U.S. House Transportation Chair on Infrastructure Funding: Get Shovels to the Ground, Fast

The U.S. House Transportation Committee Chair recently suggested that states that can move projects ahead quickly will have an advantage when it comes to benefiting from any federal infrastructure funds in the coming months.

According the the Route Fifty article,

If a major infrastructure package takes shape, U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, a Pennsylvania Republican who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said a message for states would be: “you’ve got to get those dollars to shovels in the ground, fast.”

President Trump has called for a $1 trillion plan to direct public and private investment toward upgrading infrastructure assets around the U.S., such as roads, railways and airports.

Responding to a question about how to get money for new infrastructure investment distributed swiftly to help spur job growth—a priority for Trump—he replied: “Part of that mechanism we have to put in place is to reward states that are going to move very quickly.”

“We’ve got to get something done before next spring,” Shuster added, “whether it’s taxes, Obamacare, or health care reform, or infrastructure spending. Because the House of Representatives and a third of the Senate, they’re going to be on the line.”

Shuster said his hope is to have an infrastructure bill by this fall.

Hogan Criticizes Baltimore City Schools, Hints at Financial Control Board

Governor Larry Hogan criticized the Baltimore school system for its money management Thursday and suggested that additional financial oversight might be part of any deal to send more state aid to the city.

According to The Baltimore Sun,

Speaking with a hoarse voice at a wide-ranging news conference in Annapolis, Hogan said he recently had a “good meeting” with Mayor Catherine Pugh and expected to sit down with her again to discuss the school system’s $130 million budget shortfall.

However, the governor expressed dissatisfaction with the Baltimore school board — which he helps appoint — saying it kept “spending as if they thought they were going to get more money.”

In response to a question, Hogan said creating a financial control board could be on the table.

“It will be part of the conversation,” Hogan said. “So far we have had very preliminary discussions.”

While the governor did not elaborate, a financial control board is generally understood to be a panel that oversees a government authority, such as a school board, and has veto power over its financial decisions.

Congress imposed such a board on the troubled District of Columbia government in 1995 as part of the price for a financial bailout. The board kept watch over the District’s finances for six years. Two decades earlier, a similar board was created as part of a rescue plan for New York City.

Baltimore officials have pressed the Republican governor and members of the General Assembly to help close the schools’ budget gap, which officials say could lead to more than 1,000 layoffs and larger class sizes.

Hogan expressed a willingness to work with the city but gave no indication that a resolution was near. “It’s certainly not going to be a blank checkbook,” he said.

The governor’s comments came as Pugh and Baltimore schools CEO Sonja Santelises prepared to meet with city legislators in Annapolis on Friday morning. Del. Curt Anderson, a Democrat who chairs the city House delegation, said the officials are expected to lay out their plan to solve the school system’s shortfall and explain what they hope the state will do to help.

Pugh wouldn’t reveal details of what she plans to discuss, but said it would concern funding for city schools.

“We will provide assistance to the school system,” the Democratic mayor said.

She said the governor’s comments likely stem from their shared belief that there needs to be strict “fiduciary responsibility” of school system spending. The mayor said she believes the system needs to re-examine its structural costs, including funding for a large network of public charter schools.

During a school board meeting last week, Santelises — who has headed the school system since July 1 —dismissed any suggestion the district has mismanaged its money.

“Regardless of whatever narratives the community hears, this is not an issue of mismanagement. This is not an issue of lost money,” she said.

Anderson said the system’s financial woes were the result of events beyond its control. He rejected the notion of a control board.

“I don’t think we’re interested in reimposing any state controls over a local jurisdiction,” he said.

Useful Links

Previous Coverage on Conduit StreetBaltimore City Schools CEO Warns of Massive Layoffs

Article from The Baltimore Sun

Congressional Committee Chair Plans Broad Agenda Affecting Federal Workers

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, plans a broad and far-reaching committee agenda that includes measures to fire feds faster, pay some feds more and change the retirement system for new hires, of whom there would be fewer.

Maryland is home to some 300,000 federal workers and several agencies. That’s why it’s concerning to hear that Rep. Chaffetz wants agencies to consider locating more government operations outside the nation’s capital in an effort he dubbed “Divest DC,” a move that could be consequential for Maryland and its economy.

The Washington Post summarized some of Rep. Chaffetz’ plans in a recent article.

According to The Washington Post,

Federal employee retirement: Chaffetz wants retirement plans for new federal employees to move away from pensions, or “defined benefit” programs that rely on employer contributions, and lean more on employee funding through a system in which the government would make a “defined contribution.” Uncle Sam could even chip in more than he does to the 401 (k)-like personal investment program for federal staffers. Utah adopted this, he said, saving “billions and billions of dollars.” That may be good for Uncle Sam’s bottom line, but it probably means that individual workers would pay more out of pocket.

Hiring freeze: “We have good-quality federal workers,” [Chaffetz] said, “but we have too many of them.” Compared with the nation’s population, however, the size of the workforce has declined significantly since the 1960s. Chaffetz is considering legislation that would allow agencies to hire only one employee for every two or three who leave. But he said some agencies, such as the Secret Service, are understaffed.

Federal pay: This is one item of good news for a limited segment of federal employees. “There are some areas where we are probably going to have to pay people more money,” [Chaffetz] said, citing in-demand workers such as cyber experts in a very competitive market. Last year, Congress approved his legislation to provide back pay for previously uncompensated Secret Service overtime.

Divest D.C.: Chaffetz suggested that Congress could easily pass a measure pushing agencies to do a cost-benefit analysis comparing the costs of placing operations in the District with other locations. This, he added, could lead to a “more reflective government” and save money because the District is expensive, while helping local economies elsewhere.

“Everything in the federal government doesn’t need to reside in Washington, D.C.,” he said. Everything isn’t. About 85 percent of federal employees are outside the greater Washington area.

Read the full article for more information.

FEMA is Seeking Individuals for Reservist Program

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is looking for individuals to join its reservist program. The Reservist program is an opportunity for retired, professional, and early career job seekers.  Reservists work on an intermittent basis, supporting survivors of incidents.  They are the main FEMA workforce during an emergency or disaster that assists the agency in accomplishing its mission.  Each Reservist is hired to a personnel group (Cadre) based on his or her skills and experience.  The following FEMA cadres are currently seeking Reservists:

RESERVIST CADRES
Acquisitions Alternative Dispute Resolution
Disaster Emergency Communications Disaster Field Training Operations
Disaster Survivor Assistance Disability Integration
Environmental/Historic Preservation Equal Rights
External Affairs Financial Management
Hazard Mitigation Human Resources
Individual Assistance Information Technology
Logistics National Disaster Recovery Support
Office of Chief Council Operations
Planning Public Assistance
Safety Security

Join Their Team

Reservists help FEMA respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards by performing a variety of emergency management functions.  Reservists functions include, but are not limited to, disaster survivors assistance, conducting and verifying damage assessments, and providing administrative, and logistical support.  FEMA is currently seeking talented men and women who are eager to assist disaster survivors as Reservist employees. Industry experts are needed in the capacities of: human resources, public affairs, emergency management, customer service, security, logistics, communications, or public relations.  Candidates who seek a rewarding opportunity to assist disaster survivors when they are most in need should send their resume to fema-careers@fema.dhs.gov.

For more information on the Reservist Program visit http://careers.fema.gov/reservists-intermittent.

Governor Declares State of Emergency, Announces New Funding to Fight Opioid Epidemic

Governor Larry Hogan said Wednesday that he was declaring the state’s opioid crisis a “state of emergency,” a broad legal step to further mobilize law enforcement and other agencies across the state to combat a growing epidemic of addiction. Governor Hogan also announced an additional $50M in new funding to fight opioid abuse and appointed Talbot County Director of Emergency Services, Clay Stamp to lead an accelerated state and local effort against drug abuse and addiction.

According to The Washington Post,

Lethal opioid overdoses have skyrocketed across the nation in recent years. In Maryland, the number of heroin-related overdose deaths rose 72 percent, to 918, during the first nine months of 2016, compared to the same period in 2015. Fatal overdoses related to prescription opioids jumped 17 percent, to 270, during that span, according to state data.

The most dramatic surge seen in recent years involves deaths from fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that killed rock legend Prince last year. The number of overdose deaths in Maryland related to that drug nearly tripled during the first three quarters of 2016, rising to 738.

Read the full article for more information.

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. Those 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.