MACo Opposes Prevailing Wages on Public Construction TIF Bond Projects

MACo Associate Director Barbara Zektick testified in opposition of legislation (SB 870) which would require payment of prevailing wages on construction contracts receiving any funds from tax increment financing (TIF) bond proceeds. Counties are concerned that this bill will drive up costs of public infrastructure projects, stifle use of a demonstrably successful economic development tool, and squeeze out small businesses from participating in infrastructure construction projects.

MACo’s testimony states that the bill,

unfairly applies prevailing wage requirements to certain projects receiving TIF bond proceeds when those projects would not otherwise have to comply even if financed with other public funds.

…this bill will significantly raise costs for development projects funded with TIF bonds. If costs are raised over and above what the development will return in future tax revenues, the county will not issue the TIF because it is not economically viable. This generally prevents the development from occurring, sacrificing blight elimination, job creation, targeted economic development, and growth to the taxable base.

Under existing law, prevailing wages are required on public works contracts valued at $500,000 or more. However, the only threshold in SB 870 is the amount of the TIF bond, applying the wage requirements to any contract funded with a TIF bond valued at $500,000 or higher. It is extremely unlikely that a local government would issue a TIF bond of less than this amount. Therefore, the bill would require payment of prevailing wages for virtually any construction project receiving TIF funds, regardless of the size of the contract or scope of the project. This extremely broad scope unfairly applies higher-than-market wage requirements to projects in TIF districts where these terms would not apply to public works contracts in any other situations.

At the hearing, Senator Stephen Hershey asked why the state would establish a mandate for how TIF money must be spent, if counties created the TIF districts, constructed the deals, issued the bonds and financed the projects with county property tax revenues. MACo further emphasized that counties already have the ability to require prevailing wages in TIF projects on a case by case basis  – and it should remain this way.

This bill was heard by the Senate Finance committee on March 16.

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

MACo Advocates for Amended Expedited Foreclosure Process

MACo Associate Director Natasha Mehu sought to support legislation (SB 1033) with consensus amendments intended to establish an expedited foreclosure process for homes that are vacant and abandoned. These properties are often a source of blight and nuisance for the communities surrounding them.

Over the interim MACo participated in the workgroup that studied foreclosures as well as vacant and abandoned properties with the goal of providing local governments additional tools for addressing problem properties. Recently stakeholders came to a consensus on amendments to establish a framework for an expedited foreclosure process without unintended consequences that may undermine the benefits.

MACo’s testimony raised a number of concerns that are addressed with the consensus amendments:

The bill requires that the appropriate county official verify to the court that the property is vacant and abandoned before the expedited foreclosure process may move forward.

The county would be vulnerable to constitutional claims and other costly and time-consuming lawsuits from an aggrieved party should the property turn out not to be vacant and abandoned.

Counties are also concerned about the staff time and resources that would need to be dedicated to inspecting the properties in order to verify that they are vacant and abandoned.

The mandatory inspections and verifications for the expedited foreclosure process would add a new layer of responsibly to their workloads without additional compensation, stretching already limited resources even thinner. The responsibility for verifying the properties are vacant and abandoned should fall on the foreclosing party.

Finally, while the community will benefit from a property that is no longer vacant and unmaintained, the bill should include stronger and clearer protections for the property owner on record. This could include adding notice provisions, as well as opportunities for an owner to object and appeal. The criteria used to determine “vacant and abandoned” should also be reinforced by appropriate documentation.

This bill was heard by the Senate Judicial Proceedings committee on March 16. The cross-file to the bill (HB 702) was heard by the House Environment & Transportation committee on February 14, 2017. The house committee issued a favorable report on the house bill with the consensus amendments. Click here for previous Conduit Street coverage.

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

MACo Supports Strengthening Drug Overdose Prevention Programs

MACo Associate Director Natasha Mehu submitted written testimony in favor of legislation (HB 1549) that enhances state and local tools and helps improve the effectiveness of existing programs that help reduce overdose deaths and address addiction.

MACo’s testimony states,

The bill authorizes DHMH to revoke licenses for Controlled Dangerous Substance (CDS) manufacturers, distributors, and dispensers that fail to properly register. This strengthens the Department’s ability to enforce compliance and catch rogue businesses that handle highly addictive drugs that are subject to abuse.

The bill also authorizes local overdose fatality review teams to collect and analyze information related to near overdoses. These teams perform confidential reviews of drug and alcohol overdose deaths in order to identify ways to improve system level operations. However, they are currently only able to review fatal overdose data. The information that can be gleaned from an individual that has experienced an overdose, but survived, is valuable for preventing and responding to future overdose events.

This bill was heard by the House Health and Government Operations committee on March 16.

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

MACo: Increase Access to Overdose Prevention Medication

MACo Associate Director, Natasha Mehu, provided written testimony in support of legislation (SB 868), which would provide easier access to naloxone, a medication that can counter an overdose, to individuals who are most able to assist someone at risk of dying from an opioid death when emergency medical services or first responders are not readily available.

MACo’s testimony states,

SB 868 authorizes naloxone to be prescribed, dispensed, received, possessed, or administered to an individual that has not received training or certification through an overdose response program. Currently, community members must receive hands-on training and certification through the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s (DHMH) Overdose Response Program (ORP) in order to receive the life-saving medication without a prescription. The bill will make it easier for community members to have access to naloxone in cases where they are unable to attend a training through the ORP.

Naloxone is a safe means of saving lives. It is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to help prevent overdoses by opioids such as heroin, morphine, and oxycodone by blocking opioid receptor sites, reversing the toxic effects of the overdose. It is not a controlled dangerous substance. There are no adverse effects from use nor does it have any potential for abuse, physical dependence, or overdose. It will neither help nor cause harm if used on someone who is not overdosing from opioids.

The cross-file to this bill (HB 791) was heard by the House Health and Government Operations committee on February 21, 2017. Click here for previous Conduit Street coverage.

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

Statewide Child Abuse Reporting Bills Withdrawn

A bill that would shift the critical responsibility of answering calls concerning child abuse and neglect from local departments of social services to the statewide 2-1-1 system was withdrawn by sponsors.

MACo opposed HB 697 /SB 945. While the concept of a statewide hotline proposed by the bill was well intentioned, it had practical shortcomings.

Prior coverage on Conduit Street: MACo Opposes Changes to Child Abuse Reporting System:

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

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.