Local Electrical Licensing Repeal Bill Dies in Committee

A bill that would remove all electrical licensing authority from local jurisdictions by 2020 and would establish a statewide licensing framework for master electricians received an unfavorable report by the House Economic Matters Committee this week.

MACo opposed HB 1368 as journeymen and other local classes of electricians would effectively lose their local ability to perform services. Counties also believe their local electrical boards are best situated to oversee and discipline electricians working within their jurisdictions.

Prior coverage on Conduit Street: MACo: Don’t Remove Local Electrical Licensing Authority

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session here.

 

Proposed $15 Minimum Wage Would Have Costly Impact on County Budgets

MACo Policy Associate, Kevin Kinnally, submitted written testimony opposing the $15 minimum wage by 2023 (SB 962). Counties are concerned this legislation will have significant fiscal and operational impacts on local governments.

MACo’s testimony states,

Counties employ thousands of Maryland residents, including full-time, part-time, seasonal, and grant-funded employees. Full-time and grant-funded employees are generally paid on a salary basis. However, part-time and seasonal employees may be paid on an hourly basis. According to the bill’s fiscal note, raising the minimum wage in such a drastic fashion will cost local governments millions of dollars per year.

As a rule, MACo resists state policies that result in costly or burdensome local implementation. SB 962 would place a significant fiscal burden on county governments. Under state law, counties have no choice but to fund these costs – competing for limited local funds against education, public safety, roadway maintenance, and other essential public services.

Many part-time and seasonal employees work in community services, such as after-school activities, summer camps, and community services for vulnerable populations. Accommodating this legislation could result in significant cuts to those programs.

SB 962 was heard by the Senate Finance Committee on March 15, 2017. The cross-file, HB 1416, was heard by the House Economic Matters Committee on March 7, 2017. Click here for previous Conduit Street coverage.

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 Legislative Session here.

MACo Supports Grant Funding to Offset Declining Enrollment

MACo Policy Associate, Kevin Kinnally testified in support of Senate Bill 1024, “Education – Grant for Declining Education Aid,” to the Senate Budget & Taxation Committee on March 15, 2017.

SB 1024 would help to offset the sudden drop-off in education funding to jurisdictions with declining enrollment, ensuring school systems can offer equivalent courses and programs, even with fewer students.

Five Jurisdictions–Baltimore City, Calvert County, Carroll County, Garrett County, and Talbot County–are slated to lose a combined $45M in state education funding in 2018. Baltimore City is the most deeply affected, with a $38m loss in year-to-year total state education funds.

MACo’s testimony states,

Counties value public education as a high priority, and an essential service and benefit to the citizens and the economy. State Budgeting formulas and requirements complicate this commitment, especially because nearly all state education funding is distributed on a per-pupil basis, meaning that the more students a school system serves, the more funding it receives.

By contrast, when the number of students declines, schools can experience a sudden drop in funding. This dynamic can strain local budgets – reflecting the reality that not every dollar spent in a school system is truly a “variable cost.” A sudden drop in students across a county school system may mean some cost savings in bus transportation and meals service – but may not have any effect on “fixed costs,” which account for most system-wide expenditures on education and administration.

To learn more about Maryland’s school budgeting formula, read “Why do Five Jurisdictions Lose $45M in Education Funds?” on MACo’s Conduit Street Blog. The cross-file, HB 684, was heard in the House Appropriations Committee on February 21, 2017. Click here for previous Conduit Street coverage.

For more on MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session, visit our Legislative Tracking Database.

MACo: Allow Maryland-Based Breweries at OCCC Tasting Events

MACo Policy Associate Kevin Kinnally testified in favor of legislation (SB 1102) that would authorize a limited-scope license for beer and wine tastings at the Ocean City Convention Center, for certain events that promote Maryland-based products.

MACo’s testimony states,

For the last four years, MACo has offered a “Taste of Maryland” reception as part of its annual summer conference in Ocean City. The event has grown to nearly 1,000 guests, and has gained popularity as a venue for our jurisdictions to showcase their many food and drink options. The event is a “sampling” event, where small portions of food, snacks, and wine have proven very popular with attendees who may not otherwise learn about the many offerings from across Maryland.

Current liquor laws apparently do not allow this event to feature Maryland-brewed beer in the same fashion as wine, and this has kept local breweries from participating in this once-a-year event. SB 1102 does not seek to upend the overall balance the General Assembly has struck regarding the two industries, but simply seeks to afford the same opportunity to showcase beer and wine at this limited type of event. SB 1102 only applies to events at the Ocean City Convention Center (itself a license holder), and only for events promoting Maryland products for “tasting” purposes.

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session here.

MACo Opposes Local Land Use Infringement Near Certain Religious Properties

MACo submitted written testimony in opposition to Senate Bill 421, “Counties – Historic Preservation – Development Limitation” on March 14, 2017 in front of the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee. Senator Douglas Peters is the bill sponsor.

SB 421 would infringe on local land use authority and create land use challenges for properties located in a charter or code home rule county that seeks to redevelop or improve but is adjacent to certain “religious property” as defined in the bill.

MACo’s testimony states,

While MACo appreciates the bill sponsor’s concerns over a limited class of religious buildings, the requirements of SB 421 apply to all 17 charter and code home rule counties and may hamper long-term land use plans in those jurisdictions.

Based on a quick review, Montgomery County identified at least 7 sites meeting the bill’s criteria for religious property – suggesting there may be scores of similarly situated properties across the state. Baltimore City and other densely developed urban areas likely cannot comply with the bill’s 600-foot buffer for their qualifying religious properties.

SB 421 seeks to address concerns over a narrow class of developments but the bill’s provisions pose county land use challenges and potentially unanticipated consequences throughout the state. The bill’s intended remedy is both overbroad and unnecessarily infringes on local land use autonomy.

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session here.

MACo Supports Sprinkler Assistance Funding for Rural Residents

MACo Policy Associate, Kevin Kinnally, testified in favor of Senate Bill 1103, “Home Sprinkler and Fire Safety Assistance Fund” on March 14, 2017 in front of the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee. Senator Jim Mathias is the sponsor of this bill.

SB 1103 would provide funding assistance for required sprinkler systems for those in workforce and low-income housing in rural areas without public water.

MACo’s testimony states,

Since the passage of the sprinkler system mandate in 2012 (HB 366/SB 602), rural areas have witnessed a dramatic reduction in building permits for moderate- and low-income housing. Sprinkler systems not on public water can require high pressure pumps and water storage tanks that may add $10,000 to $12,000 to the cost of a new home – a significant cost in a rural area for a home designed for a moderate- to low-income family. SB 1103 would help address this issue by providing a limited funding mechanism to offset costly sprinkler and similar building code mandates.

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session here.

‘Airbnb’ Regulation Bill Snagged in Senate Committee

A bill to require short term rentals, such as Airbnb, and individuals who hosts on those platforms to be registered with the Comptroller and regulated hit a road block in the Senate Finance Committee on Friday. It is unlikely to make it out of committee.

The Baltimore Sun reports:

Members of the Senate Finance Committee expressed little interest in passing a bill during a work group meeting on the issue Friday afternoon.

They’re considering a bill that would require short-term rentals posted on websites like Airbnb, HomeAway and FlipKey to file paperwork with the state, pay state sales taxes and pay local hotel taxes.

After a couple hours of discussion, committee chairman Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton said it seems that the General Assembly may best be suited only to deal with the issue of state sales taxes. The state Comptroller’s Office already has taken the position that short-term property rentals through websites are subject to the state sales tax.

Local governments are better suited to deal with making sure their local hotel taxes are collected, Middleton said. Local hotel taxes range from 3 percent to 9.5 percent.

MACo participated in Friday’s work group and had supported the bill in question, SB 463, with amendments.

Read The Baltimore Sun for more information.

Prior coverage on Conduit Street:

MACo Backs Regulation of Short Term Rentals Protects Local Autonomy

Airbnb Bill Ignites Debate Between Old Regulations and New Economies

MACo testimony on SB 463.

MACo: Make Tax Refund Requirement Feasible For Counties

MACo Associate Director Barbara Zektick recently supported legislation (HB 1402) which requires counties to pay refunds resulting from property tax assessment appeals within an established time frame, but sought amendments to make the requirement more feasible. MACo’s amendments sought to extend the amount of time from 21 days to 30 days, and begin counting the days after the county receives notice of the decision from the appeal authority. The bill sponsor, Delegate Herb McMillan, introduced the amendments on MACo’s behalf.

MACo’s testimony states,

Begin Tolling Upon Tax Collector’s Receipt of Notice From Appeal Authority
A number of different government sectors participate in the appeal and refund process: the appeal authority, which may be the State Department of Assessments and Taxation (SDAT), a Property Tax Assessment Appeal Board, or the judiciary; the local government property tax collector; and the State, in its role as the state property tax collector. Prior to issuing a refund, the local government must first receive notification of the decision from the appeal authority, then coordinate with the taxpayer and State to verify the amount of state and local property tax due. Local finance offices cannot begin this verification process until they receive the initial notification of the refund owed from the appeal authority. For this reason, MACo respectfully requests that the timeframe begin to toll upon receipt of the decision notice.

Provide 30 Days to Issue Refunds

This would provide counties with a reasonable buffer of an additional week to accommodate for minor delays that can occasionally result from unavoidable occurrences like inclement weather closings, vacations, holidays, understaffing, technology malfunctions, etc. Counties believe that 30 days is a reasonable timeframe to verify the amounts owed with the applicable parties and subsequently issue these payments.

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session here.

MACo Supports Streamlined Process For Fixing Neglected Property

MACo Associate Director Barbara Zektick recently testified in favor of House Bill 1496, “Tax Sales – Property Maintenance and Nuisance Condition Violation Judgments” which would allow local governments to use tax sale procedures to collect on judgments for property maintenance and nuisance condition violations.

MACo’s testimony states,

MACo supports this bill as a means to provide local governments with the tools necessary to abate nuisance conditions and property maintenance violations, without having to pass those costs onto other taxpayers.

Local governments often must step in to address the adverse conditions when landowners cause nuisances or allow their property to fall into a state of disrepair. Those landowners’ neighbors already have to deal with the negative impacts of the offending activity or neglect; they should not also have to bear the costs for abatement through their own tax dollars. Local governments should not have to choose between spending public funds to abate nuisances on private property, or leaving these adverse conditions to continue unaddressed, negatively affecting their citizens’ property values and quality of life. This bill provides a tool to allow local governments to hold property owners accountable, without having to pass the costs along to law-abiding taxpayers or make cuts to essential public services.

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session here.

MACo Supports Property Tax Credits For Improvements in Revitalization Districts

MACo Associate Director Barbara Zektick recently testified in favor of House Bill 1323, “Property Tax – Credit for Revitalization Districts” which would authorize local governments to grant optional property tax credits to homeowners who make improvements to their homes in specified “revitalization districts.” Local governments have authority to define what a “revitalization district” is and where to designate them.

MACo’s testimony states,

HB 1323 authorizes counties to enact the property tax credit, determine the locations in which to implement it, and apply additional eligibility criteria as necessary. This will allow each jurisdiction that chooses to enact the credit to tailor it to their specific revitalization needs and incentivize improvements in those areas where the jurisdiction sees most fit. Additionally, it gives each county broad discretion to control how many credits it authorizes and how much revenue it is willing to forego to provide the desirable benefits enabled by the bill.

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session here.