Allison Valliant and Robin Eilenberg Mark 5 Years With MACo

Two of MACo’s now-familiar staff members are marking their 5 year anniversary with the staff this summer!

Allison Valliant started in June of 2012, and has advanced to now serve as MACo’s Administrative Coordinator. She’s still the smiling face to greet you as you enter our building. She is the primary manager of MACo’s membership database, oversees registration for conferences and events, and is bringing together yet another edition of MACo’s much-beloved Member Directory this fall.

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Robin Clark Eilenberg is MACo’s Research Director, and oversees our publications, contributions to legislative fiscal notes, leads much of MACo’s policy writing and analysis, and remains the primary policy player on school construction and pension issues. She also works with several of MACo’s professional affiliates, and the Women of MACo Chapter Organization. She joined the MACo staff in August of 2012.

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Join us in congratulating our friends and colleagues as they mark their MACo milestone!

Big Returns for Pension Systems…Now What?

Governing magazine has reviewed the latest round of investment returns for public pension systems, and speculated on the next steps for jurisdictions offering these traditional defined benefit plans, that are dependent on long-term investments to pay for future benefit payments. The State of Maryland hosts such a plan for employees and public school teachers, and roughly half of the Maryland counties participate in that “pool.”

From Governing, citing analysis by Tom Aaron, vice president and senior analyst at Moody’s Investors Service:

Pension plans rely heavily on investment earnings because annual payments from current employees and governments aren’t enough to cover yearly payouts to retirees. As it stands, roughly 80 cents on every dollar paid out to retirees comes from investment income.

The average annual investment earnings target for pension plans is 7.4 percent. By Aaron’s calculations, pension plans would need investment returns of nearly 11 percent to prevent unfunded liabilities from growing.

Many plans are actually on track to beat that lofty figure this year, reporting returns between 10 and 14 percent, according to a Governing analysis. But it’s becoming much harder for pension plans to gain ground than to lose it.

The data collected by Governing (shown above) shows the Maryland plans’ consolidated returns at 10% for the year – well above the system’s assumed rate of return, but also incrementally below each of the other public systems reporting as part of the analysis. See previous Conduit Street coverage on the Maryland system returns.

Nicolette Querry Joins MACo Team

Nicolette Querry joined the MACo staff this week, newly hired as MACo’s Outreach Coordinator. In that role, Nicolette will guide MACo’s communications, including preparing and editing our This Week on Conduit Street newsletter. She will also lead MACo’s relationships with MACo’s Corporate Partners and event sponsors who provide essential support for MACo’s many member services.

Nicolette received her dual degree — a B.S. in Communications Media and a B.A. in Journalism & Public Relations — from the Honors College at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, graduating summa cum laude. She has worked with Tricom Associates, a Washington DC based public relations firm, and has done work to support both for-profit and non-profit organizations. Working with MACo, she will draw on her experience with press relations, social media, and promotional writing.

Please join the MACo staff in welcoming Nicolette to the county team!

Montgomery Pesticide Ban Struck Down as Preempted

Montgomery County’s ban on a wide range of pesticide use has been struck down in Circuit Court. The Judge, Terrence McGann, opined that state laws governing pesticide use effectively occupy the field, and that local restrictions are not allowable.

From coverage in Bethesda Beat:

The county law, set to go into effect in January, would have banned residents from using certain pesticides on private property. It was intended to limit the overuse of pesticides that have been the subject of studies showing a general harm to the people, animals and the environment. However, McGann ordered that the law not go into effect as scheduled.

“By generally banning the use of registered pesticides, the ordinance prohibits and frustrates activity that is intended to be permitted by state law, which conflicts with and is thus preempted by state law,” McGann ruled. “The county’s ordinance flouts decades of state primacy in ensuring safe and proper pesticide use, undermines the state’s system of comprehensive and uniform product approval and regulation, and prohibits products and conduct that have been affirmatively approved and licensed by the state.”

The Bethesda Beat writer has also posted the full opinion to a Scribd site online.

The county government has not announced a decision on whether it plans to appeal the finding.

ALEC Fostering Group Focusing on Local Governments

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative national group probably best known for developing model legislation for introduction in state legislatures, is fostering a fairly new initiative to focus efforts at the city and county level.

From an AP news report:

The American Legislative Exchange Council is one of the country’s most prominent conservative groups, and its annual convention in Denver last week drew thousands of state legislators and lobbyists for panels on school choice and marijuana legalization, as well as speeches from conservative luminaries like Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and former Senator James DeMint.

But as attendees rubbed shoulders with the right’s elite, a few dozen crowded into a small conference room for the fourth meeting of the American City County Exchange, the conservative group’s new local government wing.

The city council project is the brainchild of Jon Russell, a councilman from the Virginia town of Culpepper, population 18,000. He was dissatisfied that the traditional, nonpartisan municipal groups, like the National League of Cities, seemed to constantly think more government was the answer to problems.

“Now we can communicate with 2,500 elected officials across the country that we know share our values and push back against some of the progressivism that’s gotten into cities,” Russell said.

Your One-Stop-Shop for Federal Advocacy on County Issues

NACo has released a timely “Summer Advocacy Toolkit” for use by county officials engaging on federal issues. Inside are links, quick summaries, and talking points on a wide range of topics relevant to county governments. Additionally, from the pdf document, users can search relevant committee membership to help target their messages.

A few quick selections from the NACo guide follow:

On Municipal Bonds:

• A fundamental feature of the first federal tax code written in 1913, tax-exempt financing is used by state and local
governments to raise capital to finance public capital improvements and other projects, including infrastructure
facilities that are vitally important to sustained economic growth.

• Between 2003 and 2012, counties, localities, states and state/local authorities financed $3.2 trillion in infrastructure
investment through tax-exempt municipal bonds.

• If municipal bonds were fully taxable during the 2003-2012 period, it is estimated that the financing for the 21 largest
infrastructure purposes would have cost state and local governments an additional $495 billion of interest expense. If
the 28 percent cap were in effect, the additional cost to state and local governments would have been approximately
$173.4 billion.

• For 2012, the debt service burden for counties would have risen by $9 billion if municipal bonds were fully taxable over
the last 15 years and roughly $3.2 billion in the case of a 28 percent cap. Americans, as investors in municipal bonds
and as taxpayers securing the payment of municipal bonds, would have borne this burden.

• The municipal bond tax-exemption represents a fair allocation of the cost of projects between federal and state/local
levels of government. Through the use of tax-exempt municipal bonds, state and local governments invested 2.5 times
more in infrastructure than the federal government.

• Tax-exempt bonds are vital for infrastructure, justice and health needs because counties own and operate 45 percent
of public roads and highways, own almost a third of the nation’s transit systems and airports, own 961 hospitals,
manage 1,943 health departments and own the vast majority of the nation’s jails.

On Infrastructure:

NACo believes that counties should be recognized as major owners of transportation infrastructure in any potential
package presented by the administration. Key funding and financing measures must include all of the following:

• Preservation of Tax-Exempt Status of Municipal Bonds

• Dedicated Funding for locally owned infrastructure

• Policies to provide an Environment for Innovative Financing

The Toolkit also includes direct links to other NACO resources, like this concise “one-pager” on State and Local Tax Deductibility (aka SALT).

Virginia White to Lead MACo’s Member Services Efforts

Virginia White, part of MACo’s professional staff since 2010, will now lead MACo’s full range of education, service, and cost-saving functions as Member Services Director. In her leadership role, Virginia will help develop the Association’s branding, communications, events, and partnership programs to be of the highest value to our member counties. She will remain the lead coordinator of the conference events, and will have an active role with MACo’s many connections back to county government successes.

Prior to working with MACo, Virginia was the Director of Training & Special Events with the Maryland Association of Resources for Families & Youth (MARFY). Virginia graduated magna cum laude from Washington College in Kent County, Maryland, with a bachelor’s degree in art and computer science, and spent a semester studying at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. Virginia graduated summa cum laude from Maurice J. McDonough High School in Charles County.

Counties to Congressional Delegation: Keep Us In Mind

With a major wave of high-impact legislation under consideration by Congress, and the state and local effects of them drawing substantial attention from counties across the state, MACo has sent a letter to the Maryland congressional delegation. The essential message: keep county governments, and other Maryland specific impacts, in mind as you consider these many weighty measures.

MACo’s letter, approved by the Legislative Committee during its meeting this week, discusses potential effects of the proposed federal budget, health care reform, and tax law changes. In each case, MACo highlights concerns on behalf of county government services, or peculiar to the State of Maryland, urging our Senators and Representatives to weigh these local impacts in their considerations.

From the letter:

The Maryland Association of Counties (MACo), representing the 24 subdivisions providing primary local public services to all Marylanders, urges your caution when considering policy changes currently before Congress.

Both in fiscal affairs and health care policy, the potential exists for an untoward and unfair shift of responsibilities and burdens to local governments. We hope you will keep these local perspectives in mind as you are called to vote on major policy matters in the months ahead.

As always, MACo and our county officials stand ready to help you and your staff with any matters where a local perspective could serve you well. We hope that through our conferences and events, and direct contact with you, this federal-local partnership can serve both our mutual interests, and those of our shared constituents.

The Opioid Scourge – A Narrative History

As Maryland continues to battle the persistent and growing plague of heroin and opioid misuse and overdose, many ask “how did this happen?” A long form article in National Affairs sheds light – albeit a disturbing one – on many of the steps that led to this crisis.

From the article:

The nation has weathered drug epidemics before, but the current affliction — a new plague for a new century, in the words of Nicholas Eberstadt — is different. Today, the addicted are not inner-city minorities, though big cities are increasingly reporting problems. Instead, they are overwhelmingly white and rural, though middle- and upper-class individuals are also affected. The jarring visual of the crisis is not an urban “gang banger” but an overdosed mom slumped in the front seat of her car in a Walmart parking lot, toddler in the back.

If there is reason for optimism in the midst of this crisis, it is that national and local politicians and even police are placing emphasis on treatment over punishment. And, without question, the nation needs considerably more funding for treatment; Congress must step up. Yet the much-touted promise of treatment — and particularly of anti-addiction medications — as a panacea has already been proven wrong. Perhaps “we can’t arrest our way out of the problem,” as officials like to say, but nor are we treating our way out of it. This is because many users reject treatment, and, if they accept it, too many drop out. Engaging drug users in treatment has turned out to be one of the biggest challenges of the epidemic — and one that needs serious attention.

Read Sally Satel’s National Affairs article in its entirety online.

Opioid issues will be highlighted at the upcoming MACo Summer Conference, with a workshop on current issues in combating the threat, and a Saturday morning “open forum” with leadership from the State’s Operations Center coordinating the fight across Maryland. Read more about both sessions in our brochure.

The MACo Summer Conference is August 16-19, 2017 at the Roland Powell Convention Center in Ocean City Maryland. This year’s theme is “You’re Hired!”.

Learn more about MACo’s Summer Conference:

Federal Update To Highlight Leg Cmte Agenda

An update on still-raging federal issues, featuring NACo Legislative Director Deborah Cox, will anchor MACo’s first Legislative Committee meeting of the interim on Wednesday, July 12. Ms. Cox will join the county leaders at MACo to discuss numerous major federal issues pending before Congress – health care changes, tax reforms, and the federal budget. With many topics grabbing daily headlines as well as widespread county interest, this update is timely and important for county officials and their local services.

The Legislative Committee will also hear the first report from its Initiative Committee, tasked with developing a slate of proactive legislative initiatives for the 2018 legislative session. County officials have submitted numerous items for consideration, and the Committee is tasked with assessing and refining that potential list to no more than four eventual proposals.

MACo staff will also offer updates on several issues that have developed since the end of the General Assembly session in April.