MACo’s PIA Initiative Bill Clears Senate Committee

MACo’s legislative initiative to “Modernize the Public Information Act” passed its Senate Committee on Tuesday, March 13, clearing its first of several hurdles toward passage.

SB 788 passed the Senate’s Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee without any “NO” votes, after the Committee spent time during its voting session discussing the bill’s application and effects. At the time of this writing, the bill sits on the floor of the Senate awaiting a second reader vote, and the addition of technical amendments.

MACo is working with multiple other stakeholders – representing law enforcement, victim’s rights groups, school systems, and others – in arguing that the bill provides needed balance to laws generally dictating that public records and documents be shared with the public. Other groups that frequently oppose measures that limit public distribution of such documents (the MD/DC/DE Press Association, and Common Cause of Maryland) have indicated their comfort with this bill’s balance, and did not raise such objections to the bill (into which they contributed very substantial input).

The bill faces opposition on the Senate floor and may be subject to multiple attempts to lessen its scope or effects via floor-offered amendments. Its elements regarding footage from body cameras and similar devices are the central target of this opposition. Some legislators have expressed concern that the bill retains too much direction to provide records of body camera footage. Others have been advised by a limited group of advocates that denying such records compromises accountability in troubling circumstances like police officer misconduct (although the bill explicitly does not change the law regarding such records).

Other bill provisions include tightened assurances that personal identification information such as Social Security numbers and dates of birth should not be released, and that passive subscribers to government newsletters and mailing lists should not have their personal information released under the PIA.

Follow the progress of MACo’s initiative bill through MACo’s Legislative Tracking Database.

Senate Committee Rejects SDAT Cost Shift, Maintains Local Health Funding

During its operating budget decision meeting on March 8, the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee rejected two proposals in SB 187, the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act of 2018 (“BRFA”) that would have compromised county finances. The full Senate is expected to take up these budget decisions early next week.

As introduced, the BRFA would have shifted 90 percent of costs for certain State Department of Assessments and Taxation (SDAT) functions onto the counties. The bill proposes shifting nearly all costs for SDAT’s property assessment, information technology and Office of the Director costs. Currently, counties fund 50 percent of assessment and information technology functions. The cost shift would have placed an additional $20 million on the backs of county budgets.

The Department of Legislative Services recommended against the proposal, insinuating it was unwise.

In addition, the BRFA proposed level funding the core public health funding to local health departments. However, the Committee voted to “leave the door open” on increasing this funding according to the inflation-based formula – providing an additional $890,793 to local health departments.

On March 6, the Senate Budget and Taxation Health and Human Services Subcommittee voted these actions, and the full committee approved them two days later. The House will take actions on these items, with final determinations made by the Conference Committee, which will be appointed by both chambers.

5 Year Highway User Revenue Funding Passes House

HB 807, a bill amended to provide 5 years of enhanced funding for local roads and bridges, has passed the full House of Delegates on a unanimous vote.

For FY 2020 through 2024, the bill would increase the county share of Highway User Revenues from 1.5% to 3.2%, with additional funding also supporting Baltimore City and municipal government.

See previous Conduit Street coverage for further information.

The Senate Budget & Taxation Committee, during its hearing on the cross-filed bill SB 516, made prominent note of the House action to advance a multi-year funding bill. County stakeholders expressed support for the measure.

As of this writing (Friday, March 9), the bill’s fiscal note had not been revised to reflect the effect of the substantial amendments. A revised fiscal note is expected in the days ahead.

County Input Sought on “Opportunity Zone” Designations

The State Agencies working to designate “Opportunity Zones” created under recent federal tax reforms are seeking input from county officials.

Under the 2017 tax reforms, Congress established a new program, where states designate a series of census tracts as “Opportunity Zones.” From the website of the Economic Innovation Group, this tidy description of the funding scheme connected to the designated Opportunity Zones:

WHAT ARE OPPORTUNITY FUNDS? Opportunity Funds are private sector investment vehicles that invest at least 90 percent of their capital in Opportunity Zones. U.S. investors currently hold trillions of dollars in unrealized capital gains  in stocks and mutual funds alone— a significant untapped resource for economic development. Opportunity Funds provide investors the chance to put that money to work rebuilding the nation’s left-behind communities. The fund model will enable a broad array of investors to pool their resources in Opportunity Zones, increasing the scale of investments going to underserved areas.

MACo sent a letter to the two affected state Departments, urging a process to incorporate county input into that selection. From MACo’s letter:

County governments have a close and special knowledge of the communities that fall under their jurisdiction and a significant stake in the census tracts to be selected. They have helpful information about the specific areas of need, local priorities, land use planning, and local projects or investments that may help inform the decision-making process. A public process, affording local governments—as well as their economic and community development partners—the ability to share their valuable knowledge could substantially improve the effectiveness of the Opportunity Zones designated across our state.

Maryland has a short time window to offer its zone designations. The Administration has responded by designating an official at the Housing Department, who will serve as a coordinator for any input received. County views on the “Opportunity Zone” designation process should be directed to:

Michael White
Chief of Staff
Department of Housing & Community Development
Office of the Secretary
7800 Harkins Road
Lanham, MD 20706

The timetable for the zone selection is rapid, so counties are encouraged to submit any input to the Department in an expedited basis.

County Officials Seeking State Offices

With the filing deadline behind us, Conduit Street shares a survey of county elected officials, from around the state, who have thrown their hat into the ring for state-level offices.

State Senate (sorted by District number)

Frederick County Council member Billy Shreve (R) has filed to run for State Senate in District 3, where incumbent Democrat Ron Young is running for re-election.

Howard County Council member Mary Kay Sigaty (D) has filed to run for State Senate in District 12, where incumbent Senator Ed Kasmeyer is retiring. Current Delegate Clarence Lam has also filed to run for the seat in the Democratic primary.

Prince George’s County Council Member Obie Patterson (D), a former State Delegate, has filed for Senate District 26. Incumbent Senator C. Anthony Muse (D) has filed to run for County Executive.

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Click here to see the complete list of candidates for all State Senate seats.

State Delegate (sorted by District number)

Former Howard County Council Member Courtney Watson (D) has filed for Delegate District 9B, where incumbent Bob Flanagan (R) is seeking re-election.

Howard County Council Member Jen Terrasa (D) has filed for Delegate District 13, where one of three incumbents Frank Turner (D) has announced his retirement.

Prince George’s County Council Member Mary Lehman (D) has filed for Delegate in District 21, where one of three incumbents Barbara Frush (D) has announced her retirement.

Prince George’s County Council Member Andrea Harrison (D) has filed for Delegate in District 24, where one of three incumbents Carolyn J.B. Howard is not seeking re-election.

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Charles County Commissioner Debra Davis (D) has filed to run for Delegate in District 28, where one of the three incumbents, Sally Jameson, has indicated she will not file for re-election.

Anne Arundel County Council Member Jerry Walker (R) has filed to run in District 33, where all three incumbent Delegates have filed for re-election.

Harford County Council member James “Cap’n Jim” McMahan has filed to run in District 34, where incumbent Susan McComas has filed for re-election.

Former Baltimore City Council Member Carl Stokes has filed to run for Delegate in District 43, where incumbent Mary Washington is running for State Senate.

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Click here to see the full list of candidates filed for Delegate races statewide.

Some Images Courtesy of Maryland Manual On-Line

Highway User Bill in the Fast Lane – “Deal” Locks in 5yr Funding Increase

A House Committee has amended and is advancing HB 807, legislation to increase state funding for locally-maintained roads and bridges. The five-year plan would set new, higher levels of funding for county and municipal roadways beginning in FY 2020. Signs point to the bill marking a negotiated “deal” including legislative leaders from both chambers, clearing its path to passage this session.

Both MACo and MML have made restoring Highway User Revenues a top priority for years, as recession-driven cuts left local governments with a fraction of historic funding levels of state transportation revenues.

The amended version of HB 807 would roughly double the funding for county governments in each year — to approximately $58 million each year. The funding would be designated as “capital transportation grants” rather than simple statutory distributions (the effect of this terminology change on local governments is unclear, but may be negligible). The new funding level for counties would represent 3.2% of the funds from the Highway User Revenues, coming from taxes on motor fuels, vehicles, and other transportation-related sources — an increase from 1.5% today (through a combination of traditional HUR and capital grants).

The municipal share would be adjusted to 2.0% of the total, and the share for Baltimore City (which has the unique responsibility of maintaining nearly all state roads within its boundaries) is adjusted to 8.3%.

In the days ahead, the House floor debate and public discussion on the legislation may reshape the debate over local road funding for the future. Conduit Street will continue to follow this top priority local issue.

NACo Profiles Trump Administration Infrastructure Proposal

As previously reported on Conduit Street, the Trump Administration has proposed a far-reaching plan to boost infrastructure across multiple modes and at every level of government.

To help county officials better understand the proposal, and its potential effects on local priorities, the National Association of Counties has developed its own analysis of the package. From the NACo description:

These principles, titled “Legislative Outline for Rebuilding Infrastructure in America,” expand upon the “Infrastructure Initiative” white paper that accompanied President Trump’s FY 2018 budget back in February of 2017. The administration has stated that this document is open to revisions by Congress as they look to craft legislation based off the administration’s principles.

Read or download the NACo Analysis as a pdf document.
Read the NACo article accompanying its full analysis.

Hogan to Senators: Feds Shouldn’t Cut Bay Enforcement

In a letter to the party leadership of the U.S. Senate, Governor Hogan has called for them to reject a House (and Administration) budget proposal to reduce 90% of funds used for enforcement of Chesapeake Bay waters. Governor Hogan serves as the Chair of the regional Chesapeake Executive Council, and wrote in both capacities.

From coverage in the Baltimore Sun:

If it becomes law, this amendment will prohibit the use of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) funds for enforcement policies and procedures that are necessary for achieving pollution reductions in the Chesapeake Bay watershed,” Hogan wrote. “While I strongly support the multi-jurisdictional approach to achieving clean water — which is working — it would be unwise to effectively remove the ability of the Clean Water Act to function as designed.”

For more information about federal EPA activities and programs, visit the EPA website.

Read the Sun coverage online for more detail.

MACo on Tax Reform: Won’t Oppose Broad-Based Tax Cuts

The MACo Legislative Committee formally adopted a statement this week to express its views on broad-based tax reform proposals pending before the General Assembly, designed to react (in various ways) to the recently enacted federal tax reforms. Absent state action, some Maryland taxpayers would see an increase in their state and county tax liability — the potential means to offset these changes sit before the legislature in multiple variations of changes to deductions, exemptions, rates, and brackets — each with distinct distributional effects.

Historically, MACo has opposed some substantial state tax changes, on the grounds that the spillover effects reduce county resources without county input. In the position statement, MACo urges the State to explore any potential means to create a “local option” means to effect targeted income tax relief at county discretion. Such a two-tier system works well with Maryland property tax policies, where many laws merely authorize, rather than compel, counties to grant a certain benefit.

MACo’s position, in total, follows:

    MACo Statement on 2018 Tax Relief Proposals
    Federal Tax Effects – County Collaboration

Maryland faces a spillover challenge from recent federal tax reforms, with multiple changes carrying over to affect Maryland taxpayers and revenues.
Counties will not oppose broad-based legislation designed to counteract or offset these external effects. Most notably, and already underway, the fast-tracked effort to clarify the continued effect of Maryland personal exemptions nominally carries a negative fiscal note, but represents a straightforward continuation of existing tax policies. MACo is not treating this bill as a change in tax policy, and is not raising objections to the arguable local revenue effects. Counties plan to respond similarly to added proposals to stem or counteract federal changes.

    Additional Pass-Through Changes – Counties Seek Local Determination

More broadly, however, there remain dozens of income tax proposals introduced this year by various sponsors. Each new or expanded subtraction modification essentially effects a statewide decision on each local jurisdiction, without any local determination of affordability.

Property taxes show the best collaborative way to enact targeted tax relief. The State and its local governments already work together here – where the State routinely grants a state-level tax credit, but then enables county governments to enact their own as a local option.

Given that this year’s federal action presents the State with a need to realign many income tax provisions, MACo believes the time is right to also explore a better means to effect state-based tax offsets. The General Assembly and Comptroller should use this opportunity to explore manageable ways to build a framework for income tax credits similar to that used for property tax credits. State legislation to grant a state-based credit and empower counties to follow suit could create the same collaborative approach on income tax issues that serves property taxpayers well.

At upcoming bill hearings, MACo expects to submit this general statement, as opposed to submitting bill-specific testimony on each broad-based tax reform proposal.

See previous Conduit Street coverage of tax reform effects in Maryland:

Income Tax Spillover Effect: Nearly $400 Million

Tax Reform In MD: DLS & Comptroller Weigh In

Kasemeyer Retirement Continues B&T Committee Turnover

Senator Ed Kasemeyer, Chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, announced he does not intend to seek re-election to another term. His decision would leave yet another member of the powerful fiscal panel uncertain for the next four year term.

From coverage in Maryland Matters, an online site covering state news and politics:

Kasemeyer is a moderate temperamentally and ideologically, who rarely craved publicity and preferred to wield his power behind the scenes. Kasemeyer’s departure means Budget and Tax will be losing its top two leaders: the committee vice chairman, Sen. Richard S. Madaleno (D-Montgomery), is running for governor.

With Kasemeyer and Madaleno leaving, early speculation focused on Sens. Douglas J.J. Peters (D-Prince George’s), Nancy J. King (D-Montogmery) and Guy J. Guzzone (D-Howard) as the next committee leader.

No matter who winds up as chairman, the budget panel is heading for a major facelift: Sen. Ulysses S. Currie (D-Prince George’s), the former chairman, and Sen. James E. DeGrange (D-Anne Arundel), the chairman of the capital budget subcommittee, are retiring. Sen. Roger Manno (D-Montgomery) is leaving the Senate to run for Congress, while Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden (D-Baltimore City) faces a tough Democratic primary challenge.