Senator Cardin Holds Round Table with Maryland Business Leaders

Senator Ben Cardin discussed critical issues — taxes, healthcare, infrastructure — being debated in Congress that have are impacting Maryland’s business and residents at a round table held at the Maryland Chamber of Commerce on Friday, November 17.

Senator Cardin discusses taxes, healthcare, infrastructure, transportation priorities and more at business round table.

Senator Cardin discusses taxes, healthcare, infrastructure, transportation priorities and more at business round table.The Senator emphasized his commitment to addressing key priorities for Maryland including:

  • FBI – working on finding a path forward for moving the FBI to Prince George’s County.
  • Protecting Federal and Military Installations in Maryland – ensuring they receive the resources and support they need. There was not a round of BRAC this year but one may be coming in another year or so.
  • CSX/Howard Street Tunnel – addressing the issues with the tunnel is essential to its long-term viability and talks continue with CSX financial officers and CEOs.

Q&A with the round table participants centered a lot on their frustrations with the state of the national health care laws and rising premiums, but also involved lengthy discussions on taxes, cyber security, and small business procurement issues.

 

Conduit Street Podcast, Episode #5 – The Power of Partnership

MACo’s Winter Conference will focus on intergovernmental cooperation and ways that counties can partner with entities in the public and private sector to achieve the best results for Maryland’s residents. Sessions will highlight collaboration across county lines and service areas to address priorities like the opioid epidemic, Next Gen 9-1-1, and the environment, along with other important topics like mutual aid agreements and cooperative purchasing.

On the latest episode of the Conduit Street Podcast, Kevin Kinnally and Michael Sanderson discuss the MACo Winter Conference and its focus on reviewing timely issues that will be relevant during the upcoming Maryland General Assembly Session.

MACo has made the podcast available through both iTunes and Google Play by searching Conduit Street Podcast. You can also listen on our Conduit Street blog with a recap and link to the podcast.

Listen here:

Learn more about MACo’s 2017 Winter Conference:

MACo’s Weekly County News & Notes… from Twitter

The social media site Twitter has become a fast-moving setting for news, information, and advocacy on public affairs. We welcome followers of MACo’s own Twitter feed for updates from the Conduit Street blog and other MACo hot topics, and often use Twitter to reach our own audience, and to hear from others following the same issues as county leaders.

Here are some tweets that caught our eye this week:

Follow MACo
Follow Executive Director Michael Sanderson
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See Tweets on #mdpolitics

MACo Exploring County Workers’ Comp Pool

MACo mark color
MACo continues the process of exploring workers’ compensation options for Maryland county governments.

The Maryland Association of Counties speaks with entities interested in performing a feasibility of a county self-insurance group.

Additional workers’ compensation insurance options, including a county government self-funded workers’ compensation group, could provide alternatives to Maryland counties that purchase insurance and re-insurance on the open market. MACo is exploring the viability of creating such a group through a feasibility study RFP process.

For more information, click here for the Feasibility Study Request for Proposals or contact Robin Eilenberg at MACo.

Harford Sees Uptick In Student Enrollment

After seven straight years of enrollment declines, Harford County Schools enrollment increases by 354 students

In another sign that enrollment in Harford County’s public school system has begun to stabilize after years of steady declines, the system recorded a slight gain in total students since last fall. The school system reports having 37,796 students compared to 37,442 students at the same time last year.

According to The Aegis,

Enrollment increased this year over last year in the three key categories. Enrollment in elementary schools increased by 109 from 17,484 to 17,593. Enrollment in middle schools increased by 161 from 8,492 in the 2016-17 school year to 8,653 on Sept. 30. Enrollment in high schools increased by 88 students from 11,271 a year ago to 11,359 this year.

In the fourth category, combined enrollment from John Archer and Alternative Education declined by four from 195 to 191 this year.

Useful Links

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: Harford Schools Enrollment Decline Stabilizes, But 6,800 Empty Seats Remain

Harford schools reverse recent trend, add students

“Further Discussion” Topics Would Dramatically Change School Construction Funding

Knott Commission members discuss areas of potential consensus, leaving several areas for further discussion untouched.

The Knott Commission is nearing its December reporting date. Areas of potential consensus, according to a handout distributed at the 21st Century School Facilities Commission (the Knott Commission), include conducting a statewide facility assessment using an integrated data system. Areas for further discussion, however, would determine how that facility assessment is used, and other changes to state school funding distribution.

As pointed out by Commissioner and Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner, those areas for further discussion could have a major effect on school construction funding. However, the areas for further discussion were not discussed this week.

For example, one area for further discussion includes how the results of the assessment are incorporated into project funding decisions. Another relates to how changing eligible costs for school construction could result in funding for fewer projects per year, and yet another describes the possibility of removing capital maintenance projects from eligibility for state school construction funding.

Chairman Martin Knott said the Commission will finalize its recommendations before its final meeting in December.

“If anyone thinks we’re stuck in the past, we’re not. We’re moving forward. We’re taking bold initiatives,” Knott said.

For more information, see the video of the hearing.

School Construction will be a topic of several sessions at the MACo Winter Conference.

Learn more about MACo’s 2017 Winter Conference:

Environmentalists Unveil 2018 Session Priorities

The Maryland League of Conservation Voters (MDLCV) hosted its annual event on November 13, 2017, where the environmental community unveiled their legislative priorities for the 2018 Session. Increasing the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) and strengthening the Forest Conservation Act (FCA) were among several priorities highlighted during the event.

Forest Conservation Act

A MDLCV representative discussed pending legislation that create additional FCA protections for large contiguous tracts of older forest. The representative stressed that growth should be focused in areas that have already been developed and limit growth “out in the boondocks.”

Renewable Portfolio Standard

A MDLCV representative discussed the initiative to increase the RPS so that 50% of Maryland’s energy comes from renewable sources by 2030. The proposed bill would remove waste to energy plants from the RPS and also channel money towards renewable energy jobs training. The training funding would be targeted towards small businesses and minority-, women-, and veteran-owned businesses.

Program Open Space

A Preservation Maryland representative recounted that over $1 billion has been taken from Program Open Space (POS) and that 2016 legislation was passed to repay a small portion of that amount and make it harder to raid POS funding in future years. The environmental community will support the funding of POS according to the 2016 legislation and oppose any proposed raids of the funding.

Styrofoam Ban

A representative from Trash Free Maryland stated that an environmental coalition plans on pushing legislation that would ban Styrofoam food packaging and shipping “peanuts” in Maryland. The representative noted that: (1) Styrofoam does not degrade but instead breaks down into smaller pieces that enter both the animal and human food chains; and (2) when heated, such as in a microwave, Styrofoam releases styrene, which is a known carcinogen. The legislation will be sponsored by Delegate Brooke Lierman and Senator Cheryl Kagan.

Pesticide Ban

A representative from MDLCV discussed planned legislation that would ban the use of pesticides containing chlorophenols. The representative stated that the United States Environmental Protection Agency was set to ban its usage until the election of President Donald Trump and that it is already banned for residential usage. The proposed legislation would ban it in agricultural uses.

Public Service Commission Transparency

A MDLCV representative unveiled an initiative that would require the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) to provide additional notice and transparency to communities that could be affected by the siting of utility scale energy projects. The proposed legislation would also require the PSC to look at the potential health effects a proposed energy project would have on nearby communities.

Historic Tax Credit

A representative from Preservation Maryland discussed legislation that would increase funding for the Heritage Structure Rehabilitation Credit, which currently provides about $9 million in tax breaks to qualifying historic rehabilitation projects. The representative noted that a similar Virginia credit provides about $100 million in relief and that the legislation would step up Maryland’s credit, going to $14.5 million for FY 2019.

State Historical Trust

The Preservation Maryland representative also spoke about legislation that would restore funding to several programs under the State Historical Trust within the Maryland Department of Planning, including: (1) the Trust’s capital grant program; (2) the survey and research grant program; and (3) the museum assistance fund.

WSSC Revising Rates, Counties Provided Opportunity To Comment

The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) is recommending a new rate structure, which is intended to make water bills more predictable and “less discriminatory for larger households,” according to The Washington Post:

With no discussion, the board for the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) forwarded to officials in Montgomery and Prince Georges counties three staff recommendations for a new pricing system. County officials are expected to provide feedback this spring before the board approves a new system in June.

Each proposal results in higher water bills for smaller households and lower bills for larger households. The revised structure comes after the Maryland Public Service Commission ordered WSSC last March to revise its rate structure because the 25-year-old existing structure was “unduly discriminatory” and “unreasonable” because it could result in larger households paying more per gallon.

The new rate structure would take effect July 2019.

Auditors, Inspectors General Receiving Less Love In State Budgets

States have significantly fewer auditors and inspectors general on payrolls than before the Great Recession, reports Governing

Governing identified an aggregate decline in filled staff positions reported by the National Association of State Auditors, Comptrollers and Treasurers of 7 percent over the decade ending in fiscal 2017. Thirty of 47 agencies reported that their staff was smaller than in 2007.

Those left have seen their budgets dwindle. From their coverage:

At a time when governments are trying to get a better grip on their finances, many states have cut funds for auditing and oversight. Such positions were sometimes among the first casualties in the aftermath of the recession. “I find it interesting that there is this nationwide trend of cutting back on the independent watchdog’s budget,” says Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale. “I’ve yet to find a taxpayer or a legislator who doesn’t want less waste, fraud and abuse in state government.”

Closer to home, the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs just wrote WMATA General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld a letter suggesting that “the transit agency’s inspector general lacks the necessary independence to perform its oversight duties and keep the public informed of the results,” according to The Washington PostThe Committee requests a briefing from Wiedefeld on how the authority “oversees its own overseer.”

Delegate Marc Korman from Montgomery County tweeted thoughts on funding for WMATA’s inspector general:

Harford Council Considers Ambulance Fee Bill

The Harford County Council is considering a bill introduced by County Executive Glassman to set fees on county-owned ambulance services equal to those under Medicare.

The Baltimore Sun reports:

The legislation also provides for such charges to increase or decrease in step with applicable Medicare charges fluctuations. If there is no comparable Medicare charge for the service provided, the county’s director of emergency services and treasurer would set the fee.

If the patient transported is not covered by insurance – or the insurance does not cover the service provided, the legislation gives the emergency services director and treasurer authority to waive the charge.

The bill also provides waiver authority to the director of emergency services and treasurer for cases in which the patient or the service being provided is not covered by insurance.

The article notes that the bill is one part of a plan by the County Executive’s office to move towards a county paid and county controlled ambulance system.

For more information read the full article in The Baltimore Sun.

Related coverage from Conduit Street:

Harford Launches New Emergency Medical Standards Advisory Board