Double Tax Amendment Fails, Maryland Checkbooks, Counties Could Take Hit

Maryland’s recently elected U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen is leading the charge to protect a tax deduction popular in Maryland. So far, efforts have failed to preserve the state and local tax deduction, however.

The National Association of Counties urges Counties to advocate to preserve the state and local tax deduction (SALT) to protect against double taxation. NACo portrays eliminating the exemption a shift of revenues from local and state governments. The Honorable Roy Charles Brooks, President of NACo states,

 

Eliminating SALT to pay for tax reform efforts would reverse more than 150 years of national tax policy and constitute a $1.3 trillion federal revenue grab. That’s $1.3 trillion less in our residents’ pockets to support local services our communities need.

Roy Charles Brooks, NACo President and Commissioner, Tarrant County, Texas advocates for preserving the state and local tax deduction.

About 45 percent of all Maryland taxpayers utilize that state and local income deduction – that’s the highest percentage in the country. Nearly 1.3 million Marylanders took advantage of the SALT deductions in 2015, reducing their taxable income by an average of $9,010 per individual, according to IRS data.

As reported by the Baltimore Sun, the first attempt to preserve the deduction failed,

The Republican-controlled Senate voted 52-47 to reject an amendment that would have prevented the Senate from considering any bill that repeals or limits the deduction as part of a planned tax overhaul.

For more information, see Van Hollen leads unsuccessful first effort to preserve tax deduction popular in Maryland from the Baltimore Sun.

From Senator Van Hollen’s newsroom, the Senator states the issue is not a partisan one,

“This deduction helps millions of people in Maryland and across the country – and getting rid of it will hit the pocketbooks the middle class families the hardest. It also would tie the hands of state and local governments, which provide critical services in every community across America. This is not a partisan issue, and I urge my colleagues to support this amendment.”

For more information see Van Hollen, Cantwell Introduce Amendment to Ensure Tax Fairness, Protect Middle Class from Being Taxed Twice on Their Paychecks

“What Is Emergency Management?”…and Other Mysteries Revealed

You might see them take command during your county’s worst winter storm of the season, but do you know the full story? At MACo’s Winter Conference, join the State’s lead emergency manager and the President of MACo’s emergency management affiliate group for insight into the varied and vital work of local emergency managers.

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What’s the message? Doug Brown, Carroll County Emergency Manager, will be speaking about the emergency management profession with attendees of MACo’s Winter Conference.

“What Is Emergency Management?”…and Other Mysteries Revealed

All disasters are local. When disaster strikes, county officials must provide leadership to save lives, mobilize a response, and ensure a quick recovery for their community. Emergency management is a year-round process, a constant loop of preparation, training, testing, and revision that strengthens the resiliency of all county government functions. It ensures the continuity of government in the face of an innumerable number of disasters. In this session, get insight into creating partnerships and programs that will stand up when your county is ‘under water’ ─ and gain an understanding of the policy, fiscal, and tactical underpinnings of professional emergency management and disaster recovery.

Speakers

  • Russell J. Strickland, Executive Director, Maryland Emergency Management Agency
  • Douglas Brown, Emergency Manager, Carroll County and President, Maryland Association of County Emergency Managers

Date/Time: Wednesday, December 6, 2017; 3:00 pm – 4:00 pm

 

The MACo Winter Conference will be held December 6-8, 2017 at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Hotel in Cambridge, Maryland. This year the conference’s theme is “The Power of Partnership.”

Learn more about MACo’s 2017 Winter Conference:

State Can Step Back From School Construction Reviews, Says Subcommittee

The Process Process, Procedure, and Educational Specifications Subcommittee discussed recommendations to the Knott Commission regarding areas where the state’s process can be scaled back to streamline school construction in Maryland.

At today’s meeting of the process subcommittee of the Knott Commission on 21st Century School Facilities, the subcommittee discussed and voted on several recommendations to reduce the state’s role in school construction reviews. These recommendations are aimed a reducing duplicative reviews by different branches of state government, and to expedite the school construction process.

MACo advocates for streamlining school construction processes. County governments share responsibility for financing K-12 school construction with the State, whose funding depends on statutory formulas and regulations. MACo advocates efforts to promote the smartest and most effective funding for modern schools, and urges State policymakers to retain the State’s strong commitment to this top funding priority.

In the presentation of the possible areas for recommendations, Alex Szachnowicz, Chief Operating Officer Anne Arundel County School System asked the Commissioners to consider whether the current processes are adding value to the school construction program.

“A truism in the construction field is the old adage, ‘time is money.’ ” –Alex Szachnowicz, Chief Operating Officer Anne Arundel County School System

On the following areas of potential consensus, the Subcommittee made the following votes:

  • Should we keep Department of General Services (DGS) review for design development for systemic updates (such as replacing a failing boiler in an existing school)?
    • MAJORITY OF SUBCOMMITTEE RECOMMENDS TO ELIMINATE
  • Should we keep DGS review for design development for major construction projects? For these projects, design development is currently reviewed by the Maryland State Department of Education first, then they move to DGS. Design development plans represent about 50-60% of the design for a project.
    • MAJORITY OF SUBCOMMITTEE RECOMMENDS TO ELIMINATE
  • Should we keep DGS review for construction documents for systemics? The construction documents represent 100% of the design for a project.
    • MAJORITY OF SUBCOMMITTEE RECOMMENDS TO ELIMINATE
  • Should we keep DGS  review for construction documents for major projects?
    • MAJORITY OF SUBCOMMITTEE RECOMMENDS TO ELIMINATE
  • Should we keep DGS review for change orders for systemics?
    • MAJORITY OF SUBCOMMITTEE RECOMMENDS TO ELIMINATE
  • Should we keep DGS review for change orders for major projects?
    • MAJORITY OF SUBCOMMITTEE RECOMMENDS TO ELIMINATE

Additional areas for potential change were discussed by the subcommittee, and in some cases the subcommittee decided to ask for additional information from the state government before voting.

On November 14th, the subcommittee will present its recommendations to the full Knott Commission.

Documents may be posted on the Knott Commission webpage following the meeting.

Now Accepting Applications for MACo’s Paid Session Internship

Gain valuable experience in legislative affairs, learn about Maryland counties, and make state and local government contacts.

Paid Internship Available for 2018 Maryland General Assembly Session

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MACo Seeks an Intern for the 2018 General Assembly Session.

The Maryland Association of Counties (MACo) is seeking an intern to assist the Executive Director and staff during the 2018 Maryland General Assembly Session.

QUALIFICATIONS

Applicant must be self-motivated, possess a level of maturity and interest necessary to initiate and complete research requirements with little supervision, and possess good writing, communication, and computer skills. Specialization in law, political science, public affairs, economics, history or public policy is preferred.

Knowledge of state and local government issues and structure is a plus for this position. The MACo office and the General Assembly buildings are located in downtown Annapolis and walking from MACo’s office to General Assembly and government buildings will be required.

SCHEDULE

The internship runs from January to mid-April. The internship includes approximately 20 hours a week, and additional hours may be considered. Weekday daytime hours are required and additional evening hours or work from home may be allowed.

RESPONSIBILITIES

  • Conduct research on introduced and proposed legislation
  • Assist MACo staff with preparation and delivery of testimony and materials
  • Write articles for MACo’s blog, Conduit Street
  • Conduct additional in-depth research and assist with surveys on topics affecting county governments
  • Attend public bill hearings and budget hearings

 
DEADLINE

Application deadline is November 10, 5:00 pm. Interviews will begin the following week.

CONTACT

Interested candidates should contact Leslie Velasco, Administration and Finance Director, at lvelasco@mdcounties.org.

For more information about the internship, please read MACo’s Paid Internship Announcement.

Is the Kirwan Commission the Best Kept Secret in Maryland?

At a panel discussion at the Maryland Association of Boards of Education Conference, Commissioners on the statewide education policy group reveal process, timing, and outreach concerns.

The Maryland Association of Boards of Education Conference last week offered an educational workshop on the Kirwan Commission titled, “What You Need to Know About the Kirwan Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education.”

According to the comments of the panelists and the audience, the session was aptly named.

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Panelists at the Maryland Association of Boards of Education meeting share concerns regarding opportunities for input by Commissioners and the public into the Kirwan Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education.

The speakers, who are all Kirwan Commission members, shared detailed information and insight into the broad-reaching potential consequences of the Commission’s work. These include:

  • Expanding pre-K offerings to provide universal pre-K to all 4-year-olds in Maryland, and also to some 3-year-olds
  • Changing the way that we determine children in poverty, using measures other than the free and reduced price meal index
  • Altering certifications for teachers and developing a new career track for the teaching profession

At the same time, the speakers revealed how little consideration, assessment, and input has been provided over the past year on recommendations that are now due, according to the Commission’s current schedule, in less than three months.

Timing

  • Much time during the Commission’s public meetings has been spent hearing testimony regarding foreign educational systems of questionable relevance to Maryland’s public schools. For example, panelists point out that testimony on schools in Singapore and Finland provides limited insight. Maryland schools that exists in a society with different social services, and certain expectations for serving a range of special needs students as compared with foreign institutions.
  • According to the panel, very little time or attention of the Commission has been spent on its primary charge: “to review and assess current education financing formulas and accountability measures, and how each local school system is spending its funds” and “review the Study on Adequacy of Funding for Education in the State of Maryland.”

Process

  • No draft recommendations on funding have been formulated, and the Commission’s end-date of December 31st. Keeping to this schedule will provide little opportunity for Commissioners to comment on recommendations to change or update education funding models.

Outreach

  • The Commission is in the process of conducting public hearings throughout the State. However, without any draft recommendations specific to funding questions, the public hearings provide little opportunity for input, suggestions, or criticism on the central charge of the Commission.

Montgomery County Council Craig Rice is MACo’s Education Committee Chair and represented MACo on the panel. Commissioner Rice recounted how he’s heard the Commission called, “the best kept secret in Maryland.”

Carroll County Superintendent Stephen Guthrie is the president of the Public School Superintendents Association of Maryland and represents superintendents on the Kirwan Commission.

With regard to the Kirwan Commission, he stated,

 

Based on the pace that the Commission is working and the lack of analysis of the APA [consultant’s funding] recommendations so far, the Commission will not be ready to make a recommendation this December.

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Montgomery County Council Member Craig Rice speaks with members of the audience following the session about procedural questions regarding the Kirwan Commission.

The Kirwan Commission’s meeting today in Annapolis did not focus on funding, either, begging the question of whether the Commission will in fact delay it’s completion deadline and continue work through 2018. Stay tuned to Conduit Street for more coverage of today’s meeting.

Gain Easier Access to Local Finance, State Aid Reports on New Website

The Department of Legislative Services has re-designed its webpages, providing a more direct route to legislative, budgetary, and other statewide reports.

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The Department of Legislative Services develops a number of annual reports on local finances, demographics, and state aid to local governmental entities. The reports may be found through the General Assembly’s webpage, but the Department’s new website now provides a simpler route to them.

Check out the Department of Legislative Service’s Publications page.

Reports provided include 2017 fiscal year information on:

2018 fiscal year information will be released toward the start of the General Assembly Session in December 2017 and January 2018.

 

 

Breaking Bread with School Boards

At the Maryland Association of Boards of Education 2017 Conference, a session on building relationships with public officials sounds a common theme of meeting over meals.

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Panelists report that cooperation between county governments and school boards can be fun–and rewarding.

In “Building Relationships with Public Officials & the Community: How We Got to a Good Place,” Caroline County Commissioner Larry Porter spoke with representatives of the Caroline, Anne Arundel and Calvert County school systems, sharing examples ways to strengthen relationships between the leadership of the school system and the local government.

Many positives practices were reported, including shared maintenance of fields, joint use of repair shops for buses, and other cost-saving ventures. Financial savings and stability was a common outcome reported by the panelists. Caroline County Assistant Superintendent Milton Nagel even recounted how the school system had returned some of its funding to Caroline County government when the State cut highway user revenues mid-year.

As far as ways to build those helpful connections, a common theme that emerged included the practice of gathering over food – dinner, lunch, and even picnics. It might seem trivial, but the power of food to bring officials together was evident in the stories that the panelists shared. Casual events that maintained open-meeting protocols, but included an opportunity for county officials and school board members to talk about more than just business, in the many instances shared, became the springboard for cooperation over the budget and other areas of potential conflict.

A few words of advice from the panelists and the audience included:

  • Create a tradition of meetings between the Board and the County government – and make sure to continue that tradition when times are good and relationships are strong. That will buoy the practice when there is turnover in either entity, or when there are conflicts between the bodies.
  • Invite participation from the other entity in special committees as possible and relevant. Montgomery County Council Member Craig Rice, for example, spoke of a superintendent search committee that included members of the school board and the county council.
  • Consider meetings that include more than just the two bodies. One example is inviting the school board along with other county government departments to a discussion of the upcoming budget year.

The Maryland Association of Boards of Education Conference is an annual event, for more information, click here.

Chart Shows Maryland’s 2017 School Funding Per Student

Among the information contained in the Overview of Maryland Local Governments: Finance and Demographic Information is a chart of per-student funding in each Maryland county. The funding shows a range of funding for public education throughout Maryland on a per student basis.

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The funding comes primarily from county governments and the State, with limited funding from the federal government and other sources.

As described by the Department of Legislative Services,

Public schools are funded from federal, State, and local sources. Approximately 47% of public school funding in Maryland comes from local sources, and 48% comes from the State. The federal government provides only 4.5% of public school funding. Public schools in Maryland received about $15,268 in total funding for each pupil in fiscal 2017. Worcester County has the highest per pupil revenues at $17,971, while Baltimore City has the second highest at $16,942 and Somerset County has the third highest at $16,603. Talbot and Frederick counties have the lowest per pupil revenues at $13,474 and $13,409, respectively.

For more information, see the Overview of Maryland Local Governments: Finance and Demographic Information.

New Hurricane Plan and Multi-State Task Force Are Assets for Maryland

When describing Hurricane Isabel of 2003, one of the hurricanes to hit Maryland this century, the National Weather Services states,

Isabel is a reminder that if the impacts of a Category 2 hurricane can be so extensive, the impact of Category 3 or higher could be devastating.

The 2017 hurricane season was another reminder of this fact, as Marylanders watched from a distance the damages caused by Category 4 Hurricane Harvey, followed by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in the Caribbean.

As reported by the Baltimore Sun, the Army Corps of Engineers is now working on a new map for Marylanders to evacuate from the state during a hurricane. For more information, see Army Corps of Engineers developing plan to guide hurricane evacuations in Maryland in the Baltimore Sun.

Another Maryland asset in preparing for hurricanes is the Delmarva Emergency Task Force. Maryland is a member and a leader of the Task Force, an multi-state group that prepares the region for hurricanes and other threats.

The Delmarva Emergency Task Force works to ensure that all jurisdictions on the Delmarva peninsula are prepared for hazards, including natural disasters, such as hurricanes, tropical storms, and nor’easters; and man-made disasters involving weapons of mass destruction, or chemical and biological agents. State, county and municipal emergency management personnel from all of Delaware, Maryland’s nine Eastern Shore counties, and the two Virginia counties on the peninsula plan together for a coordinated regional response, including effective communications, resource sharing, shelter and evacuation strategies, and recovery plans.

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Fred Webster, left, is Director of the Worcester County Dept. of Emergency Services, Chair of The Delmarva Emergency Task Force and Secretary of Maryland Association of County Emergency Managers. Photo courtesy of FEMA.gov.

The Task Force will be featured at MACo’s upcoming Winter Conference. The session will be sponsored by The Maryland Association of County Administrators and the Maryland Association of County Emergency Managers. Fred E. Webster, Jr., Director, Worcester County Dept. of Emergency Services is the current chair of The Delmarva Emergency Task Force. Director Webster is also the Secretary of The Maryland Association of County Emergency Managers.

The theme of the Winter Conference is The Power of PartnershipsFind more information about MACo’s Winter Conference, and register here.

 

Committee Keeps Debt Recommendation Below Traditional Guideposts

The State’s Capital Debt Affordability Committee (CDAC) chaired by State Treasurer Nancy Kopp, approved a recommendation during its meeting on September 29th to set the State’s bond authorization at $995 million for the coming year.

The Committee’s voting membership includes the Treasurer, the Secretary of Budget and Management, the Comptroller, a governor’s appointee, and the Secretary of Transportation.

At this meeting, the Committee heard a presentation and analysis of three different debt limit alternatives:

  1. The 2016 CDAC Recommendation of $995 million annually based on the Governor’s capital program
  2. The Spending Affordability Committee recommendation of $1,065 million for FY 2018 plus 1% annual growth
  3. The traditional CDAC approach, which includes 3% annual growth to account for inflation and increased demand for capital funding.

Following the presentation, the Treasurer asked for comments and questions. The Comptroller recommended $995 million as the maximum cap of debt service for fiscal year 2019, and spoke of “the perils of government by credit card.”

Department of Budget and Management Secretary Brinkley made a motion to adopt $995 as the debt limit, noting the last week’s revenue write-down and, with reference to the Comptroller’s remarks, stated that “the bill has come due.” Secretary Brinkley also stated that general fund debt service costs are more than the State’s annual investment in public school construction.

Treasurer Kopp said that she would not support $995 as a debt limit, and that she would support one of the other debt limit alternatives that had been presented to the Committee. She stated that there are “significant unmet infrastructure needs” in Maryland, and described the importance of building and maintaining bridges, roads, and other pieces of critical infrastructure.

The vote to approve the recommendation of $995 million for fiscal year 2019 was 4-1, with Treasurer Kopp voting against.

CDAC, created pursuant to Section 8-104, et seq., of the State Finance and Procurement Article, is required to submit to the Governor and the General Assembly each year an estimate of the maximum amount of new general obligation debt that prudently may be authorized for the next fiscal year. Today’s recommendation will be forwarded on to the Governor and General Assembly for their consideration.

For more information, see the 2017 CDAC Affordability Analysis.