Legislation Could Provide Local Schools with Flexibility on Holidays

Closing schools for Presidents’ Day could become optional for Maryland school districts under a bill (HB 400) being considered in the General Assembly.

The same could happen to Easter Monday.

Concerned about Governor Larry Hogan’s 2016 executive order requiring the state’s 24 school districts to start classes after Labor Day and end by June 15, several state lawmakers want to give local jurisdictions flexibility by removing Presidents’ Day and Easter Monday from the state’s list of mandatory public school holidays.

As reported in The Washington Post,

“These couple of days would be important to the school schedule,” said Del. Pamela G. Beidle (D-Anne Arundel), the chief sponsor of the bill.

The bill’s chances at passage are not clear. Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s), vice chairman of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, called the idea of canceling long-standing holidays a slippery slope.

“What’s next?,” he said. “Martin Luther King Day? Labor Day?”

Last August, Hogan (R) signed an executive order dictating the start and end of school, saying the change would benefit families and the economy. Almost every school district in the state had been starting the academic year before Labor Day.

Although the promise of a longer summer vacation earned strong support from the public, many educators and Democratic lawmakers said the change would cut into learning and test-preparation time.

Hogan’s order led to the resignation of the vice president of the state Board of Education, who accused the governor of usurping the independent board’s authority.

In the meantime, school districts scrambled to ensure that their 2017-2018 school calendars adhered to the order. Anne Arundel County cut its spring break from one week to three days. Montgomery County reduced its number of scheduled school days from 184 to 182, with just two days allotted for bad weather.

John Woolums, director of government relations for the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, said Beidle’s bill would provide “much needed” options as districts set up academic calendars, which must take into account state testing schedules, teacher in-service days and required holidays.

Current public-school holidays include Thanksgiving Day and the day after, Christmas Eve through Jan. 1, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Presidents’ Day, the Friday before Easter through the Monday after Easter, Memorial Day, and, for most counties, primary and general-election days.

Amelia Chasse, a spokeswoman for Hogan, said the governor is pleased that nearly all Maryland counties are moving forward with “this return to common-sense scheduling.”

She said that starting school after Labor Day is “the right thing to do for Maryland families and students” and that instead of “focusing on [canceling] holidays, school districts should focus on removing the many unnecessary union services days.”

Chasse said Hogan will decide whether to sign the Presidents’ Day/Easter Monday measure if it reaches his desk.

In addition to Beidle’s bill, Sen. Nancy J. King (D-Montgomery) has a bill that would allow a school district that has to close schools because of a state of emergency to reduce the 180-day required school year by up to five days without seeking a waiver from the state Board of Education.

The bill was requested by the Montgomery County school system, the largest in the state, with more than 159,200 students. It has the support of other school districts, as well.

Montgomery’s school board was able to meet Hogan’s requirements for the 2017-2018 school calendar, but school system spokeswoman Gboyinde Onijala said, “It’s going to be tough in the future.” Montgomery has scheduled 182 class days next school year.

Bob Mosier, a spokesman for Anne Arundel County Schools Superintendent George Arlotto, said the school district sought a waiver from the state board two years ago to open on Easter Monday to make up for a snow day. If the legislation passes, he said, the district could decide on its own, without needing the state’s permission, to open or close on that day and Presidents’ Day.

“It’s the flexibility that we need in the calendar with the hard start and hard stop date established by the governor’s executive order,” he said.

Pinsky, a vocal opponent of Hogan’s order, says that school districts should legally challenge Hogan over it.

Attorney General Brian E. Frosh’s office issued an opinion last year that the governor may have exceeded his authority. Frosh (D) also said the legislature could overturn the executive order, but there has been no legislation introduced to do that.

Useful Links

The Washington Post Article

Previous Conduit Street Coverage on the School Calendar Debate

Trump Intergovernmental Affairs Official: ‘We Have an Open Door Policy’

The deputy director of the White House’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs encouraged state and local officials to reach out: “Come in, meet with us, let us know what’s going on.”

The Trump administration’s intergovernmental affairs office wants to hear from state and local governments, an official from the office emphasized Thursday.

According to Route 50,

White House deputy director of intergovernmental affairs, Billy Kirkland, spoke during a meeting of secretaries of state from around the U.S. held in the nation’s capital. He said part of President Trump’s agenda “is going to be reaching out to you all individually and finding out what is important to each of your states, what is important to each of your offices.”

Kirkland did not offer new information on progress being made toward policy priorities Trump has identified—such as repealing the Affordable Care Act, changing the tax code and investing in infrastructure—which could have implications for states and localities.

He said the intergovernmental affairs team would not focus heavily on policy, that it would instead act as a liaison between state and local governments and White House policy officials.

“If they’re not getting back to you,” he told the secretaries of state, “we’ll be the ones that run over there and either knock on the door gently, or start kicking the door in, to make sure that you’re all getting the information you need in a timely manner.”

The intergovernmental affairs office, Kirkland added, would be “kind of divided into two separate silos,” with one side working mostly with governors and other statewide elected officials and the other side geared more toward local government issues.

Kirkland made his remarks during a panel discussion held as part of the National Association of Secretaries of State winter conference. During the discussion, he shared his contact information, including his personal cell phone number, with the entire audience.

“Give us a call, shoot us an email,” he said. “When you’re in town, we want you all to come in and feel like we have an open-door policy. Come in, meet with us, let us know what’s going on.”

Read the full article for more information.

MACo Opposes Municipal Stormwater Fee Bill But Working on Potential Solution

MACo Legal and Policy Counsel Les Knapp testified in opposition to legislation (HB 656/SB 472) that would mandatorily subject county properties to municipal stormwater charges before the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee on February 14, 2017, and the House Environment and Transportation Committee on February 15. However, Knapp stressed in his oral testimony that MACo and affected counties were working with the Maryland Municipal League (MML) and their respective municipalities to arrive at a solution to the issue. HB 656 is sponsored by Delegate Kumar Barve. SB 472 is sponsored by Senator Ronald Young. The bill is a MML legislative priority.

HB 656/SB 472 provide that a municipality that has established a dedicated stormwater management fund and municipal stormwater charge under § 4-204 of the Environment Article that affects property owned by a municipality may also levy the charge against property located within the municipality that is owned by the State, a unit of State government, a county, a local school system, or an institution of higher education. From the MACo testimony on SB 472:

The core concept of a stormwater charge authorized under § 4-204 or a stormwater remediation fee established under § 4-202.1 of the Environment Article is to address runoff issues created by property owners and assist local governments in meeting their Phase I or Phase II Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permit requirements. The fees are not intended to create redundancies or place “double burdens” on governments, education entities, or taxpayers. However, SB 472 does not acknowledge actual mitigation responsibility, county government parity, or the flexibility to enter into other forms of mitigation agreements.

Actual Mitigation Responsibility Not Acknowledged SB 472 mandates that governmental and educational property owners pay a municipal stormwater charge regardless of whether the municipality is actually responsible for the property under its MS4 permit. This requirement makes absolutely no sense if, for example, a county is responsible under its own MS4 permit for its own property, or school property, located in a municipality. In such a circumstance, imposing the municipal fee on the county’s property is both redundant and lacks a reasonable rationale – the county would be paying a fee to the municipality for mitigation work that would be performed by the county.

County property may also be subject to stormwater mitigation requirements under the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) and applicable local TMDLs. Again, counties should not have to pay a fee for mitigation work for which they are already responsible.

Lack of Flexibility SB 472 mandates that a governmental or educational property owner pay a municipal stormwater charge regardless of local circumstances. Some counties have entered into alternative arrangements to mitigate their own properties or provide other assistance to municipalities. The bill would needlessly upend those agreements and impose a “one size fits all” solution in jurisdictions where there is no current problem.

Lack of Parity The bill purports to establish an “everyone should pay” requirement that is based on a principle of fairness. However, the bill’s provisions only affect governmental and school property located inside municipalities. Federal, State, school, and municipal property located within a county are not subject to the bill, creating an inherent unfairness. Neither does the bill reference county stormwater remediation fees established under § 4-202.1 of the Environment Article, which were also put into place as a means of MS4 assistance – something the bill allegedly seeks to address.

Knapp stated that if the three areas of concern noted in his testimony were addressed, MACo could drop its opposition to the bill. MML, Rockville, Gaithersburg, Takoma Park, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation supported the bill. The University of Maryland System testified that it would support the bill with amendments addressing MACo’s concerns.

Useful Links

HB 656 of 2017

SB 472 of 2017

MACo Testimony on HB 656

MACo Testimony on SB 472

Delegate Barve Webpage

Senator Young Webpage

MACo Bill Tracking Tool

Should “Good Actors” Subsidize Bad Actions?

The General Assembly is considering intriguing issues about how Maryland, and its local governments, assess and collect fees, user charges, and penalties. These bills raise policy questions about cross-subsidies between people who pay on time, and those who don’t.

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Fairness In Revenues, Large and Small

HB 228 and SB 453 would limit governments’ ability to collect late water bills. SB 136 does the same with overdue parking tickets. Local governments always stand up for autonomy — but here, there are broader fairness issues at work, too.

Nearly everyone understands debates over tax policy. Taxes are the main engine behind governmental services, and policymakers have a duty to assess and administer them fairly. MACo and other stakeholders routinely address the legislature in Annapolis to raise concerns with fair application of taxes.

It’s less obvious, but the same debate exists with other government fees, charges, and penalties. These don’t constitute as central a question for governmental revenues as taxes themselves — but two sets of proposals before this year’s General Assembly session show that the policy and equity debates are similarly important.

Parking Tickets – What if they aren’t paid on time?

The first bill is SB 136 – which is currently “on hold” on the Senate floor. The bill deals with parking tickets issues by local governments.

This is a new subject area to most legislators — and for good reason. The state plays virtually no role in parking restrictions and enforcement. This is a purely local function. The elected officials of our state’s counties and towns respond to local needs by setting parking standards, and creating enforcement to back those standards up.

SB 136 adds to the section of state law that (paraphrasing) empowers local governments to manage these programs locally, and creates a new over-arching schema: tickets cannot have an escalation in their fine until at least 30 days.

First – we can acknowledge that nobody likes to receive a parking ticket. But whether the parking rules are driven by pedestrian safety, community concerns, or fair access to congested areas — nearly everyone recognizes that a ticket/fine for violations is the means to ensure compliance. In many places, a parking ticket has a face value due immediately, and then as an incentive for prompt payment, an escalated fine after a certain date. These mechanisms are not unique to parking fines – penalties for late payment are an effective means to keep collections timely and complete.

Under SB 136, local governments would suffer a loss of revenues from the proposed change, in some cases substantial. These revenues are part of what funds the jurisdiction’s costs of staff and technology for the parking enforcement itself. To respond to these community concerns, the county or town will still need to enforce parking — just with less revenue.

So, who pays MORE under SB 136? There’s really only two ways to go here:

  • Other parking violators who pay on time (raise the base ticket fine amount)
  • Local taxpayers who haven’t even violated a thing (raise property taxes)

MACo testified against SB 136 on the central principle that parking is simply a local matter. But Senators considering this bill should also think about the consequence of undermining late fees — higher costs on those who pay on time, or on those who didn’t even break the rules to begin with. That sort of cross-subsidy raises the same policy concerns as an unfair taxation system.

Water Bills – What if they aren’t paid on time?

Beyond fines imposed for violators, governments also impose user fees for specific services. None is more central than providing public water. While in general the charge for delivering water is based on public usage, with community and citizen oversight, there are still policy questions about fairness in their collection. Once again… how should local governments deal with those who don’t pay?

Water is surely different than a parking fine. It’s an essential service, and in many areas water service is considered a precondition for “livability” of a structure. But when a water user fails to pay a utility charge, the government is faced with a fairness conundrum. Just like taxes (and even parking tickets) – the system is best when each user pays his or her fair share.

Basically, public water systems have three main methods to employ to secure payment for their services (in ascending order of seriousness):

  • Finance charges for one or more late payments
  • Water “shutoff” for longer term failure to pay
  • Enforcing the unpaid charges as a property lien, through the possibility of tax sale

To begin, in every public water system the sizable majority of users pay their bill on time. All these enforcement provisions apply to those who fail to do so.

Given the nature of water as a critical public service, legislation has been introduced to limit these enforcement steps:

HB 228/SB 546 would dramatically limit the ability of a government to terminate water service for nonpayment

HB 453 would eliminate a government’s ability to collect a water bill lien through tax sale

In both cases, a well-intentioned idea carries these same cross-subsidy consequences. Water systems are usually set up by governments as “enterprise funds,” meaning they cover their own costs. This “user pays” principle is widely embraced for similar public services.

But if the prospect of losing service… or the potential to see your property face tax sale… is off the table, surely compliance will drop. The state’s largest water system in Baltimore City estimates that without the lien process available they could face some $7 million in reduced payments, as non-payers would no longer be eventually compelled to cover their own share of system costs.

Reduce the consequences for nonpayment, and those costs simply get reassigned to others. This who pay their water bills on time (through higher base rates), or the general taxpayer base (through property taxes). It’s the same fairness issues raised above with parking tickets – though likely on a larger fiscal scale.

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In general, MACo consistently advocates for local matters to remain in local hands. The county and municipal officials elected by and accountable to their own communities are in the best position to judge these needs, and to balance these issues of fairness. With the bills referenced above, MACo urges state policymakers to refrain from statewide intrusion — both out of respect for local autonomy, but also to avoid creating fundamental new unfairness in local revenue systems.

MACo, Counties Defend Autonomy On Labor Issues

MACo Policy Associate, Kevin Kinnally, testified in opposition to House Bill 317, “Labor and Employment – Wages and Benefits – Preemption of Local Authority,” before the House Economic Matters Committee on February 7, 2017. This legislation would prevent local governments from increasing wages and benefits above state levels.

From the MACo testimony,

Counties oppose the one-size-fits-all approach of HB 317, which limits local decision-making. The preemption of local authority outlined in this bill would significantly undermine a local government’s ability to implement policies that reflect the diversity of local economies. This troubling trend of states restraining local autonomy is a disservice to voters who deserve responsive and accountable governance.

Montgomery County and Baltimore City officials also expressed concerns over the legislation during their testimony.

Baltimore City Council Members Clarke, Burnett, Sneed, and Dorsey testify against HB 317
Baltimore City Council Members Clarke, Burnett, Sneed, and Dorsey testify against HB 317

From the Baltimore City testimony,

“We’ve given no just cause to this committee or the general assembly for preemption and request the committee to reject the lure of unwarranted national intrusion and the traditional balance between the state of Maryland and its local subdivisions. Baltimore City must act responsibly to close the growing economic gap between the haves and the have-nots in our city’s workforce.”

From the Montgomery County testimony,

“This is an unwarranted and unwise preemption of fundamental local government responsibility. Our county is not the same as Garrett County, and Baltimore City is not the same St. Mary’s County. Local wages and benefits should be responsive to local conditions. The cost of living in Montgomery County is obviously a lot higher than in other parts of the state.”

Proponents of the bill said uniformity in wages and benefits would ensure a level playing field for all Maryland businesses.

More coverage is available for Daily Record subscribers only on the paper’s website.

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

Ruppersberger Again Leading Defense of Muni Bonds

Maryland Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger is helping lead the efforts on protecting tax-exempt municipal bonds in any future tax reform or infrastructure measures. He, along with Rep. Randy Hultgren, urge you to take action and sign the Municipal Bond Dear Colleague Letter.

Background from NACo:

As tax reform and infrastructure discussions advance on Capitol Hill, proposals that would cap certain tax benefits, including the exemption for municipal bond interest, continue to be offered as a way to help address the federal debt and deficit. The House Ways and Means Committee continues to work on a tax reform package and could finalize details in the weeks and months ahead.

Tax-exempt municipal bonds have been a fundamental feature of the U.S. tax code since 1913. They remain the primary method used by states and local governments to finance public capital improvements and public infrastructure projects that are essential to creating jobs, sustaining economic growth and improving the quality of life for Americans in every corner of this country.

Between 2003 and 2012, counties, states and other localities invested $3.2 trillion in infrastructure through long-term tax-exempt municipal bonds, 2.5 times more than the federal investment. During that decade, $514 billion of primary and secondary schools were built with financing from tax exempt bonds; nearly $288 billion of financing went to general acute-care hospitals; nearly $258 billion to water and sewer facilities; nearly $178 billion to roads, highways, and streets; nearly $147 billion to public power projects; and $105.6 billion to mass transit.

How to Sign the Letter:

Call and email your House members today and urge them to sign on to the municipal bond dear colleague letter. The current cosigners include: Reps. Hultgren (R-Ill.), Ruppersberger (D-Md.), Napolitano (D-Calif.), Messer (R-Ind.), Brooks (R-Ala.) and Capuano (D-Mass.).
Visit NACo’s County Explorer to download your state municipal bond profile and share this with your members of Congress and their staff.

States Pre-Empting Local Govts: National Trend, Surfacing in MD

A Route Fifty article discusses a growing movement among many states – especially those with republican majorities – seeking to pre-empt actions by their local governments.

With the federal government and most states controlled by conservative Republicans this year, Democrats are looking to Democratic cities and counties to stand up for progressive policy.

But they may want to temper their expectations. State lawmakers have blocked city action on a range of economic, environmental and human rights issues, including liberal priorities such as minimum wage increases, in recent years. And the stage looks set for more confrontation between cities and states this year.

In Maryland, even Democratic leaders have engaged in the pre-emption approach, in multiple labor-related areas.

The high profile “Sick and Safe Leave Bill” proposed again this year (HB 1 and SB 230) includes a pre-emption of similar county initiatives – actively curtailing a law in place in Montgomery County, but also precluding action by any other jurisdictions.

More recently, Delegate Davis introduced another far-reaching pre-emption proposal, HB 317, precluding local action on minimum wages.

The Route Fifty article speculates that these inherent conflicts may continue nationwide — but also belie many collaboration opportunities — pointing toward infrastructure as an obvious common ground:

There’s still plenty of room for cities and states to cooperate this year, regardless of political differences, said Bruce Katz, who studies cities at the Brookings Institution, a centrist Washington, D.C., think tank.

“We’re probably spending a little bit too much time talking about the conflict side, and not talking enough about cooperation,” he said.

City and state leaders typically set politics aside to tackle big projects, such as investments in infrastructure, Katz said. They also team up to fight federal policy they don’t like, such as budget cuts.

Tensions High As Howard Debates “Sanctuary” Law

Hundreds of residents turned out for a passionate and emotional public hearing on Tuesday night, as the Howard County Council weighed a pending “Sanctuary” bill, framing the county and law enforcement posture regarding undocumented residents.

From coverage in the Baltimore Sun’s “Howard County Times” section:

County Council Chairman Jon Weinstein frequently interrupted testimony to call on the audience to refrain from applause, laughter and overall discord. Back and forth between two council members prompted Weinstein to call for a 10-minute recess in the more than seven-hour-long meeting.

The debate veered between two extremes: opponents said the bill invites undocumented residents to Howard County at the expense of possibly stripping federal funding, while supporters said the bill was a principled stand on behalf of undocumented immigrants in a county that champions and celebrated diversity.

The bill is set for a vote in early February, but faces opposition from the County Executive:

Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman pledged to veto the measure if it crosses his desk, citing the bill as political grandstanding that threatens critical federal funding and provides a false sense of security to undocumented residents.

Gov. Hogan Appoints Lourdes Padilla Head of DHR, DoIT Secretary Resigns

Governor Larry Hogan has appointed Lourdes Padilla as secretary of the Maryland Department of Human Resources (DHR), effective Feb. 8th.

According to a press release,

Ms. Padilla has more than 28 years of experience in the human services field. She currently serves as the Deputy Secretary for Income Maintenance at the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, a role she is leaving to join the Hogan-Rutherford administration. In this capacity, she oversees operations for five bureaus under the agency, including Child Support Enforcement, Program Support, and Program Evaluation. She manages over 90 field offices with over 7,000 employees, and is responsible for an operating budget of more than $2 billion.

Governor Hogan also announced the departure of Maryland Department of Information Technology (DoIT) Secretary David A. Garcia, who tendered his resignation in order to attend to family and personal issues. He will remain in his position through the end of January, during which time a search will be conducted for his replacement.

Read the full press release for more information.

Riemer Snares FCC Advisory Appointment

Montgomery County Council Member Hans Riemer will serve as one of two local government advisors to the Federal Communications Commission.

From the FCC website, The Federal Communications Commission regulates interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories. An independent U.S. government agency overseen by Congress, the commission is the United States’ primary authority for communications laws, regulation and technological innovation.

The FCC maintains an Intergovernmental Advisory Committee to:

…provide guidance to the Commission on issues of importance to state, local and tribal governments, as well as to the Commission. The IAC is composed of 15 elected and appointed officials of municipal, county, state, and tribal governments. The IAC provides ongoing advice and information to the Commission on a broad range of telecommunications issues of interest to state, local and tribal governments, including cable and local franchising, public rights-of-way, facilities siting, universal service, broadband access, barriers to competitive entry, and public safety communications, for which the Commission explicitly or inherently shares responsibility or administration with local, county, state or tribal governments.

From the Montgomery County press release:

I am honored to serve on the FCC advisory committee, and I intend to use this role to advocate for a more competitive and robust marketplace for broadband deployment,” said Council Vice President Riemer. “Local governments have a positive role to play in broadband deployment, and I look forward to bringing Montgomery County’s experience to the Commission.”

Vice President Riemer was nominated to serve by the National Association of Counties (NACo). In his letter recommending that Vice President Riemer serve on the committee, Matthew Chase, the executive director of NACo, wrote: “His experience and background uniquely qualify him to serve on the IAC. He is currently a member of both the Government Operations and Fiscal Policy Committee, as well as the Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee, for Montgomery County, Maryland. Through his work on these committees, he is responsible for oversight and the development of Montgomery County’s information technology and telecommunications infrastructure.”