House Subcommittee Votes To Save Highway User Revenues

Today the House Appropriations Transportation and the Environment Subcommittee voted unanimously to reject a staff recommendation to flat fund highway user revenues. Subcommittee Chair Tawanna Gaines indicated that the local governments had “suffered” from highway user cuts long enough. Delegate Carol Krimm suggested that all subcommittee members had heard from their local jurisdictions about how important highway user revenue restoration was for them. And, longtime highway user revenue supporter Delegate Wendell Beitzel expressed similarly supportive sentiments.

The Department of Legislative Services (DLS) had recommended that the General Assembly eliminate the extra “capital grants” provided in the Governor’s proposed budget, to be distributed to local roads and bridges. DLS had recommended only funding the limited extra amount required to maintain current funding levels, and proposed diverting those funds to fill gaps in the General Fund supporting the Maryland State Police.

The DLS analysis of the Department of Transportation, Office of the Secretary included these recommended reductions:

Baltimore City funding reduced from 5,484,423 to 2,000,000
County Governments reduced from 27,422,115 to 4,000,000
Municipal Governments reduced from 20,109,551 to 19,000,000

The Subcommittee rejected those cuts at its decision meeting today.

Liquid Waste Hauler Bill Withdrawn Based on MACo Concerns

MACo Policy and Legal Counsel, Les Knapp, submitted testimony in opposition to legislation (HB 1224) which would replace the existing local inspection system of liquid waste haulers with a more  centralized State-controlled system. HB 1224, heard by the House Environment and Transportation Committee, would require MDE to create a new annual vehicle licensing requirement for liquid waste haulers, whereas currently, various county health departments already conduct vehicle inspections and impose fees that are based on local needs and capabilities. The bill was sponsored by Delegate Sandy Rosenberg.

MACo’s testimony states,

A county has an interest in ensuring that liquid waste haulers conduct their business within the county in a safe manner and use vehicles that comply with relevant county safety protocols. HB 1224 would seek to impose a “one size fits all” inspection solution that ignores individual local circumstances.

Particularly difficult would be the comingling of grease with septage. Grease is currently regulated under entirely different requirements and by different state agencies than septage. The reason is that very few wastewater treatment plants can accommodate grease. Grease will block and clog the workings of a treatment plant without specialized technology to manage it, causing costly damage to the plant and potentially users due to sewage backups.

HB 1224 would replace an existing and functioning local inspection system with a more State-controlled system that will be less likely to account for individual county concerns with the inspection of liquid waste hauler vehicles.

Based on discussions with MACo and other stakeholders to review the issue during the interim, Delegate Rosenberg has withdrawn the bill.

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

MACo Urges Against Permanent Cost Shifts

On Wednesday, March 1, MACo testified on Senate Bill 172, the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act of 2017 (BRFA), in support with amendments. This bill affects multiple statutory changes needed to balance the FY 2018 budget plan, and in some cases, future year spending as well. MACo indicated that counties are willing to endure their fair share of cuts this fiscal year – but requested that the Senate reject permanent cost shifts that could have severe detrimental effects on local governments.

MACo’s panel included MACo Associate Director Barbara Zektick, Howard County Finance Department Assistant Director Linda Watts, Allegany County Commissioner William Valentine, and Anne Arundel County Councilmember and MACo Legislative Committee Chair Jerry Walker.

MACo urged the committee members and representatives from all Senate standing committees to reconsider the proposal to shift costs for the State Department of Assessments and Taxation (SDAT) almost entirely on the counties. Linda Watts testified that the cost shift:

…puts at risk the objective, unbiased nature of the Department’s assessment functions. With a state agency overseeing the assessment of property, rather than the counties which directly benefit from higher assessments, taxpayers are assured that the assessment authority has no motive to provide anything other than an objective, fair analysis. …

Additionally, this cost shift requires counties to fund, almost in their entirely, functions over which they have no managerial control. So long as the state does not bear the burden of costs resulting from managerial decisions, the Administration will have no incentive to contain those costs, or ensure management choices are generally fiscally prudent.

Commissioner Valentine and Councilmember Walker testified to the importance of rejecting staff recommendations to flat fund highway user revenues to counties. Commissioner Valentine shared the realities of maintaining a road budget on less than 10% of historic funding levels, noting “our highway user funds could only blacktop three miles of roads a year.” Councilmember Walker informed the senators that in his county, the “total roads budget in fiscal 16 was $61.6 million. Highway user revenues covered 5% of that budget.”

MACo also urged the senators to amend out Section 9 of the BRFA, which proposes dramatic long-term reductions by permanently capping formula increases. From MACo’s written testimony:

In effect, this section could have some of the deepest and longest-lasting effects of any fiscal policy, as formulas and spending priorities would be dramatically abrogated over time. … MACo would urge the Committee to reject this section of the BRFA, and to retain the year-by-year public hearings and evaluations of any cuts and changes needed to effect that year’s budget plan.

Maryland is #8 in Best States Rankings

U.S. News and World Report just announced that Maryland has ranked #8 of the best states in the nation to live. The report analyzed data in seven key areas – education, health care, infrastructure, economy, government, opportunity, and crime and corrections – to determine the state’s composite score.

A press release from Governor Larry Hogan noted,

In addition to ranking eighth overall, Maryland ranked among the top five states for education and opportunity, a metric that includes factors like income disparity and upward mobility, as well as having the second-lowest poverty rate in the nation, and the highest household income.

“Maryland has made tremendous strides in turning our economy around, improving education, and working to ensure that every single Marylander has the opportunity to succeed,” said Governor Larry Hogan. “We have made incredible progress over the past two years, but there is still more work to do to continue making Maryland the very best place to live, work, raise a family, and retire.”

Click here to read the report and view the complete list of rankings.

Show Your Support for Local Infrastructure Funding!

Next week both houses of the Maryland General Assembly will hold hearings on MACo’s initiative bill, the Local Infrastructure Fast Track for Maryland Act. The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee will hear Senate Bill 586 on Tuesday, March 7 at 1 p.m. and the House Environment and Transportation Committee, together with members of the Appropriations Committee, will hear House Bill 1322 on Thursday, March 9 at 1 p.m.

Show your support!

  • Join MACo in testifying in support of this bill. To join our panel or submit written testimony, email Barbara Zektick, Associate Director now at bzektick@mdcounties.org.
  • Participate in our grand finale tweet storm on Tuesday by posting to social media using the hashtag, #LIFT4MD.

Everyone who lives, works, shops, moves, eats, drinks and flushes in Marylalift4mdnd depends upon its infrastructure. Investing in infrastructure – a call heard at every level of government – improves Maryland jobs, business attractiveness, and quality of life across the state.

Here’s what the The Local Infrastructure Fast Track for Maryland Act does:

  • Phases in full restoration of highway user revenues to counties, municipalities, and Baltimore City over a period of seven years;
  • Holds municipalities harmless by ensuring they always receive as much as they did this fiscal year;
  • Ensures that the State retains full auditing capability to confirm that highway user revenues are used for transportation purposes; and,
  • Requests that the Department of Budget and Management prepare a report on the Status of Local Infrastructure in Maryland, including information on the condition and funding sources for multiple modes of infrastructure, such as:
    • water and wastewater treatment and delivery systems,
    • 9-1-1 Emergency Number response systems,
    • public radio systems,
    • high-speed broadband access,
    • bridges and other transportation arteries,
    • evacuation resources, and
    • school facility maintenance needs.

House Budget Chair: We’re Working on Highway User

house-brfa-testimonyHouse Appropriations Committee Chair Maggie McIntosh offered words of encouragement on MACo’s top legislative priority – pledging “we will promise an effort” to “give you some stability” in local road funding. She indicated that a group of legislators were meeting regularly on this specific issue.

The Chair’s comments came amidst a MACo panel’s testimony presentation on the state budget plan – where local road funding was emphasized. She emphasized her optimism that some change, this year, could be sought to provide more certainty for local governments in that regard. “We understand you need…some kind of assurance,” she said, adding “we’re going to promise an effort to give you a more stable picture going forward.”

A MACo panel was testifying before the Appropriations Committee and several representatives from other committees during the all-encompassing Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act, or BRFA, HB 152. That bill effects multiple statutory changes needed to balance the FY 2018 budget plan, and in some cases, future year spending as well.

MACo Board member and Allegany County Commissioner Bill Valentine, Charles County Chief of Treasury Eric Jackson, and MACo Executive Director Michael Sanderson all testified on the bill – indicating reservations with specific components of the bill. MACo’s written testimony presented more detailed background.

Commissioner Valentine shared the realities of maintaining a road budget on less than 10% of historic funding levels, noting “our highway user funds could only blacktop three miles of roads a year.” Mr. Jackson spoke against the proposed shifting of costs of state assessment functions, warning that the system’s objectivity could be compromised, and stressing the imbalance of counties paying to support the Department’s operations with no oversight or management authority.

Mr. Sanderson urged the members to reject the permanent cutbacks on a wide range of formula funding, noting that without an annual budget-balancing proposal (like the BRFA) or stand-alone legislation to change specific formulas, “there wouldn’t be any real opportunity for public input… with our executive budget system.”

From MACo’s testimony:

MACo does not object to a reasonable local component of a state budget plan, and counties are willing to represent a fair share of needed cutbacks. Inordinate and unwise cost shifts, however, are a central part of county objections.

MACo’s testimony, as is often the case, closes by pledging to work with the legislators as they assemble their fiscal plan for FY 2018 and onward in the weeks ahead.

Montgomery, Howard Get Connected Via Bus Rapid Transit

Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett and Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman are partnering to get connected via the  U.S. 29 Bus Rapid Transit project. From your4state.com:
The route would connect the two counties with service from Columbia to Silver Spring. Both county executives are hoping this plan would reduce traffic congestion and spur economic growth.
“Montgomery County and Howard County, as you know, are [in] close proximity, and we have an opportunity now to build on that proximity. Something that’s very important to us is the Route 29 Corridor,” said County Executive Leggett.
Leggett said he expects the project to be done by 2020.

Counties Support Increased Control Over Use of Local Roads

MACo Associate Director, Barbara Zektick, provided written testimony in support of Senate Bill 640, “Municipalities and Counties – Local Roads – Regulation of Travel by Heavy-Weight Vehicles,” before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on February 22, 2017.  MACo provided written testimony on cross-filed House Bill 930 to the Environment and Transportation Committee on February 21, 2017.

The bill would authorize certain counties to regulate and permit heavy-weight vehicles on their own roads. It amends existing law (Local Government Article, Section 12-527) which addresses Allegany, Baltimore, Calvert, Carroll, Cecil, Frederick, Garrett, Harford, Howard, Montgomery, Prince George’s, St. Mary’s and Washington Counties.

From MACo testimony:

As counties continue to suffer the repercussions of devastating cutbacks to their highway user revenues, it becomes increasingly important for local governments to have control over their roads to prevent them from falling into a state of irreversible disrepair. When heavy-weight vehicles continue to repeatedly use local roads instead of state and interstate highways, they compromise the integrity of infrastructure oftentimes not built to accommodate such traffic on a regular basis. When left unregulated, heavy-weight traffic can cause extraordinary damage to local roads and any utilities existing underneath or adjacent to them. This problem is only exacerbated by the fact that local governments lack access to any significant portion of transportation revenues to fund maintenance of their roadway networks.

Both House and Senate bill sponsors introduced amendments to make the bill applicable to Garrett County only. 

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

Revenue Collection Tools Ensure Fairness To All Ratepayers

MACo Associate Director, Barbara Zektick, provided testimony in opposition to House Bill 453, “Tax Sales – Water Liens,” to the House Ways and Means Committee on February 23, 2017.  James DiPietro, Deputy Director, Bureau of Utility Operations, Department of Public Works, Anne Arundel County; and Janice Simmons, Bureau Chief, Revenue Collections, Department of Finance, Baltimore City, joined in opposition to this bill.

MACo ensured the bill sponsor and committee that the Association was happy to help work on addressing any issues which might allow some to profit, perhaps unduly, from the hardship of others. However, this bill deprives counties of the opportunity to use an effective tool for enforcement – tax sale – to enforce liens for unpaid water, sewer, or sanitary system charges. The tax sale process, or more specifically the potential for a property to go to tax sale, presents a much needed tool of last resort to ensure that property owners remit payment for their fair share of taxes and charges connected to public services. Most counties in Maryland go to tax sale solely to enforce utility liens. This bill removes this leverage for all counties, and undoubtedly would create many more deficient accounts for water and sewer bills from lack of enforcement – leading to increased rates on citizens who properly pay.

From MACo testimony:

All property owners deserve full and adequate notice of any collection efforts to collect taxes or charges assessed on the property – and as such, every county has procedures to ensure notice is provided prior to tax sale. Additionally, property owners have the right to redeem property within six months from the date of any tax sale by paying the amount owed. The tax sale process includes multiple checks and balances to ensure that local governments can collect overdue fees without unjustly depriving taxpayers of due process, water, or their homes.

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

MACo Strongly Endorses Restoring Highway User Revenues

MACo Associate Director, Barbara Zektick, provided written testimony in support of House Bill 552, “Transportation – Motor Fuel Tax and Highway User Revenue – Increased Local Share,” to the House Environment and Transportation Committee on February 23, 2017.

This bill restores highway user revenues to local governments, ensures that new gas tax revenues resulting from Chapter 429 of 2013 are shared equitably with local governments, and amends the Maryland Constitution to prevent depletion of highway user revenues from local governments in the future. This bill will supply desperately needed revenue to repair and maintain local roads and bridges.

From MACo testimony:

It is unquestionable that local governments maintain the lion’s share of the roads and bridges in our state. Unlike most other states, in Maryland, local governments own and maintain 83% of the roads. Even recognizing that state arterials have more lanes than local roads do, local governments still own and maintain 77% of the lane miles in Maryland. Every resident depends on local roadways. Highway user revenues fund roads and bridges throughout our entire state, through an equitable, time-tested formula based on road mileage and vehicle registrations. This touches the roads our kids ride to school, the roads our first responders travel to keep us safe, and the roads where we all live.

Support MACo’s #Lift4MD initiative!

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