State to Poorest Counties: Pony Up

Ten counties are required to escalate their education spending beyond what they provided in years past based on a formula set in state law since 2012. Seven of the counties caught in the mandate also have the lowest wealth per pupil in the State. 

The Maryland State Department of Education has released draft calculations for State education aid for FY 2019. The figures could change based on legislation passed by the General Assembly this legislative session.

The draft calculations show that multiple counties are again caught in a relatively new provision of law called the maintenance of effort escalator. Nine counties were in the same position last year.

This year, Dorchester and Somerset counties will be required to increase their education budgets. Last year they did not have to because their local wealth per pupil was decreasing.

Counties required to permanently increase their per-pupil payments are those that fall below a statewide moving average of education contributions as compared with local wealth. From year-to-year, some of the state’s least wealthy counties have fallen into this category.

Here is a ranking by the Department of Legislative Services of the counties in Maryland with the least wealth per student. The seven lowest ranking counties are also caught in the escalator formula this year.

Screenshot 2018-02-20 12.02.11

As shown in the chart below, 10 counties will be required to increase their education pending by the amount of the increase in their wealth per pupil (WPP), up to a maximum of 1.5%. Those counties where wealth per pupil is falling are not required to increase their payments this year, though they may be required to do so next year if their local wealth per pupil increases.

Screenshot 2018-02-20 12.30.20

For more background, see 9 Counties Swept Up In Education Funding Escalator and Q&A: Maryland’s Education Funding Escalator

Ruppersberger Seeks To Bring Back Refunding Bond Exemption

Maryland’s U.S. Representative Dutch Ruppersberger, along with U.S. Representative Randy Hultgren, an Illinois Republican, have sponsored a bill to bring back the federal tax break on advance refunding bonds. The federal tax exemption for the refinancing tool was removed in the federal tax reform bill.

Advance refunding bonds allow counties to refinance tax-exempt municipal bonds to save taxpayer money on outstanding debt. Previously, counties could issue one advance refunding bond per municipal bond – saving taxpayers billions nationwide on public infrastructure. That ended December 31, 2017.

Congressman Ruppersberger stated:

I’m proud to lead this bipartisan effort on behalf of local governments in Maryland who rely on this tool to finance projects that benefit everyone. We need to do what we can to help local governments create jobs while building roads, schools, hospitals, fire and police stations. When counties can issue an advance refunding bond, it saves taxpayers billions nationwide – and an average of nearly $37 million annually here in Maryland. This can translate into lower property taxes.

From Reuters:

“Given that interest rates are expected to increase, this tool is especially important to states and local governments responsibly planning for the future,” Hultgren said in a statement.

The two lawmakers co-chair the Congressional Municipal Finance Caucus, which unsuccessfully pushed to keep advance refunding bonds out of the tax bill.

The Effect of Less Desirous Debt

Federal tax reform could negatively affect the market for municipal bonds, increasing the cost of infrastructure projects for state and county governments.

Budget analyses prepared by the Department of Legislative Services for the General Assembly contain a wealth of information.

Screenshot 2018-02-16 08.56.09
The cost of borrowing could increase for State following federal tax reform, according to the Department of Legislative Services. The same effect could be seen in the county market for municipal bonds, a vehicle for local transportation infrastructure projects.

In this week’s presentation of the Operating Budget Analysis of Public Debt to the Budget and Taxation Committee, the Department describes how federal tax reform could decrease demand for municipal bonds with carry-over effects on the cost of debt for state and county governments.

The State of Maryland and counties use municipal bonds to finance a variety of public works projects, including transportation infrastructure.

From the Analysis’s Effect of Reducing Taxes on the State and Municipal Bond Market:

Most State GO bonds issued by the State are tax-exempt bonds. The purchaser of these bonds does not have to pay federal taxes on the bonds’ interest earnings. This makes these bonds especially attractive to individuals in high income tax brackets and corporations. This reduced the top bracket on individual taxes from 39.6% to 37% through calendar 2025 and reduces the top corporate income tax rate from 39% to 21% permanently. Lower tax rates reduce the amount of tax avoided by investing in tax-exempt bonds.

The Department describes the basis for this change:

  • Financial institutions, like banks and insurance companies, are estimated to own 25% of tax-exempt bonds. These institutions would require a higher interest rate to purchase tax-exempt bonds.
  • Some reports note that owners of pass-through entities, such as partnerships and Subchapter S Corporations, may also be less likely to purchase tax-exempt bonds, thereby dampening the demand and driving up prices.

DLS estimates the effect of these additional costs based on findings of a research firm’s data from the federal tax reform debates. DLS found that the State’s premium would have been reduced from $94 million to between $56 million and $69 million in its most recent bond sale in August 2017 because of higher rates.

For more information, see the Effect of Reducing Taxes on the State and Municipal Bond Market from the Budget Analysis.

Hogan Announces Plan for Casino Revenue “Lockbox” to Boost Education Funding

Governor Larry Hogan, flanked by Comptroller Peter Franchot and Secretary of Budget & Management David Brinkley, today announced the “Commitment to Education Act of 2018,” a proposal to ensure that taxes on casino revenues set aside for education are used to supplement, not supplant state funding for public schools. According to Governor Hogan, his plan will add $1 billion in school construction funding and $3.4 billion in operating funding for public schools over the next ten years.

Last month, legislature leadership announced a plan to place a constitutional amendment on the November ballot. The ballot question would ask voters to approve of putting a “lockbox” on casino money (around $500M per year), requiring it to be used for education above the amount set by state formulas. The Governor’s proposal would not require a referendum, it would be done through statute.

According to Governor Hogan, his legislation would phase-in casino revenues to a special fund (the “lockbox”) over the next four years. The first 20% percent would be used for school construction projects (around $100 million next year) and the rest would be used to supplement operating budgets.

The Administration is expected to provide more details on the proposal in the coming days.

Stay tuned to Conduit Street for more information.

Costs of Opioid Epidemic High but Hard to Quantify

Maryland residents among those most impacted by the costs of the crisis.

When it comes to the opioid epidemic, some costs are easier to quantify than others leaving the full scope of impact open to estimation.

Governing reports on the national and local efforts to tie a full dollar figure to the impacts of the epidemic:

In November, S&P Global Ratings looked at Medicaid spending, which the authors reasoned was one of the few available state-by-state comparison measurements on the opioid crisis. The report noted that 3 in 10 non-elderly adults on Medicaid struggled with opioid addiction in 2015 — double the rate of 2010.

The S&P report found that the states with the biggest impact on their finances included Kentucky, New Hampshire, Ohio, Rhode Island and West Virginia.

Data that has been collected by AEI shows that Maryland is among the states where residents are carrying a large burden of the costs.

Meanwhile, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) estimates that the top five places residents shouldering the biggest burden are, in order, West Virginia, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Ohio and Connecticut.

The institute, which will release the full results of its study later this month, incorporated data on the societal cost of opioids from a 2016 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report and a more recent report from the White House Council of Economic Advisers. Together, those reports concluded the epidemic cost the country a half-trillion dollars in 2015 alone.

The AEI report found that the per resident cost ranged from $465 in Nebraska to $4,793 in West Virginia. Their report took into consideration overdose deaths, abuse disorders, health-care and criminal justice costs, and worker productivity.

The article notes that full picture of financial impacts on the local level have been hard to gather as local governments tend to not calculate opioid-related costs until they become a significant part of their budget. Additionally indirect costs, such as loss of economic productivity and children entering state care due to loss of their parents, remain most difficult quantify.

For more information:

How Much Is the Opioid Crisis Costing Governments? (Governing)

New state-level estimates of the economic burden of the opioid epidemic (AEI)

The Uncertainty of Federal Reform Looms Over Tax Bills

MACo Associate Director Barbara Zektick submitted written testimony to the House Ways and Means Committee in opposition to House Bill 129 and House Bill 296, “Income Tax – Subtraction Modification – Retirement Income of Correctional Officers”, on February 7, 2018.

These two similar pieces of legislation are among a number of subtraction modification bills that would mandate reductions in local revenue by reducing an eligible individual’s taxable income. Due to the clear fiscal impact that these modifications would have on local governments and their ability to provide needed community services, counties generally oppose such changes.

Additionally, the effects from federal tax reform on local and county government revenues are still uncertain.

From MACo Testimony:

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.”

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

Disparity Grants: Disparity Between Governor & DLS Proposals

The Department of Legislative Services (DLS) is recommending that the General Assembly reduce disparity grant allocations in the Governor’s proposed budget by $2.7 million, affecting Prince George’s, Somerset and Wicomico counties.

Disparity grants are grants to low wealth jurisdictions with higher local income tax rates, intended to smooth out the effects of disparities in income tax revenue generation potential. The Governor’s proposed budget allocates $140.8 million in disparity grants, according to the formula. The Budget Analysis explains how that formula works.

For fiscal 2019, Cecil, Prince George’s, Somerset, Washington, and Wicomico counties are receiving increases from the fiscal 2018 grant, while the grant to Baltimore City declines under the formula. Unlike other counties, Cecil’s increases results from its raising its local income tax rate from 2.8 percent to 3 percent.

DLS essentially recommends flat funding grants to qualifying jurisdictions with the highest local income tax rate of 3.2 percent at fiscal 2018 levels. This would reduce the proposed grant to Prince George’s by $1.9 million, Somerset by $268,266, and Wicomico by $498,341.

At the briefing of the analysis before the House Appropriations Committee, the DLS analyst indicated that the Governor had not cut these grants this year, as he had last year- but sometimes DLS “can’t help themselves” from recommending disparity cuts, anyway.

Secretary of Budget and Management David Brinkley testified that the Administration did not concur with the recommendation and instead preferred full funding of the disparity formula according to law. Chair McIntosh said, “good.”

Chair Maggie McIntosh and Delegate Korman asked Secretary Brinkley about his department’s midyear proposal to cut disparity grants, and why they changed their mind and removed it from the agenda.

Delegate Korman sponsored a successful bill during the 2016 session that requires the Secretary of Budget and Management to post on its website notice of a proposed reduction to an appropriation at least three business days before the reduction may be approved by the Board of Public Works (BPW). Upon seeing the proposal posted in accordance with the law last September, MACo sent the BPW a letter requesting they vote against the cut. The cut was then withdrawn from consideration.

Other Quick Links

Payments to Civil Divisions of the State: Budget Analysis

State Funding for Payments to Civil Divisions, Fiscal 2019

MACo Opposition to Mid-Year Cuts for FY 2018

BPW Pares Down FY18 Cuts, Spares the Disparity Grant

New Report Details State Education Aid to Local Governments

The Maryland Department of Legislative Services recently released its annual report detailing state aid to local governments. State education funding is one of the topics discussed in the report.


The Governor’s 2019 budget proposal increases state public education funding by 2.5%. The bump is a combination of mandated formulaic increases and $15.2M in hold-harmless grants to ensure no jurisdiction receives less state education aid than it did in 2018.

Screen Shot 2018-02-01 at 11.33.27 AM
Source: Department of Legislative Services

The majority of State education aid falls into one of three categories.

General Education Aid

General Education Aid provides a minimum level of operating support for all students, driven by total student enrollment and local wealth. The foundation program is the main program in general education aid and accounts for almost half of State education aid. The foundation program ensures a base level of funding. The foundation program is calculated by multiplying the per-pupil foundation amount by local enrollment.

Foundation Program

At the statewide level, the foundation formula is designed to have the State pay roughly 50% of program costs; however, the State’s share for the less wealthy jurisdictions is higher than 50% and the State’s share for more wealthy jurisdictions is lower than 50% (wealth equalization).

  • The amount of State aid that a jurisdiction receives is based on FTE student enrollment and local wealth
  • No jurisdiction may receive less than 15% of the base per-pupil amount from the State
Screen Shot 2018-02-01 at 11.34.07 AM
Source: Department of Legislative Services

Other General Education Aid

Geographic Cost of Education Index (GCEI): GCEI is a Maryland‐based index that adjusts the amount of State aid a local school system receives based on regional differences in the cost of educational resources.

  • The GCEI formula does not reduce funding for jurisdictions where educational resources are less expensive
  • Unlike every other major State aid program, GCEI was not mandated until fiscal 2017
  • GCEI only applies to the foundation program and the State pays the State and local shares

Guaranteed Tax Base: GTB provides additional funds to jurisdictions with less than 80% of the statewide wealth per pupil that provide local education funding above the minimum local share required by the foundation program.

  • The State provides the funds that would have been generated locally if the jurisdiction had the wealth base that is guaranteed
  • Per pupil GTB amount for any one local school system is limited to 20% of the per-pupil foundation amount provides a minimum level of operating support for all students, driven by total student enrollment and local wealth.
Screen Shot 2018-02-01 at 12.56.48 PM
Source: Department of Legislative Services

Targeted Education Aid

The targeted formulas recognize the additional costs associated with educating certain student populations:

  • Special education (0.74 X base level of funding per pupil)
  • Compensatory education (based on free and reduced-price meal status) (0.97 X base level of funding per pupil)
    • Prekindergarten funding is accounted for in the compensatory education formula
  • Limited English proficiency (0.99 X base level of funding per pupil)

Although the State provides approximately 50% of the total estimated cost of each program, local governments are not required to provide the other half. Funding amounts and distributions are based on local wealth and enrollments of the three targeted student populations, however, no jurisdiction may receive less than 40% of the full per-pupil amount from the State.

Source: Department of Legislative Services

Noninstructional State Aid

Student Transportation: Each local school system is required to provide transportation to and from school for all public school students.

  • Transportation funding consists of a base grant that is adjusted annually and a per pupil grant based on the number of students with special transportation needs

Other Noninstructional Aid: Includes early education, food service, adult education, and a variety of innovative programs.

Teacher Retirement Costs

  • Prior to 2012, the State paid 100% of teacher retirement costs
  • In 2012, legislation required locals to share in the cost of retirement
  • Retirement aid is not wealth equalized
  • In fiscal 2016, local share ranged from 25%-30%
Source: Department of Legislative Services

The Maryland Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, Known as the Kirwan Commission because it is chaired by former University System Chancellor Brit Kirwan, is charged with reviewing and assessing current education financing formulas and accountability measures. The Commission was originally set to complete its work in time for the 2018 session of the General Assembly, but last October asked for an extension when it became clear the deadline was not realistic.

After a series of marathon meetings, which featured expert testimony, consultant reporting, and citizen input, the Commission has reached consensus around key policy areas and preliminary recommendations. The Commission expects to complete its work later this year.

You can learn more about education funding by listening to the Conduit Street Podcast.

Useful Links

DLS Report: Overview of State Aid to Local Governments

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: Kirwan Commission Finalizes Preliminary Recommendations

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: Take a “Deep Dive” Into Local Government Financial Info

Conduit Street Podcast: #FixtheFund, Opioid Litigation, Wave of HUR Bills, Local Aid Intrigue, and more!

Maryland lawmakers on Tuesday unveiled a plan to amend the state constitution to ensure that taxes on casino revenues set aside for education are used to supplement, not supplant state funding for public schools.

Also this week, Baltimore City became the latest jurisdiction to announce plans to file lawsuits against opioid manufacturers, doctors, and so-called “pill mills,” in an effort to stem the drug abuse epidemic that is killing tens of thousands of Americans each year.

Could a compromise be in the works for the restoration of local highway user revenues? A new wave of bills may be pointing in that direction.

Finally, the Department of Legislative Services (DLS) has released their annual report detailing state aid to local governments and local effects of the state budget. The report includes details on virtually every component of state aid to local governments in the proposed FY 19 budget.

On the latest episode of the Conduit Street Podcast, Kevin Kinnally and Michael Sanderson break down the plan to place casino revenues in an education “lockbox,” analyze the possible outcomes of opioid litigation, discuss the new wave of highway user revenue bills, highlight some interesting tidbits from the DLS report, and more!

MACo has made the podcast available through both iTunes and Google Play Music by searching Conduit Street Podcast. You can also listen on our Conduit Street blog with a recap and link to the podcast.

Listen Here:

If you are having trouble using this media player, listen on our website.

Take a “Deep Dive” Into Local Government Financial Info

The Department of Legislative Services has released several reports that detail information on local governments, and local effects of the state budget. As always, these reports represent an extraordinarily valuable resource for county officials and financial managers.

Local Government Finances and Demographics

From the introduction:

The Department of Legislative Services has prepared this overview document to provide legislators and the public with a better understanding of the fiscal and social issues confronting local governments in Maryland. Topics discussed in this report include the following:

• Structure of Local Governments
• Demographic Indicators
• Local Government Finances
• Tax Rates for Local Governments
• Local Revenue Growth
• County Salary Actions
• Public School Funding and Student Enrollment
• Local General Fund Balances
• Local Debt Measures
• Balance of State Payments

Overview of State Aid

This report includes detail on virtually every component of state aid to local governments in the proposed FY 19 budget. Most areas are shown county-by-county, with comparisons to the prior year, and with additional analysis reflecting trends or changes important to the programs.

County Revenue Outlook

This report looks at local revenue sources and tax bases, with a variety of comparisons across jurisdictions and over time. Once again, the detail in these analyses makes the report deeply valuable for local professionals and policy makers.