Pension Benefits Increase Would Create an Unbalanced System

MACo Research Director Robin Clark Eilenberg testified in opposition to House Bill 1042, “Law Enforcement Officers’ Pension System – Benefit Cap Increase”, before the House Appropriations Committee on February 22, 2018. This legislation increases the limit for a normal service allowance for a member of the Law Enforcement Officers’ Pension System from 60% to 65% of the member’s average final compensation.

Seven counties currently participate in the Law Enforcement Officers’ Pension System (LEOPS), and this would require an automatic increase in the benefits provided to eligible law enforcement officers in those jurisdictions. This change would possibly change pension schedules and create an imbalance between law enforcement officers and other county employees.

From MACo Testimony:

For county governments that participated in the Law Enforcement Officers’ Pension System, this legislation effects an automatic increase in county law enforcement pension benefits, and a new variable in county government pension contributions. The changes in this legislation could widen the gap between retirement options for one portion of the county workforce—law enforcement—and all other county employees. It also could create costs, although the fiscal effects are difficult to predict alongside other law enforcement benefits, such as early retirement options.

An amendment could resolve this county mandate. There is precedent for providing county members of the state system with an option to join the benefit enhancement, too. Such an option could provide a discrete amount of time, for example 12 months, for a county government to determine whether they would join the enhancement.”

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2018 legislative session here.

Let Counties Compete for Complete Streets

MACo Associate Director Barbara Zektick testified before the House Environment and Transportation Committee in support of House Bill 535, “Transportation – Complete Streets Program – Establishment”, on February 22, 2018. This bill creates a competitive grant program making Transportation Trust Fund dollars available to local governments for the planning and design of Complete Streets projects.

Complete Streets strives to establish roads and through-ways that accommodate many forms of transportation and continue working to innovate and rebuild many of our State’s roads. Because local governments maintain 83% of the State’s roadways, allowing counties to drive the changes and upgrades is critically important. This grant funding would aid an issue area that experienced significant losses in revenue through the loss of highway user funding.

From MACo Testimony:

Local governments own and maintain 83 percent of the roads in the State of Maryland, making them the best catalyst for incorporating Complete Streets principles into Maryland’s transportation network. However, with the decimation of highway user revenues resulting in over $3 billion diverted from local roads funding, counties struggle to accomplish meaningful preventive maintenance on their roads, much less dedicate resources to redesigning streets with all users in mind.

Given this reality, it will take a significant dedication of funding to local roads to transform our state’s transportation network into one which prioritizes pedestrians, cyclists, and transit passengers as highly as it prioritizes cars. MACo supports this bill because it provides a step in the right direction toward that end.”

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2018 legislative session here.

 

 

Tax Incentives Should Maintain Local Autonomy

MACo Associate Director Barbara Zektick submitted written testimony in support of Senate Bill 310 before the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee on February 21, 2018 with an amendment to remove the subtraction modification portion of the bill and instead focus on providing the proposed state tax credit.

The bill offers tax incentives for certain cybersecurity companies including a subtraction modification for state and local income taxes of capital gains income related to the sale or other transfer of an investment in one of these companies. MACo supports the initiative to provide tax incentives to businesses, but counties have concerns about the carryover effects that subtraction modification legislation will have on county budgets.

From MACo Testimony:

MACo has no quarrel with the State offering tax incentives to businesses it chooses to incentivize, but is concerned with the carryover county fiscal effects of this and other subtraction modification pieces of legislation. Counties would prefer approaches that provide local autonomy to determine the best way to provide tax incentives, rather than those that mandate reductions in local revenue sources.”

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2018 legislative session here.

Student Screenings Are an Unfunded Mandate

MACo Legislative Director Natasha Mehu testified before the Senate Education and Health and Environmental Affairs Committee in opposition to Senate Bill 548 on February 21, 2018.

This bill would require local boards of education to conduct specific screenings to identify children with reading difficulties. Without any mechanism for state funding, this potentially costly mandate will be entirely placed on county boards of education. Several new standards and screenings would be established requiring training of employees that could take a substantial amount of time and resources.

From MACo Testimony:

Counties are concerned this legislation places a substantial administrative and cost burden onto local boards of education, whose operations are supported by county funding. Without state resources to offset these potentially large costs, the bill represents an unfunded mandate on local governments.

Local boards of education currently establish educational goals and objectives that conform with statewide educational objectives for subject areas including reading, writing, mathematics, science, and social studies. SB 548 requires local boards of education to implement prescriptive literacy screening standards, develop individualized reading intervention programs, and comply with onerous reporting requirements.

Furthermore, the process of training employees to administer and interpret literacy screenings, providing questionnaires and progress reports to parents or guardians, and preparing reports for the Maryland State Department of Education will take a substantial amount of time, which could divert resources from other efforts.

This bill would place a costly mandate on county governments to carry out new state policy.”

For more information, follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2018 legislative session here.

Amendments Ensure Fair Framework for Wireless Security System

MACo Legislative Director Natasha Mehu testified in support with amendments of House Bill 645, “Business Regulation – Wireless Security Systems – Local Government Licenses and Permits”, before the House Economic Matters Committee on February 20, 2018.

As introduced, this bill would have prohibited local governments from requiring any permit or license to install wireless security systems that do not require a fire protection plan review. The bill sought to provide a framework for installation of wireless security systems, but the language was vague and did not include longstanding safeguards for security systems. MACo worked closely with stakeholders championing the bill to develop amendments to address lingering concerns and create a sensible framework for regulation.

From MACo Testimony:

HB 645 defines a wireless security system and prohibits local governments from requiring any license or permit to install, maintain, inspect, replace, or service a wireless security system that does not require a fire protection plan review. As introduced, the bill is vague on the specific license or permit prohibition. It does not account for longstanding, commonsense state and local public safety protections for security systems, which should apply regardless of whether the security system is wired or not. MACo believes an amended version of the bill could accomplish these objectives more clearly, and without upending important and appropriate local oversight.

The amendments sought by the counties would ensure that:
(1) Low voltage is explicitly defined as 50 volts or lower;
(2) Only electrical licenses or electrical permits are prohibited for wireless systems;
(3) Individuals who install wireless systems must comply with state laws governing security system technicians;
(4) Wireless security system operators and users comply with any local alarm business registration and alarm system registration laws; and
(5) Wireless systems must meet the appropriate building codes wherever installed.”

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2018 legislative session here.

Tax Credits Give Consideration to Local Governments

MACo Associate Director Barbara Zektick submitted written testimony in opposition to Senate Bill 498, “Income Tax – Subtraction Modification – Employee-Owned Businesses”, before the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee on February 21, 2018.

This legislation would provide an adjustment in the amount of income taxes paid on employee stock ownership plans or an employee ownership trust. MACo is concerned with the carryover effects that this modification and other would have, and counties prefer an approach that allows for local flexibility to consider tax incentives.

From MACo Testimony:

MACo is concerned with the carryover county fiscal effects of this and other subtraction modification pieces of legislation and would prefer approaches that provide local autonomy to determine the best way to provide tax incentives, rather than those that mandate reductions in local revenue sources.

MACo suggests that consideration be given instead to providing state tax credits, which do not mandate the depletion of resources from all counties for education, public safety, and needed community services.”

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2018 legislative session here.

Bill Extends County Repayment Timeline to Local Reserve Accounts

House Bill 686 and Senate Bill 742 would implement a two-year delay of county repayments to the Local Income Tax Reserve Account that stems from the ruling in the Comptroller v. Wynne court case. This delay would allow counties to continue to properly plan and take into account the impact that these repayments will have on their budgets, and subsequently their ability to continue to provide comprehensive services to citizens.

Taxpayers have already received their refunds and interest stemming from the Wynne case, and these bills allow counties to smoothly address the repayment of funds into the tax reserve account for an extra two years. MACo Associate Director Barbara Zektick testified in support of both HB 686 and SB 742 before the House Ways and Means and Senate Budget and Taxation Committees on February 21, 2018.

From MACo Testimony:

The amount of money owed by counties for the refunds paid pursuant to the Wynne case is extraordinarily high, at around $250 million. Counties appreciate efforts made by the General Assembly in the past to smooth out the severe, deleterious impact of the Wynne case decision over an extended time, and to delay repayments until the fourth quarter of fiscal 2019.

Now that this date is coming near, unfortunately, counties are grappling with significant uncertainty surrounding their income tax revenues, arising from federal tax reform and the State’s anticipated, yet presently unknown, responses to it. Counties would extremely appreciate this Committee and the General Assembly mitigating this uncertainty by delaying their obligation to refund the Local Income Tax Reserve Account at the same critical juncture.”

For more information on these bills and others, follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2018 legislative session here.

Tax Alterations Without County Input Depletes Local Resources

MACo Associate Director Barbara Zektick testified before the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee on February 21, 2018 in opposition to Senate Bill 299, “Income Tax Subtraction Modification – Correctional Officers (Hometown Heroes Act of 2018)”.

This would drastically alter the existing income tax modification for retired “hometown heroes”, while reducing county revenues by over $7 million annually by 2023. This subtraction modification approach excludes local jurisdictions from working with policymakers to develop flexible tools to provide tax incentives to different qualifying groups in those areas.

Additionally, with the uncertain effects of tax reform still looming over county revenues it is possible that modifications such as this one could present significant budget difficulties.

From MACo Testimony:

SB 299 is just one of many bills that have been introduced this session to reduce or adjust the income taxes paid by residents of Maryland. The revenue effect of this bill, combined with that of other bills already introduced this session, simply cannot be afforded as a statewide county mandate and could present substantial budget difficulties. This is exacerbated by the fact that counties do not know yet just how tax reform will affect their revenues.

MACo suggests that consideration be given instead to providing state tax credits, which do not mandate the depletion of resources from all counties for education, public safety, and needed community services.

Counties welcome the chance to work with state policymakers to develop flexible and optional tools to create broad or targeted tax incentives, but resist state-mandated changes that preclude local input.”

For more information on other tax-related bills, follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2018 legislative session here.

MACo Initiative: Commission Would Advance Transformation of 9-1-1 Services Across Maryland

MACo Policy Associate Kevin Kinnally testified before the House Health and Government Operations Committee in support of House Bill 634, “Commission to Advance Next Generation 9-1-1 Across Maryland – Establishment”, on February 21, 2018.

911bill

Next Generation 9-1-1 helps to innovate and improve the exemplary and essential services required of emergency services in the state of Maryland. By establishing this commission, Maryland can begin to develop a common framework and collection of best practices in order to properly and successfully implement Next Gen 9-1-1 services.

From MACo Testimony:

Maryland citizens demand and expect 9-1-1 emergency service to be reliable and efficient. Next-generation technology is required to keep up with this increasingly complex public safety function – improving wireless caller location, accommodating incoming text/video, and managing crisis-driven call overflows. Maryland must accelerate its move toward Next Generation 9-1-1, deliver these essential services equitably across the state, and assure effective coordination with communications providers.”

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2018 legislative session here.

Proper Alarm System Registration=More Effective Use of Resources

House Bill 1117 would allow counties to impose penalties onto alarm system contractors that fail to register or have failed to renew an alarm system. As introduced, the bill contained a provision that forces counties to wait 10 days before penalizing a contractor, which could significantly affect a jurisdiction’s ability to combat false alarms and allocate police resources effectively.

MACo Legislative Director Natasha Mehu testified in support of HB 1117, “Alarm Systems – Registration and Renewal – Penalties”, before the House Economic Matters Committee with amendments worked out with the bills stakeholders that address the outlined concern.

From MACo Testimony:

Proper and prompt registration of an alarm system is an important tool for local governments to combat false alarms and the drain of valuable police time and resources that accompany them. Registration and renewals help ensure that local governments are able to quickly identify and contact alarm users prior to the dispatch of police resources.

Improper or missing registrations can result in confusion and dangerous delays of police response. For instance, Baltimore City and Baltimore County share 15 different zip codes. Without proper registration, calls may come into the wrong jurisdiction for police dispatch, delaying prompt police response.

These amendments strike a necessary balance. The parameters set by the bill for imposing a penalty on alarm contractors ensure that they will only be penalized for these specific violations, rather than for actions outside of their control. Removing the 10-day period will help ensure counties are able to hold contractors accountable for violating local law in a timely fashion.”

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2018 legislative session here.