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.

 

 

Join MACo In Calling For A Local Infrastructure Fast Track

LIFT4MD logoA perennial MACo initiative, counties have called for the return of their fair share of transportation-sourced revenues to fund their roadwork for years. This year, MACo’s initiative calls for a Local Infrastructure Fast Track – a #LIFT4MD – to bring local governments back their historic 30 percent share of transportation revenues from the State’s Transportation Trust Fund. It also calls for an assessment of the state of local infrastructure in Maryland, and for the State to share any additional federal infrastructure funds with counties and municipalities.

MACo originally planned to seek restoration of highway user revenues to all local governments in 7 years – and that is how Senate Bill 901 looks in its present form. After discussing the topic with a myriad of stakeholders, MACo decided instead to introduce a consensus bill, with terms appealing to not only counties, but municipalities and the Administration. Therefore, House Bill 1569, as introduced, restores highway user revenues to counties and Baltimore City in eight years, and municipalities in two years. MACo is working with Senate Sponsor Nancy King to amend SB 901 to reflect its cross file.

The hearings on MACo’s Local Infrastructure Fast Track for Maryland Act are scheduled for Wednesday, March 7 at 1 pm in the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee and Friday, March 9 at 1 pm in the House Environment and Transportation and Appropriation Committees.

MACo calls on representatives from all levels of county governments to join us for these hearings to show your support – it’s time to find a way to give local infrastructure a LIFT. 

And, don’t forget to post about your support on social media using the hashtag, #LIFT4MD.

For more information, contact MACo Associate Director Barbara Zektick.

PA Legislator Takes Regional HHS Liaison Role

 

Baker port.jpg
Courtesy of http://www.repbaker.com

It was expected that State Representative Matt Baker, R-Tioga, would not run for his 68th Legislative District re-election, but surprisingly he ended his term his term sooner than expected.

 

Baker resigned from serving the 68th District Monday, Feb. 19. to begin serving a larger population as the Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs’ Regional Director. His new position reports to the Office of the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services under the Trump Administration.

It is with great sadness that I am leaving the House of Representatives sooner than I would have desired; however, I have been given the opportunity to serve the people of the 68th District and beyond in an even greater capacity than my current position allows.

-Matt Baker, Regional Director, Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs

Baker’s new position represents Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. He is one of 10 Regional Directors for the HHS.

Matt is a great guy, we’re sorry to lose him here at the Capitol.

-Doug Hill, Exective Director, County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania

 

Your Taxes Can Wait–Non-Recurring Cost Entries Are Due March 31

A method in state law for identifying one-time school costs ensures that long-term funding mandates remain unaffected by short-term budget bumps. But approval for nonrecurring costs requires application to the State Department of Education, by a date certain.

Has Your County Submitted Its One-Time Costs to MSDE?

State “maintenance of effort” laws require a county to provide the same amount of education funding or more on a per-pupil basis each year. Maintenance of effort can discourage additional investment, especially during a faltering economic recovery, when future revenues are uncertain.

A legal provision called nonrecurring costs, however, allow county governments provide one-time school funding for one-time education costs without triggering perpetual mandates.

The hitch is: the deadline for submitting nonrecurring costs is nextmonth – before many counties even begin budget negotiations.

Perhaps as a result of this process, on average fewer than eight counties per year take advantage of this education budgeting tool.

If Not, Now Is The Time To Speak With Your School Board About Non-Recurring Costs

Not all education costs are annually recurring per-student costs. Conversations with your school board may help to identify certain costs as a result of short-term programmatic or facility needs.

One-time education expenses might include costs to:

  • build new computer laboratories;
  • make technology enhancements;
  • start-up new instructional programs; or
  • purchase books for a school library

The mechanism for appropriately excluding these one-time education costs from the maintenance of effort calculation requires special approval. A county must submit an application to exclude certain costs to the State Board for their approval before March 31 of each year.Screenshot 2016-01-18 17.22.16

Data from the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) in 2014 revealed that on average fewer than eight counties per year take advantage of this budgeting tool. Learning this, MACo developed Non-Recurring Costs For County School Budgeting: A County Official’s Guide to the Process and Laws Behind the System.

Check Out MACo’s Non-Recurring Cost Guide For More Details

In the Guide linked below, MACo aims to improve the accessibility and use of the nonrecurring cost exclusion, covering:

  • How does a county apply to have nonrecurring costs approved?
  • What categories of costs can be considered as nonrecurring?
  • When does the school board need to agree with the request?
  • What requests have been approved and denied in recent years?

All the submission forms, statutes, regulations, and guideline documents relevant to this process are provided in appendices to the Guide.

For more information, read Non-Recurring Costs For County School Budgeting: A County Official’s Guide to the Process and Laws Behind the System.

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.

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.

Call If You Can, Text If You Must

Governor Larry Hogan today announced the Board of Public Works’ approval of a new Text to 9-1-1 technology for Maryland, helping to update 1960s-era emergency systems with life-saving technology. This new Internet-based infrastructure allows citizens to send a Short Message Service (SMS) text message to 9-1-1. The Federal Communications Commission estimates that more than 70 percent of all 9-1-1 calls now come from cellular users.

Text to 9-1-1 supports 160 characters per message, but no multimedia messaging, such as photos or video. The total cost of the 2-year contract is approximately $2.2 million.

Text to 9-1-1 is a component of Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG911), an initiative aimed at updating the 9-1-1 service infrastructure to improve public emergency communications services in a wireless mobile society. NG911 will improve and enhance the handling of 9-1-1 calls from cell phone users with technology that will increase response times, location accuracy, and allow text, photo, and video data to be shared by callers to First Responders on their way to the emergency.

Advancing NG911 is a priority for county governments. SB 285/HB 634, a 2018 MACo Legislative Initiative, establishes the Commission to Advance Next-Generation 9-1-1 Across Maryland. The Commission will examine the strategic aspects of Next Generation 9-1-1 implementation in coordination with the Emergency Numbers Systems Board’s (ENSB) existing efforts, particularly ensuring that those areas outside of the statutory responsibilities of the ENSB are addressed. The Commission will study and make recommendations for the implementation, technology, funding, governance, and ongoing statewide development of Next Generation 9-1-1 to the Governor and Maryland General Assembly.

Stay tuned to Conduit Street for more information.

Useful Links

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: Senate Passes MACo 9-1-1 Initiative

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: Washington Post Op-Ed: Bring 911 Into the 21st Century

MACo Testimony on Senate Bill 285

Conduit Street Podcast: 9-1-1 Takes Center Stage, Huge Drop of Bills Introduced, Sick Leave Law Looms, and Senate Changes Afoot