Legislation Allows Counties to Tackle Water Affordability

MACo Associate Director Barbara Zektick testified in support of Senate Bill 709, Environment – Water and Sewer Service”, before the Senate Education & Health & Environmental Affairs Committee on February 20, 2018.

SB 709 grants counties the authority to shut off water to vacant and abandoned properties, while also allowing counties to develop water affordability programs. Alongside payment plans, these actions will help counties and individuals from going to tax sale over unpaid water bills. Altogether, these potential programs can give counties the flexibility to effectively collect water bills, while helping homeowners manage costs and conserve resources.

From MACo Testimony:

This bill helps homeowners avoid going to tax sale over unpaid water bills by addressing the problem long before those bills become overdue. By enabling counties to develop water affordability programs, payment plans and “round up programs” to fund payment assistance services, SB 709 helps counties help those who can least afford their water bills, in a targeted manner that makes the most sense for each local jurisdiction.

In addition, enabling water shut off to vacant and abandoned properties helps keep water bills at bay at properties where the service is not being used or may even cause harm by flooding or otherwise deteriorating a vacant structure. By reducing or eliminating these unneeded services, bills and resulting liens remain lower on the property, and it is easier to bring the property to more fruitful use.”

For more information, follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2018 legislative session here.

 

MD, VA, DC Consider Dedicated Metro Funding Legislation

The General Assembly, along with the Virginia legislature and the D.C. city council, are considering legislation to create a dedicated funding stream for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA).

Maryland Matters points out that the Washington, D.C. area metro system is the “only transit system of its size without a dedicated source of capital funds.” The system has experienced a number of safety-related issues in recent years due to years of lack of investment in maintenance.

The Maryland Metro Funding Act, Senate Bill 277/House Bill 372, would create the Maryland Metro Dedicated Fund Account within the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) to provide an annual grant of $125 million annually for WMATA’s capital costs. This amount would increase by 3 percent annually. It would be funded by motor vehicle excise tax revenue and any other money appropriated by the State to the account.

According to the bill’s fiscal note, the legislation does NOT alter the amount of motor vehicle excise revenue that flows into the account used to pay local governments their highway user revenues.

Virginia and Washington, D.C. are also considering legislation to provide at least $125 million annually to WMATA. From Maryland Matters:

Along with hoped-for federal funds, the resulting $500 million “would mean we could borrow $15 billion over the next 10 years,” Metro Board Chairman Jack Evans said in an interview.

Evans, chairman of the D.C. Council’s Finance and Revenue Committee, is sponsor of a measure to dedicate a portion of the city’s existing sales tax to transit. A measure being debated in Richmond would provide Virginia’s share using different sources.

“It’s the most critical thing since the founding of Metro,” Evans told Maryland Matters, a sentiment echoed by Feldman, who told his colleagues, “We’re at a moment in which the three jurisdictions are aligning for the first time in 50 years.”

Sponsor Amendments Assure Enforcement of Electric Vehicle Parking Spaces

Legislation was introduced that would prohibit parking or stopping in parking spaces specifically designated for plug-in electric cars, if the car is not electric. The bill included provisions that could have prohibited local governments from enforcing the intended violation.

MACo Associate Director Barbara Zektick testified before the House Environment and Transportation Committee on February 15, 2018 on House Bill 598, “Vehicle Laws – Plug-In Electric Drive Vehicles – Reserved Parking Spaces.” After working with the bill sponsor, counties’ concerns were alleviated through sponsor amendments.

MACo expressed concerns about the use of green paint in these spots because it is not consistent with federal law. Another concern is the provision that would force local jurisdictions into compliance with laws affecting private parking operators towing procedures.

The bill sponsor agreed to offer amendments addressing MACo’s concerns prior to the hearing, allowing MACo to drop its opposition.

From MACo Testimony:

MACo does not contest the effort to make this violation a statewide offense. In fact, many counties already enforce this under local laws. However, terms of the bill requiring local governments to comply with towing provisions applicable to private parking lot owners under Subtitle 10A of Maryland Vehicle Law, Title 21, have the unintended consequence of prohibiting local governments from being able to enforce the terms of this bill in many cases.

Additionally, using green paint markings violates the U.S. Federal Highway Administration’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), adopted into Federal law under 23 C.F.R 665 and adapted into the Maryland MUTCD pursuant to Maryland Code, Transportation Article, Section 25-104. MUTCD, Section 3A.05 states, “Markings shall be yellow, white, red, blue, or purple.”

MACo respectfully requests that the Committee adopt amendments offered by the sponsor addressing these issues.”

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

Bipartisan Water Infrastructure Funding Legislation Introduced in Congress

Last week, congressional lawmakers introduced bipartisan legislation in both chambers on Capitol Hill to provide funds for states to provide low-cost loans to improve water and sewer infrastructure.

The legislation essentially combines revolving funds with the Water Infrastructure and Innovation Act, or WIFIA. The bills would authorize $200 million annually over five years to support state revolving fund projects.

From Route Fifty

“We have a more than $500 billion shortfall for water infrastructure funding in this country. This is a national emergency,” said Sen. John Boozman, an Arkansas Republican and the Senate bill’s lead sponsor.

“This legislation is an innovative approach to helping communities of all sizes, in every state secure loans so they can improve their crumbling infrastructure,” he added.

Boozman chairs the Environment and Public Works subcommittee on fisheries, water and wildlife. Sens. Cory Booker, Jim Inhofe, and Dianne Feinstein are cosponsors.  Reps. John Katko and Earl Blumenauer sponsor the House bill.

President’s Infrastructure Plan: $200b on Feds, Rest on the Rest of Us

On Monday, the Trump Administration unveiled its long-awaited infrastructure plan to Congress. The plan includes $200 billion in federal funds; the rest of the $1.5 trillion in spending is expected from state and local governments, in addition to the private sector.

The plan calls for shortening the federal approvals processes to two years or less, focusing infrastructure needs in rural areas, and encouraging American training opportunities.

CNBC has made the text of the plan available on its website.

Baltimore Sun reporter John Fritze points out that the plan calls attention to divesting federal control over the Baltimore-Washington Parkway – an essential step towards Governor Hogan’s Traffic Relief Plan.

From NPR’s coverage:

…the proposal will not be one that offers large sums of federal funding to states for infrastructure needs, but it is instead a financing plan that shifts much of the funding burden onto the states and onto local governments.

Critics say that will lead to higher state and local taxes, and an increased reliance on user fees, such as tolls, water and sewer fees, transit fares and airline ticket taxes.

Former Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood told NPR’s Steve Inskeep that local governments cannot afford to shoulder any more burden for funding infrastructure than they already do. Listen to the interview here.

The Good News: Maryland Spared Massive Federal Shutdown

While you were presumably sleeping, the federal government partially shut down. Then, just before dawn, the House voted through a two-year spending plan – preventing a more extended shutdown. But, the deal leaves Dreamers in the dark and infrastructure and the opioid crisis with drops in their proverbial buckets. Governing reports on what this means for states and counties.

The agreement only includes $20 billion for infrastructure – and that mostly funds existing programs. Water, energy, broadband expansion and improved surface transportation will all share these funds. In addition, it only includes $6 billion  to address the opioid crisis.

The agreement increases federal spending by $300 billion over two years. Congress has six weeks now to incorporate the additional funds into a spending plan. This could be good or bad for Maryland:

This all means that some states could benefit or take a massive hit financially, depending on how closely appropriators align themselves with the administration. For example, in Maryland, Trump has called for Congress to eliminate money for the Chesapeake Bay, a pair of high-tech biodefense laboratories in the state and several programs at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

Despite House Democrat Nancy Pelosi’s best efforts otherwise, the agreement does not address how to handle the Dreamers.

It does provide:

  • nearly $90 billion in disaster relief, with about ten percent of that going to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands;
  • long-term funding for health care programs including the Community Health Center Fund and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP);
  • $6 billion for mental health and programs addressing the opioid crisis
  • $20 billion for infrastructure

Read more here.

Yellow Lights: Don’t Mess With the Manual

MACo Associate Director Barbara Zektick testified in opposition to HB 204, Traffic Control Signal Monitoring Systems – Duration of Yellow Signal – otherwise titled the “4-Second Act.” The bill would require counties to ensure that yellow traffic signal lights stay lit for at least four seconds if there is a red light camera located at the intersection.

MACo generally opposes bills which affect county public works departments by attempting to override the sound, established regulations found in the U.S. Federal Highway Administration’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). The MUTCD is already incorporated into Maryland law through the Transportation Article, as well as the Code of Federal Regulations.

From MACo’s testimony:

Under those preempting regulations, the duration of yellow lights at traffic signals, known as the “clearance interval,” must be based upon variables such as the size of the intersection, legal speed of approaching vehicles, grade and slope of the road approaching the intersection, and closest adjacent traffic signal. These variables all factor into an engineering analysis of how to set the timing on a yellow light.

Find other bills which might affect county public works departments here, and also here.

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.

The MACo Way In Ways & Means

On Thursday, MACo Legislative Committee members and staff briefed the Ways and Means Committee on priorities for the 2018 session.

Talbot County Council Member Laura Price discussed the importance of funding local infrastructure and the effects highway user revenue cuts have had on her county.

MACo Legislative Committee and Education Subcommittee Chair Craig Rice, Montgomery County Council Member, was greeted warmly as a former member of the committee. He discussed strong and smart school construction funding and his work and thoughts from representing MACo on the Kirwan Commission.

MACo Associate Director Barbara Zektick discussed the problems with the Governor’s proposals to shift costs of the State Department of Assessments and Taxation onto the counties. MACo Executive Director rounded out the presentation by discussing tax reform effects.

At the end of the hearing, Vice Chair Frank Turner indicated sympathy for counties for enduring highway user revenue cuts for as long as they have. He indicated that something should be done to restore the revenues to local governments.

Recycling Programs Struggle In Harsh Marketplace

Delmarva Now article (2018-01-31) explored the challenges Delaware’s recycling program has been going through based on recent restrictions China has placed on imported recycled waste, a very weak United States recyclable commodities market, and low oil prices providing for cheap new plastic. These challenges are being felt by many local government recycling programs throughout the US and has forced some jurisdictions to cut back on recycling or send potentially recyclable waste to landfills. From the article:

California has, in the past two years, sent over two billion soda cans to landfills – after the state refunded a nickel per container deposit. The state generates about 8 billion cans annually. …

In Washington, D.C., for example, the city last year paid a waste firm nearly $1.4 million to accept recyclables collected at residential curbsides.

By contrast, in 2011, the city actually made $550,000 from its recycling program. …

The bottom line in 2018: Collecting and processing recyclable materials by local governments has gone from a revenue producer to a significant cost.

The article noted an analysis of Delaware’s waste stream found that aluminum is the most valuable commodity, followed by ferrous metals (iron and steel), plastic, cardboard and paper, and finally glass (which has almost no value). The article stated that Santa Fe, New Mexico, has joined with other cities in no longer recycling glass.

The article also discussed issues of material contamination, food waste recycling, and waste diversion.