill 136, Vehicle Laws – Parking Violations – Authority of Political Subdivisions, on Wednesday, January 25. MACo testified that parking enforcement is a purely local matter, and as such, current laws treating it as such should remain unchanged. From MACo’s testimony:

It is properly within the purview of local governments to enforce parking regulations, and to determine the most appropriate terms for parking enforcement which best balance minimizing burden on constituents with the need to deter illegal behavior. Parking violations can severely compromise quality of life for residents and visitors, and it is an important responsibility of local governments to enforce those laws in a manner that deters behavior without creating undue burden on those responsible for paying citations.

MACo also noted that removing this authority from counties could result in a fiscal impact of millions of dollars – eroding resources for essential public services.

MACo’s testimony is available here.