Sunday, May 31, 2009

BOP is Coming Out Soon


Baby Olson-Pagnucco could be out any day now. As you see, his blogging station is ready. The mobile is a present from BOP's uncle, MPW founder David Lublin. Don't worry, dear readers - there is plenty of content already programmed over the next couple weeks for your reading pleasure (or displeasure).

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Saturday, May 30, 2009

County Report: May 22


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Friday, May 29, 2009

Marc Fisher Leaves the Post (Updated)

Marc Fisher wrote a farewell column today. Like many of you, I am surprised and saddened that one of the D.C. area's greatest independent voices is leaving.

Fisher's entire essay is a must-read (just like many of his columns), but here's the money quote for me:

On the first day I was given this space to play with, the great columnist Mary McGrory summoned me to her office with a note: "Come see me. I have three words for you."

I scurried over and presented myself. Mary looked up from her desk and said, "Three words: Cruelty is important." To do this job right, you must name and blame the bad guys. You must call it as it is. The minute you hold back, your credibility is shot. The second you stop reporting, you're just one more pontificating, pusillanimous pundit." (When my friend and colleague Marjorie Williams launched her column, she too received the gift of three words from Mary: "Subtlety is overrated.")

The beauty of a column is that you can dig up the story, then say it straight: You can expose the cynicism that leaves D.C. school kids worse off at the end of their education than they were at the start, then you can call that system a criminal enterprise. You can reveal the narrow-mindedness that threatens to put mentally retarded people out on the street, and then push until embarrassed officials do the right thing. You can keep hitting the same note until a school principal with a phony doctorate is removed.
Fisher truly excelled at this. He was always honest, occasionally tough but never petty. He told the truth as he saw it, regardless of the pushback he got. And he received attention at the highest levels because politicians knew he had credibility with the public.

From the perspective of Montgomery County politics, Fisher's greatest contribution was his reporting on the dispute over Hillmead Park in Bethesda. The county had purchased a neighboring parcel with a large home on it for addition to the adjacent Hillmead Park. Some wanted to use the home as transitional housing for the homeless. Others wanted to tear it down and use all of the land to expand the park. After a huge uproar pitting neighbors against housing advocates, the issue was resolved by a 5-4 County Council vote to demolish the house. Fisher's work inspired me to write a five-part series demonstrating that subsidized housing in Montgomery County is disproportionately concentrated in black and Latino neighborhoods and is mostly far from Metro stations. Hillmead's residual impact is influencing both incumbent County Council Members and challengers and will affect the competing messages in our 2010 election.

We do not have enough people in public life willing to tell the truth regardless of the consequences. With Fisher's departure, those spare ranks shrink by one.

Update: We hear that Fisher is staying with the Post in a different capacity but he will no longer write a column.

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

MCDCC Seeking New District 18 Member

Following is the press release from MCDCC.

MONTGOMERY COUNTY DEMOCRATIC CENTRAL COMMITTEE

Press Release
May 28, 2009
For Immediate Release

Contact: Milt Minneman
Communications Director
301-299-2551
FAX: 301-299-4604
minnemmj@hotmail.com

County Democratic Central Committee to Vote on a Member from Legislative District 18

The Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee will meet and vote at 7:30PM, Tuesday, June 12, 2009, at its headquarters, Third floor, 3720 Farragut Ave., Kensington, MD 20895, for a member from Legislative District 18. The vacancy is the result of Member Oscar Ramirez moving out of the district. Candidates for the position must be registered Democrats residing in District 18. District 18 encompasses Kensington and parts of Chevy Chase and Silver Spring.

Candidates should send a letter of application and a resume by 5:00 pm, Monday, June 11 by mail or in person to the Committee, by email to MontgomeryDems@msn.com or by Fax to 301-946-1002. Candidates are expected to attend the Tuesday, June 12 meeting, address the Committee, to be followed by a question-and-answer period and the votes.

For further information, call 301-946-1000.

###

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Leggett Sticks Up for Auto Dealers

County Executive Ike Leggett wrote the following two letters to Governor O'Malley and the U.S. Treasury Department on the impending closures of auto dealerships.

May 27, 2009

The Honorable Martin J. O’Malley
Governor of the State of Maryland
State House
100 State Circle
Annapolis, Maryland 21401

Dear Governor O’Malley:

I am writing to express my concern over the recent decisions made by our country’s domestic automobile industry, and to make a recommendation that could potentially assist current car dealerships in the State of Maryland that are being impacted by these actions.

The approximately 425 automobile dealerships in the State generate many benefits for communities throughout Maryland. These companies provide jobs to our residents (approximately 25,000 in 2008), and valuable revenues to government coffers. Many of these businesses are long-standing family enterprises where the ownership of these businesses has been passed down from generation to generation. In addition to the positive economic impact these businesses provide, automobile dealerships have historically been the epitome of “good corporate citizens.” They are, in essence, a critical part of our community’s social and economic fabric.

As you may be aware, the State of Maryland – through its Motor Vehicle Administration – licenses new automobile dealerships. Many dealers in Montgomery County who have been notified of GM’s or Chrysler’s intention to terminate their franchise agreements believe that their existing dealership license will simply be given to a new dealership in the same market in the relatively new future. This seems unfair to local businesses which have historically contributed to our local economy, and unfair to consumers who rely on the continuity of these businesses to service their vehicles. In these trying economic times, it does not make sense for the State to support the concept of replacing terminated car dealership franchises with new ones.

Along these lines, I am recommending the State of Maryland announce that it will not issue any new automobile dealer licenses until General Motors and Chrysler complete the formal termination process with those dealers who are being affected. By doing so, our domestic automobile industry will hopefully come to recognize that our State is not interested in replacing terminated car dealership franchises with new ones, but rather, is interested in maintaining the viability of our existing local automobile businesses.

Thank you for considering this request and for your attention to what is an important issue relative to the State’s economy and economic climate.

Sincerely,

Isiah Leggett
County Executive

Cc: Senator Barbara Mikulski
Senator Ben Cardin
Congressman Chris Van Hollen
Congressman Roscoe Bartlett
Congresswoman Donna Edwards
Senator Rich Madeleno
Delegate Brian Feldman
John T. Kuo, Administrator, Maryland Motor Vehicles Administration
Christian S. Johansson, Secretary, MD Dept. of Business and Economic Development


May 22, 2009

The Honorable Steven Rattner
Counselor to the Secretary of the Treasury
United States Department of the Treasury
1500 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Room 1332
Washington, D.C. 20220

Dear Mr. Rattner:

On behalf of the citizens and businesses of Montgomery County, Maryland, I am writing to express our concern over the recent decisions made by our nation’s domestic automobile industry that will result in the elimination of local car dealerships, jobs and important tax revenues for communities like ours.

Automobile dealerships are an important component of Montgomery County’s and the nation’s economy. The approximately 60 dealerships in our community employ over 5,000 workers with many other workers indirectly serving the auto dealerships. Many of these businesses are long-standing family enterprises where the ownership of these businesses has been passed down from generation to generation. In addition to the positive economic impact these businesses provide, automobile dealerships have historically been the epitome of “good corporate citizens.” They are, in essence, a critical part of our community’s social and economic fabric.

I would first like to ask the Presidential Task Force on the Auto Industry to re-examine the aggressive timeline associated with notifying local automobile dealerships of franchise cancellation plans and implementing subsequent termination procedures. Closing a myriad of dealerships in Montgomery County in the months ahead will place undue pressure on the already fragile state of our community’s economy.

Additionally, many in our County are questioning the economic rationale behind the massive closure of these dealerships, which provide essential goods and services to our residents while also providing significant revenue to their parent corporation. I join my colleagues throughout the country in respectfully requesting that you release the documentation that highlights the presumed financial savings that will accrue to our domestic car manufacturers by closing local dealerships.

Finally, I would like to call to the Task Force’s attention the distinct possibility that the current actions being pursued by our domestic automobile industry will simply result in terminated franchises being replaced with new ones in the same market, six months to a year down the road. This seems unfair to local businesses which have historically contributed to our local economy, and unfair to consumers who rely on the continuity of these businesses to service their vehicles.

I recognize the massive and complicated job before the Presidential Task Force on the Auto Industry, and hope that it will take these concerns into consideration.

Sincerely,

Isiah Leggett
County Executive

Cc: Senator Barbara Mikulski
Senator Ben Cardin
Congressman Chris Van Hollen
Congressman Roscoe Bartlett
Congresswoman Donna Edwards

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Get Behind Universal Health Care NOW

By Sharon Dooley.

Soon Senator Max Baucus from Montana will re-open the long dialogue on health care in the United States. He is known to be averse to continued in-depth discussions on a single payer National Health Plan. He has claimed to be interested in providing a bipartisan solution to this problem of the uninsured and ever more expensive health care costs. However he had protesting physicians thrown out of recent hearings where current industry lobbyists were the featured presenters.


More at The Real News


A Maryland physician and my friend – Margaret Flowers was among the protesters arrested at this hearing; she was jailed for several hours, as were many of those who were with her. The purpose of this protest was to request the inclusion of advocates for single payer in his schedule of hearings. As a long time advocate for healthcare and a member of the profession, I do not understand why these ideas cannot be discussed in the Senate. Is this not the place and time to have all ideas presented and examined to see whether or not they can stand on their own merits? Could the single payer idea be such a dangerous one that it should be quashed? Does not the fact that many national physicians and health care leaders are behind this movement give it credibility?

Are we, as a nation, going to allow this most important discussion to be controlled by industry lobbyists?

Have others not noticed the baby steps being taken by the insurance executives to undo some of their past excesses? In recent months there has been willingness voiced to cease the excess fees charged for women (as they might have pregnancies), to increase COBRA (but not forgoing the excessive fees that make it difficult for many to afford) and other possible roll backs for some fees. But does this not sound like a teenager wanting the car keys vowing to take out the trash and mow the lawn despite broken promises in the past? Have there been any lobbyist promises to reduce the excessive salaries paid to industry executives, even as they are denying claims in order to protect shareholders interests? Medicare works well and has no preexisting clauses, yet these greedy companies insist that this prohibition is necessary to their survival as an industry. Medicare has not taken away the local physician option, so why have these companies thrown out the threat that patients will be denied services and cannot see their choice of providers. The specter of “Harry and Louise” looms behind the scenes and according to recent news reports is being raised in small markets across the country already. The single payer advocates are apparently unaware of just how strident some of the voices will be against their plans. But perhaps the arguments are both more singular and sinister than they expected. The sight of 47 million uninsured Americans means little to these powerful groups; the loss of income and power is more real to them. And – as history has shown over the centuries – those in power (for example the Blue Shield lobby) do not surrender this power easily or gracefully.

Another group claiming fiscal conservatism is already mounting media campaigns against expanding the health care models available in this country and raising the ghost of socialism once again. The question of getting government out of the business of health care is again voiced, but with Medicare and Medicaid both serious and significant options for an ever growing number of residents here, it is obvious that Federal interest is strong and staying. President Obama was seen as a supporter of a single payer plan; many hope that those in his own party do not try to dissuade him of this idea. Many Americans do have good healthcare and as a country it spends a lot, but we need to look at all practices to determine if we are spending these dollars wisely. Medicare is already examining outcomes to determine which decisions produce the healthiest patients. However, debates are again lining up along political lines even though disease sees no such boundary – this should not be a discussion that ends up with the least palatable choices – but with one that looks at all suggestions and chooses the one that reaches the most people in America and truly provides healthcare for all.

MPW readers need to follow closely the votes of our elected representatives in these important arenas in the next few weeks. I urge that each of you share your most informed opinions with these officials during this process.

Sharon Dooley is a healthcare consultant and former nurse.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Twenty Stories the MSM Missed in the Special Election

The mainstream media (MSM) did a sparse job in covering the District 4 special election, a swing-vote race with implications for next year. Here are twenty stories they missed ranked in order of ascending importance.

20. Leventhal vs. Klumpp
When County Council Member George Leventhal invoked the memory of Marilyn Praisner in advocating for Nancy Navarro, Mrs. Praisner’s daughter, Alison Klumpp, struck back with an essay entitled, “I Really Know Marilyn Praisner.” Both blog posts were unsolicited submissions to MPW. Neither probably decided many votes, but they sure were entertaining!

19. Help Save Maryland’s Electoral Activity
Help Save Maryland, a group that opposes illegal immigration, did not yet exist during the 2006 elections. But they became active this time, distributing a questionnaire, passing out a flyer against Ben Kramer and mobilizing against Navarro. The MSM missed this, but MPW readers know to expect more from the group next year.

18. Marilyn Praisner’s Authorship of the Special Elections Law
After Don Praisner called for an appointment to replace him, MPW revealed that his wife was a driving force in creating special elections for County Council vacancies. The irony of Mr. Praisner’s recommendation against one of Mrs. Praisner’s greatest achievements was lost on the MSM, which did not report it.

17. State Board of Elections Problems
The Maryland State Board of Elections (SBE) was slow to release the first batch of campaign finance reports, taking 11 days to post one of Navarro’s. We organized a four-candidate letter to urge them to release the reports on a timely basis. You would think that the MSM would have been as interested in getting the financial information as we were but they did not cover the story.

16. Implications for Council President
Even the MSM knows that there is an informal 4-4 split on the County Council. If Kramer had won, Vice-President Roger Berliner would have been Council President in 2010 and Duchy Trachtenberg would have been President in 2011 (assuming she is re-elected). Now that Navarro has won, Council Members Nancy Floreen and Valerie Ervin may be President instead. We reported that on May 6 but the MSM has not talked about it.

15. More Illegal Robocalls Against Navarro
Navarro’s enemies seem to love illegal robocalls. They used them in 2008 and used them again in 2009. Last year, the Gazette ran with the story after we broke it but no MSM showed any interest this time around.

14. History Between Kramer and Lamari
Ben Kramer and Cary Lamari have been stepping on each other’s toes for a long time but you would never have known that from the MSM. We investigated the subject of one of their most contentious disputes – the Georgia-Norbeck intersection – but we could have written even more about these old enemies.

13. Navarro’s Micro-Targeting
Eric Luedtke wrote about Navarro’s micro-targeting, one of the most important tactics of the 2009 race and one sure to be copied next year. The Gazette hinted at this but did not grasp the full impact of it. The Post just ignored it.

12. Ficker’s Violation of the Law
In March, we broke the story about Robin Ficker’s illegal flyers, which were replicated on his website. His frequent handouts of the flyer was a repeated violation of Maryland election law and no one else caught it. The MSM also totally missed his suspect residency in the district. Weeks after we questioned Ficker’s eligibility, the Post is still pretending that he lives in District 4.

11. Board of Elections Plan to Close Precincts
Near the beginning of the campaign, the Montgomery County Board of Elections proposed closing half the precincts in District 4, a plan that would have had a disparate impact on Navarro. The plan did not pass even though the MSM was silent.

10. Lack of Coattails for Ike Leggett and Rona Kramer
We reported that even with Ike Leggett’s endorsement, Ben Kramer lost ten of the eleven precincts with a black population percentage of 30% or more. And even with his sister, Senator Rona Kramer (D-14), appearing on his mailers, Ben Kramer lost thirteen of the sixteen precincts in both Council District 4 and State Legislative District 14. He even lost his sister’s home precinct. Where is the MSM’s analysis?

9. Post Office Fumbles Absentee Ballot Applications
The Postal Service’s failure to deliver 314 absentee ballot applications by the Board of Elections deadline could have been an even bigger story than it was if Kramer had used it as grounds for a court challenge. Curiously, we learned about this from the Pew Center’s Election Line, which did excellent work on this story even though it was never spotted by the local MSM.

8. Kramer’s Record in Annapolis
Our research on Ben Kramer’s record as a state legislator found that he was the lowest-ranked Montgomery Delegate by Progressive Maryland and the Maryland League of Conservation Voters and tied for the lowest-ranked by Equality Maryland. That provided a nice foil for Navarro, who has always run from the left, and gave her a basis for her negative mailings. That tactic would not have worked against a more liberal primary opponent. No one in the MSM made that point.

7. Role of the ICC
District 4 is home to most of the Intercounty Connector’s alignment. The ICC was a subject of concern for Kramer, who lost the precincts along its route by 17 points despite trying to mitigate its traffic impact. Only one MSM source picked up on this: Baltimore Sun reporter Michael Dresser, who cited MPW. If the Sun identified the ICC’s role in the race, then why didn’t the Post or the Gazette?

6. Rise of the Blogs
We don’t have to tell you how heavily the blogs covered this election. Just Up the Pike set its record month in March while MPW set its record in April, more than doubling conservative blog Red Maryland’s visit total that month. In terms of Google searches, the blogs totally overwhelmed the MSM. But if you only read the MSM, you would have no idea that the blogs even existed. The Post ran an excellent article on blogs in the Virginia Governor’s race, but its Maryland reporters seem to not know what a blog is. For example, take Ann Marimow’s short reference to MCGEO’s “Boy King” flyer in which she does not bother to mention that its content is almost entirely derived from this blog. Or her reference to Drew Powell’s campaign finance statistics with no mention of where they were first published: MPW.

5. Disrespect of Cary Lamari
Lamari had lots of things going for him: decades of community service, a stint as President of the Montgomery County Civic Federation, prior experience running for County Council and strong support from the civic activist community. More than anyone, he was associated with the growth restraint message used by County Executive Ike Leggett and County Council Members Duchy Trachtenberg, Marc Elrich, Roger Berliner and Phil Andrews in 2006. And yet none of these politicians supported him. Throw in the Post’s omission of his candidacy from its coverage and the Boy King’s unrepentant spin on his views and you have to wonder what the poor guy has to do to catch a break. More importantly, civic activists everywhere have to wonder just how much the county’s establishment truly respects their work.

4. Duchy Trachtenberg’s Rupture with Progressives
In 2006, at-large County Council candidate Duchy Trachtenberg was supported by a wide range of progressive groups including the Sierra Club, Progressive Maryland, many unions and – as a President of Maryland NOW – the state’s women’s rights movement. In 2009, almost all of these groups backed Navarro while Trachtenberg sided with Montgomery County’s least-progressive Delegate. This is going to have a heavy impact on next year’s at-large County Council race.

3. Park and Planning Lobbies District 4 Candidates
Folks, this is a BIG scandal. Park and Planning is not supposed to get involved in political races at all. But it made an exception this time, lobbying the District 4 candidates for its North Four Corners soccer field. Where is the same MSM that investigated Park and Planning’s conduct in the Clarksburg debacle? More importantly, where are the state authorities?

2. Kramer’s Broken Pledge
While the Post originally reported Kramer’s pledge not to take developer money, they totally missed his failure to follow through. Our readers now know the excruciating details of Kramer’s taking money from Josh Rales, the Bernstein Companies and the Maryland Realtors PAC even while repeating his broken pledge at Leisure World. Where were the MSM’s watchdogs?

1. Sources of Campaign Finance
This was the biggest story of all. No matter which candidate you supported (or opposed), you could find some aspect of the money chase to get jacked up about. Whether it was Navarro’s heavy reliance on union money, Kramer’s heavy reliance on himself or even Lamari’s receipt of a check from a child sex offender (which he returned), this race had something for everybody. The Post reported none of this in its lone, skimpy article on the subject on March 25. Campaign finance is an eternal issue in politics – any kind of politics – and voters must have a press that can keep an eye on it.

Lord have mercy on us if the MSM coverage of this race is a preview of 2010!

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Maryland Blogosphere: Up, Up and Away

The 35 Maryland state and local blogs that release their site statistics set a combined record visit count in March. Then they set another record in April.

We track site visit statistics for 35 Maryland blogs that focus on state and local issues. Five of them are liberal blogs, 16 are conservative blogs and 14 profile local areas without emphasizing political ideology. The most-visited blogs in our data set are usually Maryland Politics Watch, Annapolis Capital Punishment, Inside Charm City, Just Up the Pike, Rockville Central, Red Maryland, Baltimore Reporter and PG Politics. Some of the most prominent blogs that do not release site statistics include O’Malley Watch, Legum’s New Line, Salisbury News and the Silver Spring Penguin.

Our data series starts in June 2007. In that month, these blogs (some of which were not yet active) recorded a combined 63,847 visits. The combined count increased to a peak of 108,477 visits in February 2008 and then fell below 100,000 for seven months. Since then, the combined count has exceeded 100,000 visits in six of the last seven months. March’s record of 112,027 visits was broken by April’s record of 129,286. Thirteen of the 35 blogs had their record month in either March or April of 2009.


The general trend of Maryland blog site visits is up – WAY up. But that does not apply equally to all blogs.

1. Local blogs that do not focus on political ideology now account for almost half of all Maryland site visits. Their combined visit count has leaped from 34,649 in December 2008 to 64,240 in April 2009. The leaders in 2009 site visits through April are Inside Charm City (80,984), Just Up the Pike (30,701), Rockville Central (27,697), Tales of Two Cities (19,547) and Oceanshaman (14,396).

2. Maryland Politics Watch has been the most-visited political blog in the state for six months in a row. Among political blogs, the leaders in 2009 site visits through April are MPW (59,290), Red Maryland (39,497), PG Politics (22,355), Baltimore Reporter (21,342) and Annapolis Capital Punishment (21,279).

3. The conservative blogosphere has stopped growing. Conservative blogs accounted for 49% of all site visits in October and November 2007. In April 2009, they accounted for just 29% of all visits – the lowest percentage they have ever had in our records. Their April 2009 visit count of 37,918 is 16% lower than their peak month of October 2008. Red Maryland’s April count of 8,535 visits is its lowest total since October 2007, its fourth month of existence. And of the 16 conservative blogs in our dataset, eight of them received less than 1,000 site visits in April – meaning that they have virtually no audience.

4. Inside Charm City has become perhaps the premier news aggregator in Baltimore. It rarely runs any original content and primarily reprints or links to mainstream media (MSM) articles. But posts like this are extremely popular. (Just click on it and you’ll see why!) Inside Charm City has been the most visited blog in the state in three out of the last four months.

Political blogs of both the right and left normally experience a lull in the summer as the state, county and federal governments go into recess. But many local blogs will hold their audience and the political blogs will pick up again in the fall. What will these numbers look like in the 2010 election year?

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Montgomery County's Desperate Budget Gamble

Montgomery County’s budget crisis, exacerbated by a State Board of Education decision at the very end, is over for the moment. Or is it?

The County Council approved a new budget last week containing a 1.1% decrease in spending from FY 2009, the first drop since FY 1992. The last hurdle to that budget involved a state requirement for “Maintenance of Effort” (MOE) on school spending, which holds that counties must at least maintain their per-pupil spending on education to be eligible for increases in state aid. Montgomery County applied for a $79.5 million waiver from the State Board of Education, saying that the county’s poor economy and its anti-tax Ficker Amendment prevented it from meeting MOE. Moreover, the county argued that since federal stimulus money earmarked for schools would enable the county to meet Superintendent Jerry Weast’s budget request, its limited county funds would be better directed to other parts of the government.

The State Board of Education denied Montgomery’s waiver request on two grounds: first, it was not persuaded that the county’s economic problems were worse than the state’s other jurisdictions (of which only two others were asking for MOE waivers), and second, it said that the county’s Ficker Amendment was no excuse to avoid MOE. That provoked an angry response from County Executive Ike Leggett and County Council President Phil Andrews and created a thorny last-minute problem: the county would now have to figure out how to direct $79.5 million to the schools from the rest of the government. How could they do that in a matter of days, especially in the context of a $587 million deficit?

Based on a recommendation from the County Executive, the council adopted this budget resolution language to get around the MOE decision:

10. This resolution appropriates $79,537,322 for the payment of debt service due in FY10 for the construction of Montgomery County Public Schools facilities.

a) Montgomery County Public Schools must make payment for the debt service through the Montgomery County Government as provided in subparagraph 1O(c). These funds must not be spent for any other purpose.

b) The inclusion of this amount for debt service will be part ofthe County's Local Appropriation and part of the calculation of the FY11 Local Appropriation required to comply with the State maintenance of effort requirement.

c) Reimbursement must occur no less than five days before each applicable debt service payment.
In plain English, the county gave the money to the schools as required by the Board of Education decision. And then they took it back as a special “debt service” charge on school construction. So the county’s position is that we are meeting the state’s MOE requirement. Even though in terms of net real dollars we clearly are not.

So why is this a desperate gamble? The State Board of Education’s decision affirmed that local government financing of schools was a “cornerstone” of state education policy. It was a rigid statement of principle. Will they now sit back, ignore the county’s action and allow Montgomery to collect its state aid? The consequences of pushback from the Board are potentially immense. No one yet knows if they will take on that fight with the county government. Montgomery’s leaders are praying they do not.

There was another approach available, but it would have generated its own problems. The County Executive’s proposed budget added $119.6 million to the revenue stabilization fund, defined as “a special revenue fund that accounts for the accumulation of resources during periods of economic growth and prosperity when revenue collections exceed estimates. These funds may then be drawn upon during periods of economic slowdown when collections fall short of revenue estimates.” It’s true that drawing on this fund would have required some explaining to the county’s credit rating agencies. But it would not involve risking the wrath of a clearly hostile state agency that has already demonstrated its indifference to the county’s financial plight and controls hundreds of millions of dollars of aid.

The county rolled the dice and gambled that the State Board of Education would be less likely to twist a dagger into its back than Wall Street. For all our sakes, we hope they are right.

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Monday, May 25, 2009

Gas Taxes by State

From MSN Money and the Tax Foundation, here's how Maryland's gas tax stacks up against other states.


Maryland is tied with Massachusetts for the 26th-highest gas tax rate among U.S. states.


A 2007 study by the Texas Transportation Institute found that traffic congestion in the Washington-Baltimore corridor cost Maryland $3 billion per year, up 1200% since 1982. Maryland's gas tax rate has been unchanged since 1992.

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Saturday, May 23, 2009

County Report: May 15


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Friday, May 22, 2009

Adam Pagnucco on "Political Pulse" on 5/26 & 5/28 on Ch. 16 TV‏

Adam Pagnucco, a blogger on the Maryland Politics Watch Blog, which covers Maryland State and Montgomery County politics will be on the "Political Pulse" TV Show on Tuesday, May 26th at 9:30 p.m. and Thursday, May 28th at 9 p.m. Many topics will be discussed including the County budget, blogs versus newspapers, and some of the 2010 races that will be interesting to watch.

Political Pulse is on Channel 16 TV in Montgomery County.

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Free State GOP Fades to Black, Part Five

In Part Four, we discussed how the Democrats have made major gains in voter registrations throughout the state over the last two years. Today, we look at five counties where they have done especially well.

Charles County
October 2006: 50.0% Democrat, 33.5% Republican, 16.6% Other
October 2008: 55.1% Democrat, 29.4% Republican, 15.5% Other

Over the last eight years, Charles County’s total voter registration has increased by 47%, the top growth rate in the state. And the fastest-growing Maryland county is now the fastest-growing county for the Democratic Party. All of Charles County’s state legislators are Democrats and population-adjusted redistricting may add more Democratic seats there in the next round.

Prince George’s County
October 2006: 74.5% Democrat, 11.1% Republican, 14.5% Other
October 2008: 77.6% Democrat, 9.5% Republican, 12.9% Other

Prince George’s County has the greatest number of registered Democrats in the state (383,541) and the third-highest total registered voters (494,275). One of every five Maryland Democrats lives in Prince George’s County. That guarantees a marquee role for the county in every statewide Democratic primary. Attorney General Doug Gansler and Comptroller Peter Franchot defeated Baltimore-area candidates in 2006 in part by rolling up substantial margins in Prince George’s County. If the next County Executive after Jack Johnson builds a credible record, that person will be a serious contender for the Governor’s chair.

Montgomery County
October 2006: 54.2% Democrat, 24.7% Republican, 21.2% Other
October 2008: 56.6% Democrat, 22.4% Republican, 21.0% Other

Montgomery County has the highest number of total registered voters in the state (553,366), about ten percent more than Baltimore County (500,711). The GOP’s utter collapse in Montgomery (see Part Three) is a major reason for its statewide troubles.

Frederick County
October 2006: 36.5% Democrat, 45.3% Republican, 18.3% Other
October 2008: 38.5% Democrat, 42.4% Republican, 19.1% Other

State Senator Alex Mooney (R-3) is one of the most conservative legislators in the General Assembly. His district includes the City of Frederick, the most Democratic area in Frederick County. In 2006, Mooney defeated Democrat Candy Greenway by a tight vote of 21,844 to 20,111. The fact that the Democrats have now almost caught up to Republicans in registrations puts Mooney in danger. District 3B, which borders Montgomery County, is currently represented by Delegate Richard Weldon. Weldon recently changed his registration from Republican to unaffiliated and announced his intention to retire in 2010. His seat could easily be picked up by the Democrats.

Howard County
October 2006: 46.7% Democrat, 33.8% Republican, 19.5% Other
October 2008: 48.4% Democrat, 31.6% Republican, 19.9% Other

District 9A in Northern Howard County is represented by two Republicans: Delegates Gail Bates and Warren Miller. In 2006, Bates (22,862 votes) and Miller (18,533) defeated Democrat David Osmundson (16,162) in the general election. Next time around, the Democrats should be able to field two Delegate candidates and will have a chance to knock off one or both of the GOP incumbents. They are already making preparations. Districts 12A, 12B and 13 are already represented by Democrats who were elected with healthy margins in 2006. Senate Minority Leader Allan Kittleman (R-9) is probably protected by the fact that his district is partially located in more conservative Carroll County.

Numbers can be relentless. And in Maryland, they point to the utter collapse of the Republican Party at every level. Has the GOP bottomed out? Can it ever be revived? We’ll have some answers in 2010.

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Infamous "PIA" Video

This discussion by Board of Education members about parents who are "PIAs" (pain-in-the-a$$es) has led to a most entertaining feud with the Parents Coalition. Enjoy!


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Congressman Offers Preemptive Apology for Extramarital Affair

From Onion TV:


Congressman Offers Preemptive Apology For Extramarital Affair

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County Council Approves Operating Budget

Following is the press release from the County Council.

Release ID: 09-077
Release Date: 5/21/2009
Contact: Neil H. Greenberger 240-777-7939 or Jean Arthur 240-777-7934
From: Council Office

Montgomery County Council Approves $3.73 Billion Operating Budget for FY 2010

County’s 1.1 Percent Decrease in Tax-Supported, All-Agencies Budget Is First Decrease Since Fiscal Year 1992

County Government Budget Decreases 2.2 Percent

Public Safety, Schools, ‘Safety Net’ Are Priorities; Property Tax Stays
Within Charter Limit; $690 Tax Credit for Homeowners

ROCKVILLE, Md., May 21, 2009—The Montgomery County Council today approved a $3.73 billion tax-supported, all-agencies operating budget for Fiscal Year 2010, which begins July 1. The budget is 1.1 percent less than the approved budget for FY09, marking the first decrease in a Montgomery budget since FY 1992.

The approved budget for County government, which includes the Police Department, the Fire and Rescue Service, and Health and Human Services, but does not include Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), is $1.25 billion—a decrease of $28 million (2.2 percent) from FY09.

In a budget year complicated by the national and regional economic downturn, the Council’s budget protects core services and “safety net” programs, but does not exceed the County’s Charter Limit on property tax revenue. The budget includes a $690 property tax credit for owner-occupants of principal residences and does not fund cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) for 33,000 employees of County government, Montgomery County Public Schools, Montgomery College and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, saving $125 million. Employees agreed to forgo COLAs in FY10, recognizing that the County could not afford the increases.

The $3.73 tax-supported operating budget, as defined in the County Charter, excludes self-supported enterprise funds and specific grants from the Federal and State governments, but includes current revenue funding for capital projects. For comparative purposes, this figure does not include $79.5 in debt service for MCPS school construction that will be appropriated to the MCPS budget.

The approved total operating budget for FY10, without the MCPS-related debt service, is $4.394 billion, an increase of 1.2 percent from FY09. The total operating budget includes self-supported enterprise funds and specific grants from the Federal and State governments.

In March, County Executive Isiah Leggett submitted his recommended budget to the Council. In reviewing the budget over the past two months, the Council reduced funding in several areas—including technology, cable funds, utilities and leases—and redirected it to reflect the Council’s priorities in health and human services and public safety.

The Council adopted resolutions for the FY 2009-14 Capital Improvements Program that will keep all school construction projects on their current timetables, move ahead with funding for a new Silver Spring Library and continue plans for a North County Bus Maintenance Depot.

The Council also approved a down payment of $12.9 million for purchase of the GE Tech Building on Route 28. That property is a key element in the Executive’s Property Use/Smart Growth Initiative that would move numerous County operations from scattered locations, and some from rented space, into County-owned consolidated facilities. The new complex, whose overall cost is approximately $107 million, would include the Montgomery County Police Department’s headquarters, the 1st District Police Station, the Fire and Rescue Service, the Office of Emergency Management and various County offices. A new public safety memorial also would be located on the site.

Under the approved budget, property tax revenue will stay within the County’s Charter limit. The County exceeded the Charter limit—which requires that revenue from taxes on existing property not exceed the rate of inflation for the previous year—only four times since voters approved the provision in November 1990. In November 2008, County voters amended the Charter to require support of all nine Councilmembers to exceed the limit.

In addition, the County “circuit breaker” tax credit will provide more targeted property tax relief for households with incomes of $64,000 or less. And under a law the Council passed three years ago, eligible homeowners who are at least 70 years old will benefit from an added 25 percent circuit breaker credit.

The County entered the budget season facing a gap estimated at nearly $587 million. The budget adopted by the Council restored core services including police and fire and rescue services, addressed the health needs of the poor and disadvantaged and maintained facilities and programs that continue the quality of life expected by residents.

The budget emphasizes the Council’s priority focus on education, public safety and health and transportation programs that help the less fortunate during these difficult economic times.

The Council did not approve the Emergency Medical Services Transport (EMST) fee—generally known as an ambulance fee—recommended by the Executive. The fee would produce an estimated net of $12.5 million in revenue, which the Executive asserts would be paid primarily by insurance companies.

The Council’s budget preserved 18 bus routes that the Executive recommended be reduced or eliminated. The Council heard numerous concerns during budget public hearings about the impact of such cuts. The Council’s action helps many residents for whom transit is the only way to get to work or get around. The Council also provided for $1.8 million in community grants to non-profits in addition to about $2.5 million in grants recommended by the Executive and approved by the Council. Those grants will strengthen the safety net for the most vulnerable residents.

The budget continues the Council’s commitment to affordable housing. The Council approved $57.8 million for the Housing Initiative Fund (HIF) as recommended by the Executive. The Council allocated $8.9 million from the HIF for costs associated with Housing First, including rental assistance subsidy payments. Housing First seeks to find permanent homes for homeless individuals and families rather than keep them in a series of transitional housing.

The budget avoids layoffs through agreements with organizations that represent County employees that will have all employees forgo Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs).

“We had a framework in approaching this most difficult budget year and we stuck to it,” said Council President Phil Andrews. “These are difficult times for our residents and for our County. We cut spending and produced the first Montgomery County budget in 18 years that is less than the previous year’s budget. We protected our residents by not exceeding the Charter limit, but we still preserved essential services and provided for our most vulnerable residents by making sure they will have access to health services and transportation.

“We did not approve an ambulance fee, which was recommended by the County Executive but is opposed by many residents. We restored funding to keep all police stations open all night to the public, and we will buy 14 new ambulances to keep our services state-of-the-art. And we have provided a $690 property tax credit for homeowners, which will be a significant help in this challenging year. The pain of a budget year like this is real for employees who won’t receive COLAs, for example, and for youth in recreational programs, some of which were eliminated. However, we have taken the steps that were necessary to balance the budget wisely in these very tough economic times.”

The FY10 approved total budget for Montgomery County Public Schools is $2.2 billion, fully funding the Board of Education’s request. Funding for Montgomery College will be $265.6 million, 99.5 percent of the College’s request. The budget provides for enrollment growth, the opening of the new Performing Arts Center at the Takoma Park/Silver Spring campus, and additional scholarship funds.

The $246.6 million for the Police Department includes $316,160 to restore 24-hour public access to the 2nd District (Bethesda area) and 6th District (Gaithersburg/Montgomery Village) police stations. The Executive proposed closing these stations to the public from 1-6 a.m. Police funding also includes $75,000 to keep the Piney Branch Satellite Station open and in its current location and $216,220 to add five recruits to the January 2010 police academy class. In addition, the Council approved funding to administer a program that will install video cameras in police cars. The cameras will be purchased with grant funds.

The budget includes $660,000 to add 12 recruits for the County Fire and Rescue Service that were not included in the Executive’s recommended budget. The additional employees will help keep up with increased staffing needs.

“The Council’s budget action this morning maintains property taxes at the Charter limit, spreads the property tax burden equitably among residents, preserves essential services for residents and eliminates planned cost of living increases for employees,” said Councilmember Valerie Ervin, who chairs the Council’s Education Committee and represents District 5, which includes Kensington, Silver Spring, Takoma Park and Wheaton. “The Council kept its commitment to fund core services that residents rely on each day. Education, public safety and safety net services were at the top of my list of priorities because these are issues that I hear about most in District 5.”

Councilmember Nancy Floreen, chair of the Council’s Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee, said: “Fortunately, we were able to retain 18 Ride On bus routes that had been targeted for elimination or reduced service. Transit has a lot of benefits, like reducing congestion and mitigating climate change. But my most important consideration right now is that that Ride On is the only transportation option for many of our residents. I’m glad that during these difficult times we’ve been able to make sure the most vulnerable of our residents continue to have the tools they need for their health and safety.”

Councilmember George Leventhal, chair of the Council’s Health and Human Services Committee said: “This was the most challenging budget of my seven years on the Council. As chair of the Council’s Health and Human Services Committee, I am gratified that the Councilmembers worked together to protect the ‘safety net’ - the array of County services that support our most vulnerable residents. The economic recession has forced an unprecedented number of residents to seek relief from County government in the form of rental assistance, utility payments, advice and counseling on preventing home foreclosure, assistance finding employment, primary health care, mental health counseling and shelter from homelessness. The County Council is committed to helping our residents through these difficult financial times, and is working toward our economic recovery and a prosperous future for everyone who chooses to call Montgomery County home.”

Councilmember Duchy Trachtenberg, who chairs the Council’s Management and Fiscal Policy Committee, praised her colleagues for today’s vote.

“During this season of unparalleled budget pressure, I am particularly pleased that funding was preserved for vital preventive health and behavioral health care delivery programs,” said Councilmember Trachtenberg. “We prioritized funds for screening, assessment and wraparound services for youth. The Council made a commitment to the integration of primary care and behavioral health by supporting the Montgomery Cares Behavioral Health pilot program. We also increased our funding for the County’s STD/HIV core programming after I presented information to my colleagues on the current unmet reproductive health needs of women qualifying for publicly funded services.”

# # #

Highlights of the Fiscal Year 2010 Montgomery County Operating Budget:

Property Taxes

• The average tax rate will remain unchanged from FY09, resulting in an average tax rate of 90.3 cents per $100 of taxable value (there are 21 property tax rates in the County).
• Every owner-occupied principal residence will receive a $690 property tax credit.
• The County “circuit breaker” homeowners’ tax credit will provide significant property tax relief for homeowners of all ages with household incomes of $64,000 or less.
• Under a law the Council passed three years ago, eligible homeowners who are at least 70 years old will receive an added 25 percent circuit breaker credit.

Education

• $2.2 billion total budget for Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), fully funding the request of the Board of Education.
• MCPS Capital Improvements Program (CIP)
- Supports all of MCPS-requested CIP amendments for capacity projects and infrastructure maintenance.
- Includes funding requested by MCPS for work required to meet general discharge permit requirements, as well as planning requirements, associated with the new National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit.
• $265.6 million for Montgomery College, 99.5 percent of the College’s request. The budget provides for enrollment growth, the opening of the new Performing Arts Center at the Takoma Park/Silver Spring campus, and additional scholarship funds.
• $745,000, plus a transfer of $43,000 from the Department of Health and Human Services, for the Montgomery Coalition for Adult English Literacy (MCAEL). The Coalition administers County grants for programs to improve adult literacy.
• Approved construction funds for the Bioscience Education Center at Montgomery College’s Germantown campus, including a new access road to serve the entire campus. Center is scheduled to open in January 2013.
• Created Workforce Investment Scholarship program to provide tuition funding assistance for undergraduate students at Montgomery College and the Universities at Shady Grove who are pursuing degrees in fields of significant occupational need in Montgomery County. It is estimated that in its first year, the program will provide 25 scholarships of $3,000 each.

Public Safety

- Police

• $246.6 million for the Police Department.
• $316,160 to restore 24 hour public access to the 2nd District (Bethesda area) and 6th District (Gaithersburg/Montgomery Village) police stations. The Executive had proposed closing these stations to the public from 1-6 a.m.
• $75,000 to keep the Piney Branch satellite station open and in its current location.
• $216,220 to add five recruits to the January 2010 police academy class.
• Approved funding to administer a program that will install video cameras in police cars. The cameras will be purchased with grant funds.

- Fire and Rescue

• $193,587,120 for the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service.
• Budget does not assume $12.5 million in net revenues from Emergency Medical Services Transport (EMST) fee that was proposed in County Executive’s recommended budget.
• Save $1.18 million by lease purchasing 14 new ambulances instead of County Executive’s recommended purchase of 30. The Council supported a staggered approach to purchasing vehicles rather than a lump sum approach.
• Lease purchase two engine body pump modules and one tanker, but save about $200,000 by not purchasing four all-wheel-drive engines and two light duty brush trucks also recommended by Executive.
• $439,330 in Consolidated Fire Tax funds and $100,000 in grant funds to open the new Milestone (East Germantown) Station in March 2010.
• Add matching funds for 12 new field positions to be partially funded through a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant. Five positions will be assigned to the new Milestone Station. The others will be used to increase four-person staffing on fire engines around the County.
• Maintain funding for the new Kingsview (West Germantown) station that opened in March 2009 with one fire engine and one ambulance.
• Save $676,590 by delaying implementation of a second ambulance for the Kingsview (West Germantown) Station until FY11.
• $264,150 for a transition in the Emergency Communications Center that would return 10 uniformed firefighter/rescuer positions to the field and replace them with 10 civilian positions. After the first transitional year, this civilianization initiative is expected to produce cost savings.
• $157,500 for a transition in Fire Code Enforcement that would return six uniformed positions to the field and replace them with six civilian positions. After the first transitional year, this civilianization initiative is expected to produce cost savings.
• $660,000 to add 12 recruits to recruit class in February FY10.
• Save $216,000 by eliminating some daywork overtime for career positions at Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad, Kensington Volunteer Fire Department, and Wheaton Volunteer Rescue Squad. The reduction will either be covered by volunteers, or by units from other nearby stations.
• $134,000 to restore a day position at Burtonsville Fire Station (funding was not included in Executive’s recommended budget).

- Correction and Rehabilitation

• $65.6 million to fund the Department of Correction and Rehabilitation.
• $72,140 to restore a laboratory assistant position in Pre-Trial Services that had been initially cut under the Executive’s recommended budget.

- Sheriff’s Office

• $21.2 million to fund operations of the Sheriff’s Office.
• $108,650 to restore a recruit class that had been eliminated under the Executive’s recommended budget. This will add three new officers over the next fiscal year. While attrition is currently low, the Maryland General Assembly recently created a new judgeship for Montgomery County Circuit Court. In the past, each new judgeship has warranted the addition of two officers to handle the resulting increased caseload.
• $88,460 to help support new Family Justice Center in Rockville. The center provides a coordinated team of professionals that provide a variety of services for victims of domestic abuse.

Transportation

• $189 million to fund the Department of Transportation.
• Retained the current service for 18 Ride On bus routes that were targeted for elimination or reduced service in the County Executive’s recommended budget. To offset the costs of retaining the bus routes, parking rates were increased in the Bethesda/North Bethesda area. Also restored weekday midday service (from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.) on the Route 6 Ride On line that serves the Garrett Park area. That service was eliminated during a round of mid-year budget cuts in April. It is expected that service would be returned in September.
• Parking payment by cell phone will be piloted in Bethesda in the fall.
• Increased by 25 cents per hour all short-term spaces for public parking in the Bethesda Parking Lot District. Also increased long-term hourly rate, for a monthly Parking Convenience Sticker and for other associated fees. The parking fee changes include the following:
- Raised price of all short-term spaces from 75 cents to $1 per hour
- Raised price of long-term spaces from 50 cents to 65 cents per hour
- Raised the price of the Parking Convenience Sticker from $95 to $120 per month
- Raised price of a two-person carpool permit from $70 to $90 per month
- Raised price of a three-to-four-person carpool permit from $40 to $50 per month
- Raised price of a five-plus-person carpool permit from $10 to $13 per month
- Raised the price of the Daily Parking Permit and for the Daily Maximum and a Lost Ticket in Garage 49 from $8.25 to $10.50 per day
• Increased parking fees in the North Bethesda area, including:
- Short-term rate increased from 60 cents to 75 cents per hour
- Long-term rate increased from 45 cents to 50 cents per hour
- Monthly Parking Convenience Sticker increased from $85 to $95
• Increased the subsidy for the Call-’N-Ride program that supplies taxi coupons for economically disadvantaged seniors (age 67 or over) and disabled persons. The impact of those changes would be:
- An eligible person earning $14,001 to $17,000 who now pays $17.50 per coupon book per month will pay $10 in FY10. An individual can buy up to two coupon books each month. This measure could save an individual $15 per month.
- An individual earning $17,001 to $20,000 who now pays $26.25 per coupon book per month would pay $20 in FY10. This measure could save this person $12.50 per month.

Economic Development

• $10.3 million to fund the Department of Economic Development.
• $852,440 for the Economic Development Fund that loans funds to businesses and including funding for the impact assistance program which provides grants to small businesses impacted by County revitalization projects.
• $700,490 for the Conference and Visitor’s Bureau that promotes the County as a tourist destination.
• $1,339,860 will be added to the FY09 budget in federal economic stimulus aid for workforce development to focus on youth and on adult dislocated workers.
• $617,395 to fund the Montgomery County Conference Center.

Housing

• $57.8 million for the Housing Initiative Fund (HIF).
• $8.9 million from the HIF to be allocated for costs associated with Housing First, including rental assistance subsidy payments. Housing First seeks to find permanent homes for homeless individuals and families, rather than keep them in a series of transitional housing.
• The Department of Housing and Community Affairs has already made commitments to use a portion of the HIF for 13 identified projects to acquire, preserve and/or renovate affordable housing.
• $50,000 to enhance the County’s Clean and Lien program and outreach effort regarding code enforcement. The Clean and Lien program will address problems at vacant properties (such as uncut grass and weeds) and then require the property owner to repay the County.
• $4 million in Community Development Block Grant Funds, including $1.26 million for housing rehabilitation and $605,000 in grants to non-profit organizations.
• $226,875 in Federal Emergency Shelter Grants and $2.76 million in HOME Investment Partnership funding.

Health and Human Services

• $269.5 million in funding for the Department of Health and Human Services.
• $249,530 to fund a 1 percent inflationary adjustment for contracts with eligible health and human services providers.
• Restore $136,830 (funding was eliminating in County Executive’s recommended budget) for six Conservation Corps member slots and a Human Service Specialist who provides counseling, employment skills training and support services to out-of-school, at-risk youth ages 17-24.
• $10,000 for ESOL Silver Spring team
• $90,790 for a human services specialist for the Conservation Corps program
• $46,040 for six member slots for Conservation Corps program

- Public Health Services

• $10.16 million for the Montgomery Cares program, plus $117,000 to restore the Executive’s recommended funding reduction to the Montgomery Cares Behavioral Health Pilot program and to fund specialty care services as recommended by the Montgomery Cares Advisory Board. Montgomery Cares provides primary health care to low-income uninsured adults. More than 22,000 patients will be seen by the Montgomery Cares clinics in the current fiscal year and the Montgomery Cares Advisory Board projects that up to 28,000 may need services in FY10.
• $45,000 for smoking prevention programs for at-risk youth and young mothers. These programs were proposed to be eliminated because of the State’s reduction in Cigarette Restitution Funds for education and outreach.
• $100,000 to expand screening and treatment capacity for STDs and HIV to reduce the number of people who are turned away from the County’s STD/HIV clinic.
• $182,330 to restore funding for primary care for low income uninsured patients through Mobile Medical Care and Proyecto Salud.
• $100,000 for a nurse practitioner for the Mobile Medical Care service.
• $130,000 for special care and a volunteer coordinator for Mobile Medical Care.
• $50,000 to support clinic expansion through Mercy Health Clinic
- Behavioral Health and Crisis Services
• $70,000 to restore Level 1 Outpatient Treatment services to minimize acceptance time into treatment.
• $83,810 to restore Child Mental Health Care Coordination services. Funds were not included in the Executive’s recommended budget.
• $162,420 to expand the Public Inebriation Intervention Team to the Wheaton Central Business District.
• $4.2 million for 24-hour crisis services including telephone, walk-in, mobile crisis outreach and crisis residential services.

- Aging and Disability Services

• $4 million for services that help seniors remain independent in the community including an increase of $154,010 for senior transportation services.
• $4.62 million for in-home aide services.
• $2.3 million to support the senior food program, an increase of $600,000 over the previous year.

- Children, Youth and Family Services

• $291,210 for the Neighborhood Network initiative to provide emergency food and housing stabilization services to neighborhoods most impacted by the recession. These funds will be combined with grants to non-profits and funding from the Community Foundation.
• Restore $50,000 (funding was eliminating in County Executive’s recommended budget) for intensive individualized, coordinated, and multi-agency support services for children and youth who are gang-involved or at risk of becoming gang involved.
• $22.1 million for Child Welfare Services.
• $10.7 million for Child Care Subsidies.
• $20.3 million for School Health services, an increase of $500,000 from the FY09 approved budget).
• $2.4 million to fund an initiative that addresses high risk youth behaviors including gang involvement, violent behavior, substance abuse, and teen pregnancy. Services are delivered through the Youth Opportunity Center in Langley Park, the Wellness Center at Northwood High School and the Street Outreach Network, a cadre of outreach workers, who connect with and provide support to gang involved youth.
• $2.85 million for services focused on increasing the quality early care and education programs available to young children, including restoration of $17,000 for training incentives for new child care providers.
• $3.5 million for evaluation, assessment, and early intervention services to families with children under age three when there is a concern about development, including a $1.3 million increase in federal and state funding.
• $5.2 million for Linkages to Learning, an increase of $26,850.
• $340,000 to support community-based pre-kindergarten services for 40 children provided by Centro Nia.
• $17,000 for incentives for new child care program.

Libraries

• $37.9 million for the Department of Public Libraries.
• Maintains current hours at all libraries.
• A decrease of 53 positions (most were already vacant).
• 10 percent reduction in purchase of new materials.

Technology

• $31.8 million to fund the Department of Technology Services to continue support a multitude of resident and County services on the web, as well as provide an infrastructure for County business applications, data storage, and information sharing in a secure and reliable manner for all county departments.
• $14.9 million to continue technology modernization initiatives that are expected to streamline County processes and make it easier for residents to reach the County and receive services.
• Many aging Finance, Procurement and Human Resource systems are being replaced and the many call taking operations in multiple departments will be consolidated into a single MC311 call center ensuring prompt and coordinated response. In addition, this effort will result in long term operational savings of $7.5 million annually, with the first such savings being realized in the last quarter of FY10 equaling an estimated $1.875 million.
• $6.8 million for desktop computer modernization, a program that refreshes a schedule of outdated desktops / laptops and provides a responsive Help Desk function for all County departments.
• $15.5 million of Cable Fund revenues to a variety of programs including the Office of Cable and Communications Services that assists residents with cable and broadband service complaints, enforces cable and other telecommunication franchises, and reviews all telecommunications tower and antenna siting requests.
• Funding provided to support cable programming produced by community, government and educational organizations and to support of expansion of the FiberNet system that permits cost-effective, fast, secure broadband communications between public safety agencies, educational facilities, government service centers and much more.

Arts and Humanities

• $5,069,380 for Arts and Humanities.
• $3,963,130 for Arts and Humanities Council includes:
- $3 million for operating support for large organizations.
- $492,930 for grants to small and mid-size organizations, program and arts education grants, and individual artist/scholar grants (a 5 percent reduction from FY09)
- $375,000 for administration and related functions (about the same as FY09)
- For operating support, the Council requested that the Arts and Humanities Council adjust the formula for allocation of grants to avoid large percentage increases or decreases for organizations between FY09 and FY10. The Arts and Humanities Council revised the formula so that an organization’s FY10 grant would not increase or decrease by more than 11 percent of the organization’s FY09 grant award.
• Assistance to individual organizations
- $506,250 for American Film Institute (Silver Theatre operating support)
- $75,000 for Heritage Tourism Alliance (operating support – match for State funds)
- $400,000 for Imagination Stage (facility debt service and/or debt retirement)
- $50,000 for Pyramid Atlantic (facility debt payment)
- $75,000 for Round House Theatre (Bethesda facility maintenance and utilities)

Environment

• Initiated a plan to reduce energy consumption in County government facilities by four percent in FY10. Meeting the goal would save an estimated $1.1 million in the next fiscal year.
- WSSC
• Reached agreement with the Prince George’s County Council for a 9 percent rate increase that will provide additional funding for large diameter pipe inspections, fiber optic monitoring, and repairs as well as an increased pace of small diameter water main replacement.
- Department of Environmental Protection
• $11.7 million to fund the Department of Environmental Protection including $8.9 million for the Water Quality Protection Fund.
• Added $270,000 for the staffing of the State of Maryland’s new Clean Energy Center, which is to be located at the Universities of Shady Grove.
• Added $90,000 for a storm drain inventory of Montgomery County Public Schools facilities as required under the County’s new National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit.
• Approved four additional positions in DEP for planning and capital work associated with the new National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit.
• Supported an additional $192,000 for the maintenance of 70 stormwater management facilities (new or recently transferred to DEP for maintenance). DEP inspects all stormwater management facilities in the County (more than 4,000) and currently maintains more than 1,400 stormwater facilities.
- Department of Environmental Protection-Solid Waste
• $102.5 million for Solid Waste Collection and Solid Waste Disposal, fully funding the Executive’s recommended budget.
• Approved modest increases in Solid Waste charges. Single-family residences will see increases of 3.5 percent or less depending on the subdistrict (A or B) in which they reside. Multi-family residences will see virtually no increase (increase of .1 percent)
• Maintains tipping fee at Shady Grove Transfer Station at $56 per ton for non-residential and multi-family transfers.
• Supports the Executive’s recommendation to close the Damascus “Beauty Spot” because of environmental compliance issues at the site.
- Climate Change Implementation
• $30,000 to the Office of Consumer Protection to continue advocacy at the State and Federal levels on energy issues affecting Montgomery County residents.
• $518,000 to continue the Clean Energy Rewards program.

Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission

• $135 million for M-NCPPC budget.
• $83 million to maintain current level of staffing for parks.
• $19 million to fund planning initiatives including master plans, environmental and transportation analyses, and the development review process.
• A summer study to examine the efficiency of administrative services within the Commission and consider restructuring options.
• New funding for a parking management study to be conducted jointly with County government.

Recreation

• $30.96 million to fund the Montgomery County Recreation Department.
• Restored three out of the 13 RecExtra after-school program sites recommended for elimination, providing for the continued operation of a total 28 program sites for FY10.
• $80,000 for youth programming to be disbursed to the four recreation regions.
• Increase financial assistance by $100,000 for low-income families to take part in fee-based Recreation Department activities.
• Provide funding to continue the operation of the Piney Branch Elementary School pool.
• $417,000 for operating the Wisconsin Place Community Recreation Center, scheduled to open in July 2009.
• $551,170 for operating the Mid-County Community Recreation Center, scheduled to open in November 2009.
• $24,000 to operate the Randolph Road Theater.
• $5.6 million for aquatics programs, including recreational, fitness, instructional, competitive, therapeutic and rehabilitative water activities.
• $2.6 million for camps, classes, and sports programs.
• $11 million for services provided by the Department’s Recreation Regions and Centers.
• $1.7 million for senior adult programs, which include senior centers, neighborhood programs, classes, sports and fitness, trips, and special programs for frail and isolated seniors.
• $534,000 to support land acquisition costs for the Wheaton Community Recreation Center – Rafferty.

Liquor Control

• $44.4 million to fund the Department of Liquor Control (an increase of 13.4 percent over FY09).
• $5.3 million in debt service from the Liquor fund for state transportation projects
• Approval for the liquor warehouse to move to the Finnmark property in Gaithersburg to meet industry storage and other safety standards.

Fleet Management Services

• Reduced the County CarShare fleet from 28 vehicles to 18. MC CarShare is a pilot program (began Jan. 1, 2009) where County employees rent hybrid vehicles by the hour instead of using administrative fleet vehicles or traditional rentals. While the Council actively supports the use of this program, it is currently being underutilized. The Council therefore decided that 18 was a more appropriate and cost-effective fleet size while the program is in its infancy.
• Reduced the number of administrative fleet vehicles, saving approximately $1.5 million. In order to achieve this reduction, fleet users will be shifted from administrative fleet vehicles to the MC CarShare program.
• Reduced Enterprise rental expenditures by $100,000. FY09 rentals are projected to cost more than $300,000.

Regional Services Centers

• $4.2 million to fund the East County, Mid-County, Bethesda-Chevy Chase, Upcounty and Silver Spring regional centers.
• $125,000 for Emerging Communities Initiative for small community development projects in commercial areas that are not in Urban Districts.

Other Notable Items

• $1.8 million for a total of 47 grants to nonprofit organizations to support a variety of programs and services, including food, eviction prevention, utility assistance and other safety net services to help low income families facing severe economic hardships.
• Funded several youth development proposals from community nonprofit organizations working to provide needed after school programs for County youth.
• $48.6 million for the Division of Risk Management, the self-insurance component of the Department of Finance.
• $8.6 million to fund the Office of Human Resources.
• $2.4 million to fund the Office of Consumer Protection.
• $9.2 million for Community Use of Public Facilities.
• $27.1 million for the Department of Permitting Services.
• $2.2 million to fund the Office of Human Rights, including an increase of $3,000 in administrative expenses for the Human Right Commission.
• $1.2 million to fund the Commission for Women.
• $64,500 for the Montgomery County Historical Society.

Programs Eliminated or Significantly Reduced

• The Teen Club program was totally eliminated from the Recreation Department budget for savings of $595,240 (net savings $184,240 because of lost revenues of $461,000). The program included activities and trips for middle and high school students.
• RecExtra programs offered by the Recreation Department are reduced from 38 to 28 schools for savings of $158,350. Program funding overall was reduced by 57 percent of FY09 levels.
• SHARP Street Suspension Program budget was cut by $342,980, a 75 percent reduction from FY09 approved levels, due to restructuring of the program. Four of the seven existing sites will receive some level of funding to support operations. The other three sites will continue only if the churches and volunteers can sustain programming.
• Implementation of a second ambulance for the recently opened Kingsview (West Germantown) Fire Station will be delayed until FY11, saving $676,590.
• Police staffing reduced by six non-sworn positions in the administration, personnel and crime analysis sections and five vacant positions were eliminated in the Security Services section.
• Only one police recruit class will be held in the upcoming fiscal year. Because there will be only one class in January 2010, four background investigator, two recruiter and a field training coordinator positions were eliminated.
• Save $724,000 by eliminating 10 positions at Montgomery College.
• The Office of Zoning and Administrative Hearings was reduced 58 percent (total reduction of $21,510 from the FY09 appropriation of $36,500) in the area of legal and attorney services. This area is for contract attorneys that assist in hearings to maintain a hearing schedule that does not have significant delays. The hearing examiner believes this reduction could delay hearings in some cases.
• Save $150,000 in funding for Chore Services, which provided assistance to elderly or disabled persons who need assistance with heavy housework and trash removal. The program was eliminated because of budget constraints, but had assisted 30 people before it ended. At the time the program ended there were 71 people on the waiting list for these services.
• Saved $135,000 by reducing maximum hours of Respite Care, which provides family caregivers of disabled persons with up to 164 hours of respite services per year. In order to reduce expenditures, the maximum hours will be reduced to 140 per year. While this is the average number of hours used, many families will experience a reduction in this very important service.
• The State reduced the Hepatitis B grant to the County by $161,000 and the County has eliminated a Community Health Nurse in the immunization program. This will impact the County’s ability to provide outreach, education and immunization clinics.
• The State has reduced Cigarette Restitution Funds for prevention, outreach and education by $734,900. This will result in the elimination of three positions in the Department of Health and Human Services and more than $400,000 of contractual services.
• Redistribute/increase the workload for existing analysts in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and abolish a vacant budget specialist position to save $135,000.
• Fill several analyst positions at OMB with interns to save $104,000 (assuming that some of the analyst positions become vacant during the year).
• Save $27,000 by reducing the number of County budget books printed (they are available online).
• Save $122,000 in the Department of General Services (DGS) for the cost of various supplies, reflecting lower prices and reduced use.
• Save $235,000 by reducing miscellaneous maintenance operating expenses in DGS.
• Save $442,000 by assuming efficiencies in administration in DGS from digitizing the work processes. Savings will come in form of paper, toner, copier use, paper storage, filing space (cabinets and floor space for them) and general administrative costs
• Save $1.4 million by assuming that the cost of the various service contracts for maintaining County facilities can be reduced 11.2 percent without reducing the level of service. This seems reasonable due to the fact that the economic recession has reduced the demand for such services and the contractors must reduce their prices to attract customers.
• Eliminated three positions in the Department of Finance: one in Treasury, one in Payroll and one in IT. Total savings of $273,340.
• Phase out mailing of tax bills to homeowners whose mortgage company pays the property tax bill to save $42,950. Savings will come from printing, postage, and handling. Finance explained that the service impact would occur in FY11, not FY10, because it will still mail the FY10 bills, but on or before the end of FY09, using appropriation in the FY09 budget. The savings in FY10 would result from not mailing the FY11 bills in FY10. Instead, Finance would mail a postcard informing residents that they can view and print their bill from Finance’s web site. The FY12 bills (July 2011) will be available only online.

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Free State GOP Fades to Black, Part Four

The Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun and Gazette columnist Blair Lee have all looked at Democratic gains in voter registrations since 2004. But all of them are missing the point. Since 1992, Maryland has voted Democratic in Presidential elections by double digits and probably will continue to do so. The real impact of Democratic registration increases may be felt on state and local elections. And since the last round of those elections in 2006, Democratic gains have been eye-opening.

Below are two charts illustrating voter registrations by party and county at the end of October in 2006 and 2008.



In just two years, Democratic registrations have soared by double digits in 8 of Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions for a total gain of 11.7%. Democratic registrations have dropped in only two counties: Allegany and Talbot. Republicans did not achieve a double-digit increase in any county and shrank in seven counties, including Montgomery and Prince George’s. Their total registration increase was a tiny 1.7%. Overall, the Democrats added 202,122 voters while the GOP gained 15,752. New registrations not affiliated with either major party went up by 50,480.

These new registrations are producing small but noticeable shifts in the voter balance in some counties.


The Democratic percentage of registered voters increased in 16 of Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions over the last two years. At the same time, the Republican percentage of registered voters has declined in every single jurisdiction. The biggest shifts in favor of the Democrats have been in Charles County (plus 5.1 points), Prince George’s County (3.1 points), Montgomery County (2.4 points), Frederick County (2.0 points) and Howard County (1.7 points).

We will examine these counties more closely in Part Five.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The View Ladies Annihilate Glenn Beck


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Reflections and Advice for 2010

Eric Luedtke’s analysis of the impact of the District 4 campaign on future Montgomery races was truly excellent. So naturally, I’d like to spoil it with my own two cents.

First, many politicians I talk to seem to have learned the wrong lesson from this race. They assume Nancy Navarro won in part because of the negative mail and anticipate more of that in 2010. They may be right that negative campaigning will increase, but it is fundamentally unknowable whether the anti-Kramer mailers put Navarro over the top. Ben Kramer was able to use those mailers to depict Navarro as a nasty opponent and himself as a victim, and that may very well have helped him to increase turnout among his base in Leisure World. Politicians emphasize this tactic in part because of its mass visibility. In contrast, the micro-targeting that Navarro’s campaign used was never matched by Kramer and had no downside. Since it was largely invisible, it does not receive sufficient credit for helping Navarro win the primary.

Eric also said this:

I think we saw a profound difference between the way the Navarro campaign treated bloggers – as real media targets in the same way they pursue reporters – versus how the Kramer campaign treated bloggers – as, well, bloggers.
And how! I have two pieces of advice for politicians on how to deal with bloggers in 2010.

1. Send us every bit of positive information about your own campaign.

The Navarro and Lamari campaigns fed us a steady diet of positive news about themselves. Navarro’s staff sent us lots of endorsements, pictures, videos, mailers and everything else short of a new sauna. Lamari did the same thing and even contributed an op-ed column. (We encourage all politicians to steal Cary Lamari’s community land trust idea as long as they give him credit!) But the Kramer campaign sent us very little positive info about him. We had to go out and obtain his endorsements from those organizations themselves. We also had to ask Duchy Trachtenberg’s staff for her endorsement of Kramer. We only received two unsolicited pro-Kramer statements – one from Kevin Gillogly and another from Alison Klumpp – and neither of them were paid Kramer staffers. If we did not affirmatively seek out positive information on Kramer, very little of it would have appeared here because his campaign did not volunteer it.

Kramer’s people did respond to requests for information. One item they sent me – a set of notes from the State Highway Administration about the Georgia-Norbeck intersection – directly contradicted a statement made by Lamari in a debate. Why didn’t they offer this to me right after the debate and not wait for me to ask for it? If I had not gone out of my way to pursue this information, Kramer’s side of the Georgia-Norbeck issue would not have been told.

2. Don’t lie.

At the very beginning of the campaign, I asked Ben Kramer this question:

Delegate, the last time you ran for County Council, you finished seventh out of eight candidates in the 1998 at-large race. If you finished that badly last time, why do you think you will win this time?
Kramer replied the reason he ran poorly in 1998 was that he dropped out of the race but missed the withdrawal deadline. He told me that his name was still on the ballot, but since he did not campaign, he attracted few votes.

I quickly discovered this was untrue. Kramer earned County Executive Doug Duncan’s endorsement prior to June 1998. He participated in a candidate debate in August. The Gazette mentioned Kramer’s candidacy on August 26 and discussed his mailers on September 2. Also on September 2, the Gazette reported that 40% of Kramer’s contributions came from developers. The Gazette reported the results from a poll on the at-large race, including Kramer, on September 9. And on election night, Kramer went to a vote count at Richard Montgomery High School before learning of his loss. The Gazette carried this quote:

“I don’t have an answer [about what happened],” said a key Kramer supporter, Gino Renne, president of the Municipal and County Government Employees Organization.
I did not report this at the time because I was hoping that Kramer had made a mistake. What candidate would deliberately make such a claim when it could be so easily checked? But the more I thought about it, the more my skepticism of his campaign’s statements grew. One problem was Kramer’s position on ICC traffic mitigation. His sister, Senator Rona Kramer (D-14), defended a plan by SHA to build a bypass around Georgia Avenue and Norbeck Road at a community meeting attended by Ben Kramer. But shortly afterwards, both Kramers slammed it in writing as “convoluted.” The honesty issue boiled over when Kramer told Leisure World that he was not accepting contributions from developers while looking me in the eye, a statement that I had previously found to be untrue and exposed again the day before the election. Thousands of visitors saw that post. The Kramer campaign never responded and I caught them taking a developer contribution again after the primary. The issue of truthfulness will now dog Ben Kramer throughout the rest of his political career.

We are not na├»ve. We understand that some issues can be interpreted in multiple ways. We know the differences between honest disagreements, spin, parsing words, using context and outright falsehood. Remember that this blog is based in part on research. If you lie, we will find out. So just tell the truth. It’s easier that way for you and for us.

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