Hogan: Counties Always Have Seats At His Table

img_2618In remarks at MACo’s Summer Conference this morning, Governor Larry Hogan emphasized his commitment to working with counties on transportation priorities, stating to a room full of county officials that they “will always have a seat at the table with my Administration.”

He referenced the rapid series of back-and-forth letters among the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT), county leadership and various parties concerning this year’s Consolidated Transportation Program (CTP) and the “scoring system” required by a recently passed state law, which he stressed he would work to repeal. Further, he announced:

 

We remain committed to improving our state’s transportation infrastructure … seeing top priority transportation projects in every county move forward … [and] restoring every single penny of highway user revenues.

To achieve this and other successes, he stated,

We will need the help of every person in this room.

In a letter to MDOT sent last week, MACo President John Barr urged that a state/county collaboration on prioritizing transportation projects would serve all parties best.

Read Conduit Street‘s several recent articles regarding the scoring process and its implementation, all under our site’s “Transportation and Public Works” category search.

 

MDOT Will Not Implement “Scoring” System This Year

Following a rapid series of back-and-forth letters among multiple parties, the Maryland Department of Transportation announced Tuesday that it would not tie this year’s capital funding plan to the “scoring system” required by a recently passed state law.

In a letter to county leaders, MDOT Deputy Secretary James Ports referenced the legislation from 2016, but also the more recent debate regarding the timing and implementation of the new system.

From the letter:

Based on this new opinion and multiple statements made by legislators, apparently MDOT now has the discretion when to implement this new law, and the department has decided to delay the requirement until the draft FY 2018 – FY 2023 CTP to be released on September 1, 2017.

The letter continues in describing the information and evaluation process to begin next year under the legislation, notably the Department’s decision to require county governments to provide extensive information and analysis with each project identified as a local priority. Also from the letter:

Projects are still required to be scored, and low scoring projects could be defunded under the requirements of the law. In order to inform the scoring process, our previous request for information will remain in place in 2017 since several of the legislatively mandated measures can only be supplied by local jurisdictions.

In a letter to the Department from the day before, MACo President John Barr had urged that a state/county collaboration on developing the regulations and implementation for this process would serve all parties best.

Read the full MDOT letter sent to Frederick County (and presumably each jurisdiction).

Read Conduit Street‘s several recent articles regarding the scoring process and its implementation, all under our site’s “Transportation and Public Works” category search.

MACo Letter: Best Path Ahead on MDOT Process is Working Together

In a letter sent today to Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) Deputy Secretary James Ports, MACo President John Barr offered MACo’s aid to MDOT in collaborating to implement a project-based scoring system to prioritize major transportation projects. The letter responds to Ports’ July 28 letter requiring counties to provide MDOT with substantial analyses of their requested priorities, in response to scoring system legislation passed last session. From MACo’s letter:

Following the receipt of your July 28 letter to county leaders, I write to offer the Maryland Association of Counties’ aid to the Maryland Department of Transportation in developing a productive process to evaluate major transportation projects. We believe the best way forward on this important process is by working together.

We write here to focus on the months ahead – where the Department is charged by the legislation to create its implementing regulations. We believe that a dialogue involving public works and transportation officials and other leaders at the county level could be a great asset to the Department’s deliberations. We would welcome the opportunity to coordinate such an effort.

We look forward to seeing you, the Secretary, and other Department leaders at the upcoming MACo conference. We expect that some face-to-face discussion of these issues may be mutually beneficial in charting both the short term, and longer term, processes ahead.

Read MACo’s full letter here.

After MDOT sent its initial July 28 letter,  the Chairs of the General Assembly Committees which passed the scoring system legislation responded with their own letter expressing concern. MDOT followed up with counties by sending a second letter informing them of what projects would be funded based on preliminary Department project scoring. In its own letter dated last Wednesday, the Attorney General’s office advised House Appropriations Chair McIntosh that the new law does not require MDOT to implement a scoring system at this time, nor does it authorize MDOT to shift analytical responsibilities to county governments.

MDOT officials have indicated that Secretary Pete Rahn will attend the MACo Summer Conference, and will be available to discuss these issues with county leaders.

Previous Conduit Street coverage on this issue:

 

AG on Transportation Letters: Timing and Shift are Department Policy, Not Law

The Office of the Attorney General has offered its opinion on the recent controversial process letters sent by the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT). In its opinion, the Department is not obligated by 2016 legislation to require the project analysis for “scoring” for this year’s CTP process, and is not authorized to require the proposed shift of analytical responsibilities to county governments.

The letter – issued today to House Appropriations Committee Chair Maggie McIntosh, addresses both the timing and substance of this recent high-profile controversy.

On the timing — whether the scoring analysis is required to be used for the development of the Consolidated Transportation Plan (CTP) currently in process — the letter reads:

Because Ch. 36 directs MDOT to adopt regulations on or before January 7, 2017 , to “carry out” the scoring system, I believe the most reasonable construction of the legislation is that it does not require MDOT to implement the new scoring system for the CTP currently being developed, as the proposed CTP is to be submitted to the General Assembly on or before September 1, and the approved CTP is to be submitted with the budget bill in January. If MDOT intends to apply the new scoring system to projects being evaluated for inclusion in the upcoming CTP, it is my view that it may do so only if it first adopts the implementing regulations required by Ch. 36.

On the process — whether the Department is required by the legislation to shift a wide range of analytical and informational responsibilities to county governments — the letter reads:

No provision of Ch. 36 requires that MDOT request the various studies, analyses, and data identified, nor does the law in any way impose an obligation on local jurisdictions to provide this information to MDOT. To the extent that MDOT is requiring local jurisdictions to submit this information, it appears to be doing so as a matter of departmental policy, not because Ch. 36 requires that it do so. As to whether MDOT has the authority to impose such a policy, it is my view that it does not.

Relevant references: Full AG Letter | Chapter 36 (HB 1013) of 2016

The balance of the Attorney General’s letter of advice offers further background into the current issue.

Coverage in the Baltimore Sun offers a capsule summary of the recent events:

The conflict over the law reopened with a July 28 letter in which Deputy Transportation Secretary James F. Ports Jr. told counties they must submit results of a dozen studies to the state by Aug. 15. Pointing out that the Hogan administration opposed the legislation, he insisted that the law required the department to seek that information in time to include projects in this year’s draft Comprehensive Transportation Program, due Sept. 1.

“Due to this legislation, projects previously funded in the CTP that receive low scores will be in jeopardy and could be de-funded,” Ports wrote. He urged counties to deliver the “required” information as soon as possible. The CTP is a six-year plan that is revised each year to account for state capital spending on all modes of transportation — from roads, to transit, to airports, to the Port of Baltimore.

The deadline came as a surprise to county officials.

Chairman McIntosh, quoted in the Sun, offered her view on flexibility for implementation ahead, and pledged legislative attention:

McIntosh noted that the bill gives the governor the authority to fund projects regardless of the score. She said the bill’s purpose was to require the department “to be more transparent about how and why they make their decisions.”

McIntosh said her committee would hold a hearing on the department’s actions, probably in the early fall.

Transportation “Scoring” Process, and Controversy, Continues

The Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) continues to pursue the “scoring” process for major transportation projects for this year’s Consolidated Transportation Program (CTP) document, and has offered counties preliminary information on what projects would be funded based on preliminary Department project scoring. Counties face an August 15 deadline for submitting local information and analysis to contribute to the scoring – a deadline first announced in a July 28 letter from MDOT.

Read previous coverage from Conduit Street:

MDOT Letter: Counties Must Do “Front End” Analysis on Major State Projects

Chairmen Fire Back: MDOT Transfer To Counties “Never Considered”

An August 9 letter sent to counties by MDOT offers a preliminary scoring assessment of each county’s proposed projects, and indicates:

In order to comply with the goals and measures for the project-based scoring system required under Chapter 36 and based on the project rankings completed by the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT), only the top 7 projects are able to be funded.

The Frederick News-Post has posted a copy the the MDOT letter received by Frederick County, indicating that none of its priority projects could be funded. From their article:

One project Ports listed as potentially receiving no funding — a $31 million second Md. 180 bridge over U.S. 15/U.S. 340 — was actually promoted in Frederick by Gov. Larry Hogan (R) in a press conference announcing the project’s planned funding earlier this year.

Now, Ports’ letter states that the scoring system will allow MDOT to fund only the top seven “capacity projects” in the state. The bridge and other improvements along Md. 180 are currently ranked 65th and 45th out of 73 total projects, according to Ports’ letter.

In a conversation today with MACo, MDOT indicated that the August 9 follow-up letter was intended to answer questions raised by several counties in recent days. Regarding the list of funded or non-funded projects, a representative said, “If we were to only fund projects according to the weighted scores, there would only be funding for these seven. That’s what the letter is explaining.”

The legislation referenced, HB 1013 from the 2016 session, includes a clause to establish the intended link between project scoring and funding:

(3) THE DEPARTMENT MAY INCLUDE IN THE CONSOLIDATED TRANSPORTATION PROGRAM A MAJOR TRANSPORTATION PROJECT WITH A LOWER SCORE OVER A MAJOR TRANSPORTATION PROJECT WITH A HIGHER SCORE IF IT PROVIDES IN WRITING A RATIONAL BASIS FOR THE DECISION.

(This clause appears at the bottom of page 17 of the enrolled version of the bill)

Meanwhile, jurisdictions are responding to both the newly announced requirements for county information and analysis, but also the short timeline affecting projects for the pending CTP. From Washington Post coverage:

In late July, the Maryland Department of Transportation sent a letter to counties giving them less than three weeks to produce detailed studies for projects on their local transportation wish lists and threatening to withhold funding if they did not comply.

Democratic lawmakers say their legislation imposed no such demands and that scoring was not supposed to start until next year.

And officials in Baltimore and Prince George’s, who fired back with their own letters, say they won’t comply because the state’s ultimatum is unreasonable. They say the studies requested — including reviews of costs, environmental impacts and effects on traffic — are not available at this stage.

State officials have backed off the threat to withhold funding for counties that don’t produce the studies. But they cautioned that information provided by counties will inform the state’s scoring.

As for the complaints about the short timetable for the counties’ studies to be completed? State officials say it is because the law took effect on July 1 and, based on their reading, immediately applies to the projects under consideration for funding this year.

“This isn’t something we are doing as a scare tactic. The legislature created this law. We have an obligation to enforce it,” said Erin Henson, a spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation. “Clearly the law is confusing.”

The Post’s reference that the Department has “backed off” may refer to an interview with The Daily Record (article is accessibly only to paid subscribers), where Deputy Secretary James Ports clarified the Department’s intentions regarding project funding.

To read the full article, visit the Daily Record website, content available to subscribers only: “Official contradicts letter seeking info on Md. road projects”

Chairmen Fire Back: MDOT Transfer To Counties “Never Considered”

Chairmen McIntosh and Kasemeyer, co-authors of response letter
Chairmen McIntosh and Kasemeyer, co-authors of response letter to MDOT

Following the controversial letter to counties from the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) requiring by August 15 substantial studies and analysis on any county-identified major transportation project, the Chairs of the General Assembly Committees passing the initiating legislation responded with their own letter. Senator Edward Kasemeyer and Delegate Maggie McIntosh, chairs of the Senate and House committees passing HB 1013, issued a joint letter today with a harsh response to the MDOT proposed shift of burden.

The Chairs’ letter expressed concern with the process change and timing offered recently by MDOT, citing provisions from HB 1013 requiring regulations to be adopted by January of 2017 — a process that has not even begun yet.

From the legislative leaders’ letter:

[W]e remain perplexed how MDOT can require exhaustive project information in the next seven business days – all while claiming that the legislative requirements of the Act may ultimately lead to county transportation priorities being defunded. Much of the requested documentation and evaluation has traditionally been completed by MDOT or metropolitan planing organizations across the State. The unilateral transfer of these responsibilities to the counties is troubling and was never considered much less required by the General Assembly or the legislation.

The Chairs’ letter closes with a look forward toward further process in developing the regulations and (presumably) the long term division of analytical responsibilities for major transportation projects:

We hope that MDOT will work in the months ahead to implement a transparent and fair project-based evaluation process of which all Marylanders may be proud.

Read the full Kasemeyer/McIntosh letter online.

Read Conduit Street‘s previous coverage of the MDOT letter and county reactions.

 

MDOT Letter: Counties Must Do “Front End” Analysis on Major State Projects

In a letter sent to county chief elected officials (dated July 28), the Maryland Department of Transportation announced its intention to require county governments, rather than the state, to make a wide variety of analyses for proposed major transportation projects. The sudden change in policy has left county governments unclear on how to accomplish the lofty and ambitious request – especially since the lengthy list of analyses is to be received by August 15.

“This can’t be the end of the conversation,” MACo President John Barr said. “The counties don’t have the technical ability, or the funding, to do all this work, period — much less in two weeks time. We need to work this out.”

Cecil County Director of Public Works W. Scott Flanigan, speaking as the County Engineers Association of Maryland President, said, “These requirements place a heavy, and I would say, unreasonable burden on counties and other local jurisdictions. The practical effect is likely to be that it will be that much harder for the state to address pressing local transportation concerns.”

Coverage in the Annapolis Capital said the letter “reignites transportation funding debate,” citing the controversial legislation HB 1013 from the 2016 session. MACo opposed HB 1013, and worked to attach numerous amendments to the bill before its passage (and veto override).

One of the amendments MACo supported was to clarify that the bill would not upend the process used to identify projects for state consideration – hinging for many years on county-identified priorities. That segment of the enacted bill (on page 18, lines 22-26) reads as follows:

(E) NOTHING IN THIS SECTION MAY BE CONSTRUED TO IMPEDE OR ALTER:

(1) THE PRIORITY LETTER PROCESS THAT OUTLINES LOCAL TRANSPORTATION PRIORITIES FOR THE DEPARTMENT’S CONSIDERATION FOR INCLUSION IN THE CONSOLIDATED TRANSPORTATION PROGRAM UNDER §2–103.125 OF THIS SUBTITLE

An official statement from MDOT elaborated, laying the blame for the rapid timing on the requirements of the legislation. It reads, in full:

The law passed by the Maryland General Assembly details those requirements and criteria and MDOT is required to follow the law. This process is new to all of us. We too are continuing to evaluate the criteria as prescribed by law.

According to the new law, counties need to provide data to MDOT for “highway or transit projects that improve capacity and exceed $5 million in total cost”. This includes those on the priority list.

Any project in the current CTP that is not in the construction phase must be scored according to the law in order to be eligible to compete for available funding in the 2017-2022 CTP. According to the law, scoring can impact the possibility of a project being funded.

This is a complex bill that went into effect July 1. It required thorough (MDOT) staff review of many goals and measures. We fully recognize the extremely challenging timeline the General Assembly placed on the counties. We hope the jurisdictions will be able to work with us to meet the statutory deadlines. By law, the draft FY 2017-2022 CTP must be issued on September 1.

The Department did indicate that Secretary Pete Rahn will attend the MACo Summer Conference, and will be available to discuss these issues with county leaders. MACo has expressed an active interest in the Association, and its member counties, being at the table for any dialogue ahead regarding the processes affected.

Howard Transportation Priorities Show Contention With Process

Howard County’s recent submission of its transportation priorities to the state – an annual ritual for jurisdictions across Maryland – has attracted attention on process and priorities. The micro debate in Howard County is strongly reminiscent of the state legislative debate on HB 1013, a controversial statewide “transportation scorecard” bill that passed during the 2016 session.

From coverage in the Baltimore Sun:

Like other jurisdictions, the county outlines its priorities in a letter to the Maryland Department of Transportation for consideration in the state’s six-year capital budget for transportation projects.

New state recommendations called for clearer prioritization of projects in the letter, increased public input and endorsements from the Howard County Delegation and the County Council; both legislative bodies signed the letter despite reservations.

Some delegation and council members said it was unclear how the administration ranked projects and how a public survey on transportation priorities informed the county’s priorities, signalling the need to create a more clearly defined prioritization method next year.

Going forward, members of the delegation and the Council encouraged the administration to provide more information about how projects were ranked and continue to include both bodies in discussions. Delegation and council members also recommended including more inclusive methods to engage the public in setting priorities.

Read the full Sun article.

See MACo’s coverage of HB 1013 during the legislative session.

2016 End of Session Wrap-Up: Transportation and Public Works

This post summarizes the status of Transportation and Public Works bills that MACo took a position on or considered during the 2016 General Assembly Session.

checkTransportation Network Provider Law is Clarified: HB 3/SB 54 is an emergency bill that clarifies the new state law that passed last session regulating for-hire transportation providers such as Uber and Lyft. During implementation of this legislation, the Comptroller’s Office found the language authorizing the fee to be confusing and requested that it, along with some of the other provisions, be clarified. A small group, including MACo, the Maryland Municipal League (MML), Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties, and committee staff met during the interim to develop language to clarify the imposition of the fee and the “right of first refusal” process for local governments. MACo supported this consensus legislation.

MACo testimony on HB 3

Final Status: HB 3 (Chapter 28/SB 54 (Chapter 16) passed the General Assembly and has taken effect.  

checkWater Service Shut Off Protection Act Fails: HB 742 would have established an onerous process to be followed by a provider of water and sewer system services before the service could be turned off for non-payment. The requirements included multiple notices to be sent and at least two visits to the residence to post notices. In addition, the bill stipulated a number of conditions for which the county would be prohibited from turning off the service, such as a resident living in the home being over the age of 62 or under the age of 6, or certain medical conditions. Additional staff time would be necessary to deliver notices and a process would need to be put in place to verify that residents meet the conditions specified in the bill. These new requirements would place a substantial financial and administrative burden on county governments to comply. MACo opposed the bill expressing concerns with the onerous nature of the process and the effect on all payers of these services should water and sewer bills go unpaid for prolonged periods of time.

MACo testimony on HB 742

Final Status: HB 742 was voted unfavorable by the House Environment and Transportation Committee.  

checkCost Sharing for the Relocation of Water and Sewer Lines: HB 854 would require the State Highway Administration (SHA) to notify a local jurisdiction of the costs associated with relocating a water or sewer line due to a federal project and investigate funding sources to help the local jurisdiction meet its share of the cost. The bill also authorizes a payment plan to be developed to assist with paying the cost. MACo supported the legislation citing that local jurisdictions incur additional expenses to provide services such as law enforcement, emergency management, and local infrastructure. These are ongoing and material costs, even when the federal project is welcome. With counties bearing the brunt of these ongoing costs, assistance from SHA to investigate funding sources and the establishment of a payment plan to assist local jurisdictions with paying these costs seems reasonable.

MACo testimony on HB 854

Final Status: HB 854 passed the General Assembly and is being reviewed for the Governor’s signature.

New Transportation Scorecard Will Take Effect: HB 1013/SB 908 would subject major state transportation projects to a detailed scoring system during their consideration for inclusion in the state’s Consolidated Transportation Plan. MACo opposed the bill expressing concern that its detailed provisions could marginalize local input, overlook regional or demographic variations in transportation needs, and under-value safety as a driving factor in project approval. Both the House and Senate accepted substantial amendments to the bill, many of which were drafted to address county concerns. The House amendments made several changes to the bill, including directing the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) to develop the final “percentage” weightings in the various components of the scoring system and adding an additional scoring component, “Local Priorities and Planning.” The Senate amendments exempted safety projects and those in the Appalachian Development Highway System from the scoring process. Senate amendments also ensured the bill would not affect the county priority letter process and MDOT’s visit to each county to discuss transportation priorities.

MACo testimony on SB 908

Final Status: HB 1013 passed the General Assembly and was vetoed by the Governor. The General Assembly overrode the Governor’s veto the last week of the session. The bill takes effect July 1, 2016.

checkProhibition on Transit Audio Recordings Defeated: SB 199 would have established several new restrictions on the use of audio recording devices on state and local public transit. The bill would have required that recording devices be located no more than 5 feet from the vehicle operator and activated by the operator or automatically only in the event of an incident involving public safety that requires documentation. The bill would have also established criteria for the retention, access, and dissemination of the audio recording. MACo opposed the legislation as it places unnecessary burdens on local transit systems and would require some jurisdictions to retrofit audio systems already installed on buses. MACo believes counties have proper protocols in place for addressing the issues raised in SB 199 and that they strike the right balance for a public transit system and serve to keep the systems safe for the public ridership.

MACo testimony on SB 199

Final Status: SB 199 passed the Senate and had a hearing before the House Environment and Transportation Committee. No further action was taken on the bill.

Policy on Sound Barriers: SB 752 would have required the State Highway Administration (SHA), in collaboration with county governments, to develop and adopt by regulation a policy concerning sound barriers along highways in the state. MACo supported the bill as this collaborative approach would provide for greater community input and allow local jurisdictions to work jointly with the Administration to address noise concerns from shared constituents.

MACo testimony on SB 752

Final Status: SB 752 passed the Senate and had a hearing before the House Environment and Transportation Committee. No further action was taken on the bill.

Veto Override Expected Today on Transportation Scoresheet

The House of Delegates has received the Governor’s veto of HB 1013, the much-debated legislation creating a new “scoresheet” system for evaluating major stare transportation projects. Their Thursday agenda includes the vetoed bill, and the House is expected to debate and vote on a possible veto override today.

Both the floor votes suggest that an override is likely, though the margins are fairly narrow. The House passed the bill with 84 votes (but a few Delegates absent), needing 85 to override. The Senate had 28 votes (with 2 Senators absent), needing 29 for its override.

A revised fiscal note of the enrolled bill is available online.

Read the Governor’s veto letter here.

Friday update: The House voted to override the Governor’s veto Thursday, the Senate is scheduled to vote Friday.