Your One-Stop-Shop for Federal Advocacy on County Issues

NACo has released a timely “Summer Advocacy Toolkit” for use by county officials engaging on federal issues. Inside are links, quick summaries, and talking points on a wide range of topics relevant to county governments. Additionally, from the pdf document, users can search relevant committee membership to help target their messages.

A few quick selections from the NACo guide follow:

On Municipal Bonds:

• A fundamental feature of the first federal tax code written in 1913, tax-exempt financing is used by state and local
governments to raise capital to finance public capital improvements and other projects, including infrastructure
facilities that are vitally important to sustained economic growth.

• Between 2003 and 2012, counties, localities, states and state/local authorities financed $3.2 trillion in infrastructure
investment through tax-exempt municipal bonds.

• If municipal bonds were fully taxable during the 2003-2012 period, it is estimated that the financing for the 21 largest
infrastructure purposes would have cost state and local governments an additional $495 billion of interest expense. If
the 28 percent cap were in effect, the additional cost to state and local governments would have been approximately
$173.4 billion.

• For 2012, the debt service burden for counties would have risen by $9 billion if municipal bonds were fully taxable over
the last 15 years and roughly $3.2 billion in the case of a 28 percent cap. Americans, as investors in municipal bonds
and as taxpayers securing the payment of municipal bonds, would have borne this burden.

• The municipal bond tax-exemption represents a fair allocation of the cost of projects between federal and state/local
levels of government. Through the use of tax-exempt municipal bonds, state and local governments invested 2.5 times
more in infrastructure than the federal government.

• Tax-exempt bonds are vital for infrastructure, justice and health needs because counties own and operate 45 percent
of public roads and highways, own almost a third of the nation’s transit systems and airports, own 961 hospitals,
manage 1,943 health departments and own the vast majority of the nation’s jails.

On Infrastructure:

NACo believes that counties should be recognized as major owners of transportation infrastructure in any potential
package presented by the administration. Key funding and financing measures must include all of the following:

• Preservation of Tax-Exempt Status of Municipal Bonds

• Dedicated Funding for locally owned infrastructure

• Policies to provide an Environment for Innovative Financing

The Toolkit also includes direct links to other NACO resources, like this concise “one-pager” on State and Local Tax Deductibility (aka SALT).

Howard County Adds Three Electric Buses to System

Howard County residents will soon have the chance to ride on electric buses in Montgomery County, which were unveiled on Monday.

         

According to The Howard County Times,

The buses, run by the Regional Transportation Agency, are funded through a grant from the federal Transit Investments for Greenhouse Gas and Energy Reduction, or TIGGER, program in the Federal Transit Administration, as part of an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in transit systems. The grant, worth approximately $3.7 million, means that the only cost to the county is for the electricity needed to power the buses, said David Cookson, a comprehensive and regional planner in the Office of Transportation.

The county’s use of the buses is part of a two-year project to evaluate the cost efficiency and effectiveness of electric buses, Cookson said. The project is a collaboration between the county, RTA, Maryland Transit Administration, BYD North America, Center for Transportation and the Environment and the real estate investment trust GGP.

Electric buses, at approximately $750,000 each, are more expensive than standard diesel buses, which usually cost $450,000, and so the project aims to determine if the energy and gasoline savings from their use are worth the extra upfront costs, Cookson said. After the project evaluation, Cookson said it is possible that more electric buses may be purchased, but it will be a matter of funding, he said.

“What are the cost savings that we would get from running these types of buses that would make it worthwhile to buy [them]?” he said.

Two buses will run on the county’s 401 route, which has stops at major county locations including The Mall in Columbia, Howard County General Hospital and Howard Community College. The third bus will either be in reserve or could be used on another route, according to Cookson.

Columbia mall will house a charging station for the buses, which the buses will use for five to 10 minutes every time they stop at the mall. A full battery lasts approximately 12 to 15 hours, and takes roughly four to five hours to fully charge. The buses will also charge each night at the bus garage, Cookson said.

Cookson said attendees at Monday’s event were particularly impressed by how quiet they were compared to diesel-fueled buses.

Read the full article for more information.

Perfecting P3s At #MACoCon

Public private partnerships, or P3s, can provide innovative solutions to advancing

perrin
Sallye Perrin, Senior Vice President, WSP USA (photo courtesy WSP USA)

county projects from economic development and broadband deployment to stormwater management and green infrastructure investment. Attend MACo’s Summer Conference session, “Perfecting the Potential of Public Private Partnerships,” to hear best practices from national experts and real examples of successful P3s from Maryland county officials.

Perfecting the Potential of Public Private Partnerships

Description: When implemented correctly, public private partnerships, or “P3s,” offer government agencies the opportunity to provide the public with necessary infrastructure while benefitting from the expertise and efficiency of private enterprise. The ideal P3 is the best of both worlds, with public benefit and private sector efficiency- but complications of structuring any new arrangement always present risks. Learn about how jurisdictions have crafted successful partnerships to build and maintain infrastructure at this session.

Speakers:

  • Adam Ortiz, Director, Prince George’s Department of the Environment
  • Ken Ulman, CEO, Margrave Strategies
  • Sallye Perrin, Senior Vice President, WSP USA
  • James McCormick, CIO, Caroline County

Moderator: The Honorable Steve Hershey, MD State Senate

Date/Time: Friday, August 18, 2017; 1:00 pm – 2:00 pm

Learn more about MACo’s Summer Conference:

Study Analyzes Usage and Disposal of Plastics

A Science Advances research article (2017-07-19) analyzed the global production, use, and final destination of plastics. The research article estimated that 8300 million metric tons (Mt) of primary or virgin plastic have been produced from the start of mass plastic productions post-World War II through 2015. Based on their data, the researchers estimate that 12,000 Mt of plastics will be in landfills or the natural environment by 2050. From the research article:

A world without plastics, or synthetic organic polymers, seems unimaginable today, yet their large-scale production and use only dates back to ~1950. Although the first synthetic plastics, such as Bakelite, appeared in the early 20th century, widespread use of plastics outside of the military did not occur until after World War II. The ensuing rapid growth in plastics production is extraordinary, surpassing most other man-made materials. Notable exceptions are materials that are used extensively in the construction sector, such as steel and cement.

Instead, plastics’ largest market is packaging, an application whose growth was accelerated by a global shift from reusable to single-use containers. As a result, the share of plastics in municipal solid waste (by mass) increased from less than 1% in 1960 to more than 10% by 2005 in middle- and high-income countries. At the same time, global solid waste generation, which is strongly correlated with gross national income per capita, has grown steadily over the past five decades. …

We estimate that 2500 Mt of plastics—or 30% of all plastics ever produced—are currently in use. Between 1950 and 2015, cumulative waste generation of primary and secondary (recycled) plastic waste amounted to 6300 Mt. Of this, approximately 800 Mt (12%) of plastics have been incinerated and 600 Mt (9%) have been recycled, only 10% of which have been recycled more than once. Around 4900 Mt—60% of all plastics ever produced—were discarded and are accumulating in landfills or in the natural environment….None of the mass-produced plastics biodegrade in any meaningful way; however, sunlight weakens the materials, causing fragmentation into particles known to reach millimeters or micrometers in size. Research into the environmental impacts of these “microplastics” in marine and freshwater environments has accelerated in recent years, but little is known about the impacts of plastic waste in land-based ecosystems.

The growth of plastics production in the past 65 years has substantially outpaced any other manufactured material. The same properties that make plastics so versatile in innumerable applications—durability and resistance to degradation—make these materials difficult or impossible for nature to assimilate. Thus, without a well-designed and tailor-made management strategy for end-of-life plastics, humans are conducting a singular uncontrolled experiment on a global scale, in which billions of metric tons of material will accumulate across all major terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems on the planet. The relative advantages and disadvantages of dematerialization, substitution, reuse, material recycling, waste-to-energy, and conversion technologies must be carefully considered to design the best solutions to the environmental challenges posed by the enormous and sustained global growth in plastics production and use. [Citations Omitted].

Source: Production, Use, and Fate of All Plastics Ever Made, Science Advances, Vol. 3, no. 7, e1700782 (July 19, 2017).

 A New York Times article (2017-07-19) offered further details on the study:

Roland Geyer, the lead author of the study, said, “My mantra is that you can’t manage what you don’t measure, and without good numbers, you don’t know if we have a real problem.”

The authors, who come from the University of California, Santa Barbara, the University of Georgia and the Sea Education Association in Woods Hole, Mass., used plastic production data from a variety of sources to make their estimates. …

Dr. Geyer cautioned that recycling was not a cure-all for global plastic pollution. He said the sole benefit of recycling was to reduce the amount of new plastic being produced, adding, “We don’t understand very well the extent to which recycling reduces primary production.”

The features that have made plastic so important in the global market are the same ones that make it such a pervasive pollutant: durability and resistance to degradation.

Dr. Geyer said there was not enough information on what the long-term consequences of all this plastic and its disposal would be. “It accumulates so quickly now and it doesn’t biodegrade, so it just gets added to what’s already there.”

“Once we start looking, I think we’ll find all sorts of unintended consequences,” he added. “I’d be very surprised to find out that it is a purely aesthetic problem.”

Bike Path Connects Counties From Maine To Florida

A 3,000 mile bike path connecting Maine, through Maryland to Key West, takes the title of

map-art_no-fonts_limited-type
Courtesy Eastern Greenway Alliance

“most ambitious infrastructure project in the US,” according to news outlet Quartz. The East Coast Greenway Alliance, the nonprofit partnering with numerous local governments on the project, thinks it will take a total of 50 years to complete.

It includes 175 miles through Maryland, entering through Newark, Delaware, through Cecil, Harford, Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Queen Anne’s, and Prince George’s counties and Baltimore City, before going to D.C.

 

From Quartz:

That path, once complete, will connect Calais, Maine to Key West, Florida, which Dennis Markatos-Soriano, executive director of the East Coast Greenway Alliance, the nonprofit running the project, calls “the moose to the manatee.” Cyclists can manage to ride between those two points now. The beauty of the Eastern Greenway is that it will be largely separated from cars. It costs about $1 million a mile to build, the organization says, and the pavement can support touring bikes.

Construction is a third of the way to its goal, but all of the stretches are not yet connected. The organization admits the project is slow-going. It took 25 years to get to this point. The alliance has given itself another 25 years for the entire path to be completed, and 13 for the next 1,000 miles. The project is funded by private donors, and local and state governments, which are in charge of constructing the path in their areas.

The project last year added 42 miles of trails to the network, paths that are dotted with historical sites, such as the the six miles through South Carolina’s Spanish Moss Trail, the site of a now-defunct rail line that opened in 1870.

Courtesy Eastern Greenway Alliance

Purple Line Back On Track

Finally, the Purple Line gets some forward movement. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit reinstated the project’s Record of Decision yesterday, overturning U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon’s prior revocation and allowing the project to move forward while litigation ensues. The Record of Decision is an environmental approval necessary for the state and federal government to enter into a Full Funding Grant Agreement, authorizing $900 in federal transportation funds for the project. The litigation has postponed execution of the funding agreement for nearly a year.

Of course, the U.S. Department of Transportation could still opt to hold off on executing the agreement until litigation concludes. Reports The Washington Post

A key issue remains, however: whether the U.S. Department of Transportation will consider the ruling to provide enough legal certainty to sign a multiyear funding agreement with the state for nearly $1 billion in federal aid. The Trump administration has proposed ending federal grants for new transit construction but has said in budget documents that it’s still considering the Purple Line for federal funding.

The Federal Transit Administration referred inquiries Wednesday to the Justice Department. A Justice Department spokesman said lawyers were still reviewing the court order.

Until Wednesday’s ruling, Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn had said the Purple Line was at risk of being canceled because the state was quickly running out of money to continue pre-construction work without the federal reimbursement. Congress has appropriated $325 million to the Purple Line, but the state can’t access that money until a full funding agreement is signed.

“Today’s ruling is good news,” Rahn said. “We will be working with USDOT to move a Full Funding Grant Agreement forward.”

According to Twitter, state and local officials are pleased.

Prior Conduit Street coverage on the Purple Line

 

Deatrick Named St. Mary’s Public Works/Transportation Director

The Commissioners of St. Mary’s County have selected John Deatrick, P.E. as the county’s

dfcgsxkxyamzntf
John Deatrick, P.E. (source: St. Mary’s County)

Public Works and Transportation Director.

Mr. Deatrick comes to St. Mary’s County from the City of Cincinnati where he served as Project Executive for the Cincinnati Streetcar implementation between 2013 and 2016.

From 2008 until 2013, he was Cincinnati’s Project Executive for the Central Riverfront Redevelopment Project.

Closer to home, Mr. Deatrick has worked for Jacobs Engineering in Arlington, Virginia as Capital Region Program Manager for Highways and served as the Deputy Director and Chief Engineer for the District of Columbia’s Department of Transportation. While in the nation’s capital, he worked on a number of high profile, award winning projects, including the implementation of the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative Transportation Plan, the South Capitol Corridor and public improvements for Nationals Park.

John holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Maryland, is a licensed Professional Engineer in multiple states, a Certified Planner and Certified Sustainability Professional. Mr. Deatrick is also a Navy veteran.

“We welcome Mr. Deatrick to St. Mary’s County,” said Commissioner President Randy Guy. “His vast experience and wealth of knowledge will be a great fit as he leads our Public Works and Transportation department.”

Mr. Deatrick’s appointment is effective August 7.

House Subcommittee Increases Authorization For Local Water Programs

Additional funds for water infrastructure may flow down to counties from Congress, reports Route Fifty. Last week the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Environment Subcommittee voted to reauthorize funding for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund program, at a level of $8 billion for the five-year period between fiscal years 2018 and 2022 – significantly higher than previous authorizations. The bill is the result of bipartisan compromise, according to U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko of New York, the top Democrat on the subcommittee.

From  Route Fifty:

Congress established the revolving fund program in the mid-1990s. Through it, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency provides money states can use to extend low-interest loans for drinking water projects—specifically those needed to comply with federal drinking water regulations and to meet health goals in the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Authorization expired for the program in 2003. At that time, funding for it was authorized at up to $1 billion annually. Lawmakers have continued to provide money for the program in the years since, with levels generally in the $800 million to $900 million range in recent years.

The new House legislation would raise the annual authorization level gradually from $1.2 billion in fiscal 2018, to $2 billion in 2022.

Environmental Protection Agency estimates indicate that public water systems in the U.S. need to invest $384 billion in infrastructure improvements over 20 years to ensure the delivery of safe drinking water, according to a Congressional Research Service report from May.

A draft House appropriations bill for the upcoming 2018 fiscal year includes about $863 million for the drinking water revolving fund.

Tonko stressed that, in his view, the federal government has a responsibility to assist local drinking water systems with upgrades.

“We cannot fool ourselves into thinking local governments can do this on their own,” he said.

Recent Conduit Street coverage: Water Companies Are Billions Short to Fix Country’s Aging Water Systems

Red Line Civil Rights Case Closed “Without Finding”

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has closed its investigation into whether the cancellation of the Red Line Light Rail Project in Baltimore City compromised Baltimore residents’ civil rights – “without finding.”

In 2015, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and American Civil Liberties Union filed a complaint with U.S. DOT alleging that the project’s cancellation has a violative disparate impact on African-Americans in Baltimore. The Obama Administration extended the investigation to look more broadly into the Maryland Department of Transportation’s compliance with the Civil Rights Act.

This week, the U.S. DOT sent the Hogan Administration a letter explaining that “the appropriate course of action is to administratively close the complaint, without finding.” According to The Baltimore Sun:

The letter did not explain why the case was closed. …

Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn described the letter from the federal department as “self-explanatory.”

“If there are any issues in the compliance review, USDOT will discuss those with us,” he said in a statement.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat, said he was “deeply disappointed” by the decision.

“The complaint … raised critical questions about this decision’s impact on Baltimore’s residents — particularly African-American residents,” Cummings said in a statement. “I am deeply disappointed that the U.S. Department of Transportation is summarily closing the complaint without issuing any findings.”

A separate investigation, opened on the final day of President Barack Obama’s administration, will continue. That review looks more broadly at whether decisions by the state transportation department have violated the Civil Rights Act.

But that broader review will not likely be as thorough as the investigation that would have taken place if the department followed through on the complaint.

Counties to Congressional Delegation: Keep Us In Mind

With a major wave of high-impact legislation under consideration by Congress, and the state and local effects of them drawing substantial attention from counties across the state, MACo has sent a letter to the Maryland congressional delegation. The essential message: keep county governments, and other Maryland specific impacts, in mind as you consider these many weighty measures.

MACo’s letter, approved by the Legislative Committee during its meeting this week, discusses potential effects of the proposed federal budget, health care reform, and tax law changes. In each case, MACo highlights concerns on behalf of county government services, or peculiar to the State of Maryland, urging our Senators and Representatives to weigh these local impacts in their considerations.

From the letter:

The Maryland Association of Counties (MACo), representing the 24 subdivisions providing primary local public services to all Marylanders, urges your caution when considering policy changes currently before Congress.

Both in fiscal affairs and health care policy, the potential exists for an untoward and unfair shift of responsibilities and burdens to local governments. We hope you will keep these local perspectives in mind as you are called to vote on major policy matters in the months ahead.

As always, MACo and our county officials stand ready to help you and your staff with any matters where a local perspective could serve you well. We hope that through our conferences and events, and direct contact with you, this federal-local partnership can serve both our mutual interests, and those of our shared constituents.