Saturday, November 29, 2008

For Those Who Want to be Lieutenant Governor...

Now we have nothing against Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown, so save the emails. But keep in mind that in Maryland the Lieutenant Governor's duties are set by the Governor. And what did the Governor have the Lieutenant Governor do a couple weeks ago?

The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reports the following:

Lt. Gov. Brown Leads Celebration of New State Exercise
State employees join in walk near State Office Complex

For Immediate Release
Karen Black, DHMH, 410-767-6490

BALTIMORE, MD (November 12, 2008) -- Lt. Governor Anthony G. Brown today joined state employees in a celebration of the new state exercise of walking by leading a group of walkers around the State Office Complex near Baltimore’s cultural arts district.

“It should go without saying, the health of Maryland population is of utmost importance to the O’Malley-Brown Administration,” Lt. Governor Brown said. “Exercise leads to better health, and walking is great low-impact way to reap the benefits of aerobic exercise.”

The event is sponsored by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) and is designed to draw attention to the University of Maryland’s Get Fit Maryland, a 12-week pedometer-based walking program.
Read the full press release here.

Are you guys sure you really want this job?


Thursday, November 27, 2008


You have committed an unthinkable act. You have actually looked at a political blog on Thanksgiving. And now you are Busted!

That’s right, you are more cooked than that turkey you’ve been burning. An automatic email has been sent alerting your significant other. Your cable reception will crash. Your beer fridge will short out. And your wicked Uncle Ernie will now stay an extra hour, torturing you with the latest tales of his stuffed fish collection.

Why on Earth did you do it? Are you really that addicted to state and local politics that you cannot take one day off? Separate yourself… slowly… from your computer. Life is hard enough for the politically fixated. (No comments please.)

So eat that extra drumstick (and that extra cookie, and that extra slice of pumpkin pie, and… well, you get the idea). Tolerate Uncle Ernie. He only comes down once a year and he has no one who listens to him except you. Root for Seattle to upset Dallas like the rest of us will. And come back next week because there will be plenty of politics then.

But don’t come back tomorrow. If you do, Uncle Ernie will move in for good!


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Historical Footnote

By Marc Korman.

After my last post about Chris Van Hollen, it was suggested to me that the reason Van Hollen could not be in the elected leadership of the House Democrats was because Steny Hoyer was already there. Between the Majority Leader representing Maryland and Nancy Pelosi being born here, I was told that Maryland is already heavily represented in the House leadership.

It is true that with Steny Hoyer as Majority Leader and the native Pelosi as Speaker, Maryland seems to be doing well in the Congressional leadership ranks. Have we always had such luck?

The House
The only House of Representatives leadership position mentioned in the Constitution is the Speaker. It is the only leadership position elected by the entire House. The parties tend to unite around one candidate so that whoever wins within the majority party will become Speaker.

Maryland is one of four of the original thirteen states to never have a Speaker representing the state. It is nice that Nancy Pelosi is from Baltimore, but last I checked C-SPAN lists her as (D-CA). We are joined by Rhode Island, Delaware, and New Hampshire in the lackluster category of fighting the revolution and not having a Speaker of the House.

After the Speaker, the other members of the House leadership are elected within their own parties. The top leadership structure of the Democratic Caucus and Republican Conference are the same. Each party has a Leader, known as the Majority or Minority Leader depending on the party’s status, a Whip, a Chair, and a Vice Chair.

Maryland has not fared well in House leadership. The only Leader or Whip, positions that first came about in the late 1890s, Maryland has ever had is Steny Hoyer. There has never been anyone else in any of the top leadership posts representing Maryland. Pelosi served as Minority Leader and Whip as well, but again, she was representing California in Congress.

The Senate
We have fared only slightly better in the Senate. The posts we know of today as Majority and Minority Leader of the Senate, the top leadership posts, developed in the 1920s. No one from Maryland has ever held the position.

Party Whips, the second ranking member of each party in the Senate, actually came about a decade earlier than the leader position. Unfortunately, Maryland has never had one of those either.

Senate President Pro Tempore is the only Senate leadership position listed in the Constitution. The original purpose of the office was to preside over the Senate when the Vice President was away. In the nation’s early years, the Senate President Pro Tempore was picked each time the Vice President was away, so there could be many different Senate Presidents during a single year. In 1890, the Senate began electing Senate Presidents for an entire Congress. Since World War II, it has largely been an honorific position given to the longest serving member of the majority party.

Maryland has had a little luck with this job. John Howard held the post for six days back in November of 1800. Samuel Smith held it for thirteen days in December of 1805. Both Howard and Smith were Senators from Maryland.

Perhaps Chris Van Hollen’s non-Maryland colleagues in the House disagree, but when I hear that our Congressman cannot move up in the House leadership because there are too many Marylanders running the House, my Maryland pride stirs up and I say it is about time!


Crisis in Transportation, Part Three

In Part Two, we described Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski’s aggressive infrastructure bill to create jobs, stimulate the state’s economy and generate long-run returns for Oregon. So what about Maryland?

No one argues that Maryland’s transportation needs are immense. And according to MDOT Secretary John Porcari, the $400 million increase approved in the 2007 special session is only now yielding $265 million, just barely enough to keep up with system preservation needs. Put aside the obvious need for specific projects like the state’s three proposed transit lines and the BRAC projects in Bethesda, Aberdeen and Fort Meade. There are four reasons why Maryland’s political leaders must heed the example of Oregon and start putting more money into transportation now.

1. The need for matching funds
Many large projects that rely on federal financing require matching funds from state government. That is especially true of Baltimore’s Red Line and the Washington suburbs’ Purple Line and Corridor Cities Transitway. Unless Maryland demonstrates an ability to raise sufficient funds to pay its share of these projects, federal money will flow elsewhere.

2. Costs will go up in the future
At present, we are deferring $1.1 billion in new transportation projects and face the possibility of delaying $2.5 billion more. It is inevitable that delayed projects will see higher construction costs if they are started years in the future. That will be especially true if petroleum costs rise again and ripple through into construction materials. And recessions are good times to build construction projects because contractors are hungry for work and will restrain their margins just to keep their key personnel employed.

3. Economic competitiveness
The Tax Foundation’s determination that Maryland’s business tax climate has deteriorated from 24th to 45th among U.S. states in one year is a threat to the state’s reputation. If in addition the state is perceived as unable to finance its transportation infrastructure, it will risk being perceived as a radioactive place for locating jobs.

4. Job creation and the next elections
Governor O’Malley has done his best to deal with a difficult budget situation. But if the economy is still in rough shape in 2010, that may be insufficient to mollify voters. What voters want in tough times is to create jobs – especially high-paying jobs. The construction industry creates and supports many high-wage jobs such as estimators, engineers, architects, planners and superintendents. And on state transportation projects, the building trades workforce is protected by Maryland’s prevailing wage law, ensuring adequate pay and benefits. The short-term ripple effects of job creation will combine with long-run returns on improved infrastructure to benefit the state’s economy immensely. And the Governor will enjoy support from both business and labor if he proposes such a plan.

But what about the tax increase necessary to support it? Voters recently demonstrated their unhappiness with tax hikes by voting for slots and the Ficker amendment while opposing a telephone tax in Prince George’s County. But transportation taxes differ in two ways:

1. If they are truly dedicated to transportation, voters may support them. If they are used to finance “general spending,” voters will be skeptical.

2. Recent declines in gas prices mean that voters will not be hit in their pocketbooks by a gas tax hike. According to Gasbuddy, the average gas price in Maryland has fallen from over $4.00 last summer to less than $2.00 now.

Oregon Governor Kulongoski’s two-cent gas hike would amount to less than one-percent of the recent reduction in gas prices if implemented in the Free State. If the gas tax cannot be raised and/or indexed now, when can it ever be increased?

Maryland has a transportation crisis. So does Oregon. Oregon’s leadership has a plan to deal with it. We need one too.

Update: The Baltimore Sun details the total lack of leadership in Howard County on this issue.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

What Happens if Anthony Brown Leaves? (Updated)

Rumors are swirling that Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown is under consideration by the Obama administration for a cabinet job. If he leaves, what happens next?

Governor Martin O’Malley will have to pick a replacement, subject to approval by the General Assembly. And that will be very interesting. Lieutenant Governor picks in the recent past have been made for the sake of regional and demographic ticket-balancing. Of the five statewide officials other than Brown, three (O’Malley and Senators Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin) are from the Baltimore area, two (Attorney General Doug Gansler and Comptroller Peter Franchot) are from Montgomery County, four are male and all five are white. That leaves obvious gaps in representation that the Governor will be urged to fill. But this time around, there may be other considerations besides ticket-balancing as the Governor will be the favorite in both the 2010 primary and general elections.

Our informants have named these people as possibilities:

1. Prince George’s State Attorney Glenn Ivey
Ivey is a highly-regarded prosecutor, even by many in Montgomery County. (That is rare for any Prince George’s politician.) He is particularly praised for trying to rein in the county’s notorious police department and avoiding the appearances of impropriety that have dogged many of the county’s other politicians.

Ivey’s selection has two hurdles to overcome. First, he is generally believed to be running for County Executive in 2010. Second, rumor has it that he turned down an offer from O’Malley to be his number two in 2006. County Executive or Mayor may be a better route to the Governor’s office than a Lieutenant Governor position. Still, one source says the dropoff after Ivey is “huge.”

2. Senator C. Anthony Muse (D-26)
Aside from Ivey, Muse may be the most prominent Prince George’s politician not under investigation. By picking Reverend Muse, O’Malley could patch up his relations with black churches in the wake of the slots referendum and deny Prince George’s County to any primary challenger. On the other hand, Muse would generate objections from the GLBT community and he is also rumored to be running for County Executive.

3. Delegate Dereck Davis (D-25)
Davis is a four-term Delegate and Chair of the Economic Matters Committee at the ripe old age of 41. He is the pick that most resembles Anthony Brown. But would he want to leave his chair and enter a largely ceremonial office for the chance of someday running for Governor? Davis’s departure would give Speaker Mike Busch an interesting choice for his replacement on Economic Matters.

4. Labor Secretary Tom Perez
Perez has performed excellent work for the Governor in pushing his slots referendum, but he is probably a more likely Obama cabinet pick than is Brown. One thing is for sure: Tom Perez is going places.

5. Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith
I know what you’re thinking: why would O’Malley pick another white male politician from the Baltimore area? The logic behind this pick would be to give Smith the full-time job of raising money and making the rounds of the state. Why? That would set him up nicely to take on the Governor’s arch-enemy, Peter Franchot, for Comptroller in 2010.

6. Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett
Leggett has several advantages to the Governor aside from demographics. First, he is a former Chair of the Maryland Democratic Party and has relationships across the state. Second, because he will be 69 in 2010, he may have no ambitions for the Governor’s seat and that will make life in Annapolis a bit easier for O’Malley. Third, he can be counted on to be a low-key team member. Fourth, he may be the one Montgomery County politician who is acceptable to the rest of the state. And does Leggett truly want to deal with the next two brutal budget cycles in cash-starved MoCo?

Best of all, Leggett’s ascension would set off a chaotic fracas for the County Executive’s chair in Rockville. At least four County Council Members will go for it!

Update: I cannot let this discussion pass without reference to Maryland’s most significant Lieutenant Governor choice: William Donald Schaefer’s pick of Melvin Steinberg in 1986. Steinberg, then the President of the Maryland Senate, became embroiled in a feud with the hot-tempered Schaefer and was shut out of all administration duties. After losing to Parris Glendening in the 1994 Governor primary, Steinberg endorsed conservative Ellen Sauerbrey four years later. But none of this makes Steinberg the most important number two pick in the state’s history. What is really important is the identity of Steinberg’s successor as Senate President.

You guessed it: Big Daddy Mike Miller. And so out of small acts are empires born!

Update 2: The Examiner and the Gazette have more, including speculation that County Council Member Valerie Ervin might get the job.


Communication Breakdown

Just for the fun of it, I decided to attend the County Council’s meeting to discuss our state delegation’s local bills this morning. I know, I know – politically-addicted bloggers have different definitions of fun than the rest of you. I expected in-depth discussion of state and county functions and the (supposedly) urgent issues in the bills. Instead, all I can hear is Robert Plant screeching Zeppelin’s famous anthem.

But first, we should define the term local bill. Most bills considered by Maryland’s General Assembly apply to all areas of the state. But sometimes the legislature considers local bills, which would only apply in a subordinate jurisdiction (like a county). Local bills are first voted on by the county’s delegation to the General Assembly, and if approved, must then pass the legislature. The Montgomery County speed camera bill is one example.

The County Executive and County Council do not sit mutely while these bills fly around. They take positions on them, as they did this morning. And they are not shy about expressing their opinions! One Delegate was mocked for drafting a bill “after reading about the issue in the newspaper.” Several other bills were derided for conferring new powers intended for “the muscular nation-state of Kensington.” And there was much hilarity when staff attempted to define the “sexual stimulants” referenced in Delegate Saqib Ali’s bill prohibiting them. (How much troublemaking enjoyment could be had in the field research on that one?)

Above all, what really stands out is the utter lack of communication between the state legislators and the County Council about these local bills. One aide told me, “They never talk to us about these bills before introducing them. They just put them in. It’s always been that way.” But sometimes these bills redefine the authority of either the county government or M-NCPPC. Common sense dictates that those entities be asked whether such changes would be helpful prior to submitting such bills. Instead, most of these bills come down with no warning, no consultation and no input beforehand.

That may be good for generating the sort of rampant eye-rolling I witnessed this morning. But it is not good for actually getting things passed.


Crisis in Transportation, Part Two

A flatlining economy. Intolerable and worsening traffic congestion. Falling transportation revenues. Maryland has all of these problems. So does Oregon. The difference is that Oregon’s political leadership is doing something about it.

In December 2007, Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski (D) saw all of these problems coming. He convened an advisory panel of business leaders, labor leaders, transportation advocates and state and county politicians to recommend the best way to deal with the state’s economic, budgetary and transportation officials. Their report, delivered just this month, contains these findings:

1. The Challenge
The report defines Oregon’s challenge this way:

Oregon’s transportation system is not currently equipped to respond to the needs of a global economy, increases in population, rising energy costs and the obligation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to climate change. As Oregonians begin to drive fewer miles in more fuel-efficient vehicles, the revenues from the gas tax and related fees will continue to be less than necessary to meet needs. In fact, ODOT predicts that, within the next few years, revenues will decline in real as well as relative terms. This reduction, combined with the rapid increase in the cost of construction, severely limit Oregon’s capability to maintain and preserve existing infrastructure. Further, the economic slowdown the country is facing reduces reso-urces even more. Oregon’s challenge is to find a sustainable way to fund a transportation system that supports a vibrant economy, creates jobs and offers safe, efficient options for travel.
Every word of that statement applies equally well to Maryland.

2. Recommendations
Among many other things, the committee recommended:

A. A dedicated fund for non-highway investments.
B. Studying per-mile road user fees like vehicle mile taxes (VMTs).
C. Implementing a pilot congestion fee project.
D. Creating regional transportation utility commissions to collect and distribute revenues to projects in those regions.
E. Implementing variable first-time title fees to give buyers of fuel-efficient vehicles lower rates than buyers of gas guzzlers.
F. Providing tax incentives to promote alternative vehicle technologies (like plug-in hybrids).
G. Providing incentives for clean diesel technologies.
H. Supporting “pay-as-you-drive” insurance policies, which would tie premiums to actual auto use.
I. A finance package combining increases in registration fees, title fees and a two-cent gas tax hike resulting in $499 million per year in new funding for transportation.

The report estimated the revenue increases would cost motorists $85-265 per year. It also estimated that poor road conditions cost motorists more than $400 per year in additional vehicle maintenance.

After receiving the report, Governor Kulongoski incorporated many of its recommendations – including the $499 million annual financing package – into his Jobs and Transportation Act of 2009. In proposing the act, the Governor said:

One of the most important investments we can make during a slow economy is in public works projects, such as transportation... We have a long bipartisan tradition of investing in transportation in good times and in bad times. Building roads, bridges and public transit is good for the economy and our citizens by putting people back to work.
The Governor estimated that the transportation program would create 2,100 construction jobs every year and called it “the most robust, sustainable, strategic and green transportation package in Oregon history.”

Will Oregon’s Governor get his way? Democrats control 18 seats in the 30-seat Senate and 36 seats in the 60-seat House. The legislation should also receive significant business support since the advisory committee included 25 business representatives among its 69 members. So while the package will perhaps be tweaked in the legislature, some version of it may very well become law. And Governor Kulongoski will be hailed by business and labor alike for creating jobs during a recession.

So what of Maryland? We will conclude in Part Three.


Monday, November 24, 2008

More Details on the MoCo Budget Disaster

The following memo from the Montgomery County Department of Finance to the Montgomery County Council outlines how truly daunting the county's budget challenge is.


November 24, 2008

TO: Michael J. Knapp, President, Montgomery County Council

FROM: Jennifer E. Barrett, Director, Department of Finance

SUBJECT: Early Alert Regarding Fiscal Pressures

The purpose of this memorandum is to provide to the County Council early information regarding the upcoming update of the County’s Fiscal Plan and Finance’s developing revenue estimates. While Finance has some still unanswered questions about the November income tax distribution, we believe that the trends and impacts noted above will result in a major write-down of revenue estimates that could exceed $200 million for FY09 and FY10. This is in addition to the earlier projected gap of $250 million.

This afternoon, Finance will brief the MFP Committee on the latest economic indicators, and will discuss very current information regarding the November income tax distribution from the State, which came in $31 million lower than the estimate provided to the Council in September. As you may recall, the September estimates for the income, property, and transfer and recordation taxes were based on economic information and indicators through August. We noted at that time the update was very limited, including information for only two months of FY09, and was not based on any actual distribution information.

Since that time, we have experienced an unprecedented downturn in multiple sectors of the economy which will have severe, additional impacts on County revenues. Multiple economic trends are expected to have a significant impact on revenues. These include:

• Further weakening in income and employment, affecting income tax withholdings and the base going forward
• A 40% decline in the stock market which will affect capital gains reflected in estimated payments and late filings through at least FY2011
• A decline in home sales and housing prices affecting capital gains and transfer and recordation taxes over a multi-year period
• A decline in investment income related to short term interest rates
• Declines in fuel energy taxes related to a decrease in consumption

Please note that the reduction in revenues of $200 million for FY09 and FY10 noted above does not include further anticipated State Aid reductions. Compounding the local revenue trends is the parallel impact on State of Maryland revenues, which also include the State sales tax, and resulting State budget actions which will also negatively impact the County. Over the coming week, Finance and OMB will process this still developing picture and prepare an update to the Fiscal Plan, which will be presented to the County Council next Tuesday.

Based on the combination of State and other budget reductions with the revenue expectations expressed above, and the multi-year nature of the revenue declines, I believe the Council should be prepared for an at least doubling of the budget gap for FY10 over what has previously been discussed.

My staff and I look forward to briefing you on these matters next week.

cc: Isiah Leggett, County Executive
Duchy Trachtenberg, Chair, MFP Committee
Timothy Firestine, Chief Administrative Officer
Joseph Beach, Director, OMB
Stephen Farber, Council Staff Director
Kathleen Boucher, ACAO


The Hucker Ballot

On Election Day, here's what District 20 Delegate Tom Hucker and his supporters were handing out at the precincts.

We hear three tidbits about this ballot.

1. The rest of the District 20 Delegation was not told of this ballot prior to Election Day. They found out the same way as the rest of the voters: by seeing it handed out!

2. The ballot names Delegate Hucker as the "District 20 Chair, Maryland for Obama." While there was a Montgomery County for Obama organization, four different Obama volunteers we asked - including three inside District 20 - have never heard of a distinct District 20 organization.

3. The ballots were paid for by the Communications Workers of America (CWA) PAC. CWA donated $4,000 to Delegate Hucker on 8/8/06 and another $500 on 1/4/08. Their payment for these ballots may well constitute an in-kind contribution.

And they say my district is a soap opera!


Crisis in Transportation, Part One

Last week was a tough one for Maryland transportation advocates. Let us count the ways.

1. The message from MDOT Secretary John Porcari’s Road Show presentation in Rockville was a gloomy one. After revealing that the state only had three road projects in the entire county under construction, the Secretary told legislators upset over lack of progress on BRAC work, “We know we have to live within our means.” Translation: we have no more money to spend.

2. Even though the state just cut $1.1 billion from its $10.5 billion six-year transportation plan, the Post reported that revenue shortfalls could force more cuts totaling $2.5 billion. According to the Post:

Collections of the vehicle titling tax in Maryland -- the equivalent of a sales tax on cars -- were down 17.8 percent from July to October compared with the same period a year ago, according to transportation officials. Revenue from the gas tax was down 6.6 percent from July to September compared with that period...

“Cars sales are poor, and people aren't driving,” said Warren Descheneaux, chief fiscal analyst for the Maryland legislature. “This is going on everywhere.”

The forecast Descheneaux presented to legislators yesterday assumes that Maryland will collect about $1 billion less than expected in titling taxes in the next six years. Gas taxes and other revenue sources that benefit transportation are also expected to be more sluggish than predicted. Maryland's ability to sell bonds for transportation projects is likely to be reduced by $1.2 billion, according to the forecast.
Secretary Porcari was skeptical that more cuts of that magnitude were necessary. But Delegate Murray Levy (D-28), Vice-Chair of the Transportation and Environment Subcommittee, said, “ I think we're going to get to the point where, if it hasn't been started, it may not get built... It's like one dollar out of three has gone out the door. That's not a trim around the edges. You have to whack projects.”

3. Two of our county’s leading state legislators poured cold water on the notion that additional revenues will be raised for transportation. When the Post asked House Majority Leader Kumar Barve (D-17) about prospects for a gas tax increase, he replied, “I don't think people want us to be doing that right now.”

New Montgomery Senate Delegation Chairman Rich Madaleno (D-18) went further. In his statement on the Purple Line, read by an aide at last week’s hearing in Chevy Chase, Senator Madaleno said:

It is no secret that our state, like every other, is facing a severe economic downturn from the global financial crisis. With the end of this crisis nowhere in sight, our state will have to make some very serious decisions on our transportation priorities. Our transportation infrastructure across the state requires serious attention and dwindling gas tax and titling tax revenues, combined with this economic downturn, will severely restrict our spending on many worthwhile projects.

Quite frankly, the state does not have the resources to pay for any of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) or Light Rail Transit (LRT) options. Over the past decade, the only major new construction projects the state has moved forward with have been funded primarily with toll-backed revenue bonds. There are no alternative funding mechanisms available for this project. As a member of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, I feel confident in reporting that no new revenue options appear politically feasible in the foreseeable future.
House Majority Leader Barve and Senator Madaleno are two of Montgomery County’s highest-ranking representatives in Annapolis. If they believe that no new revenues are available for transportation, that is a serious problem.

But Maryland is not the only state with economic, budget and transportation headaches. In Part Two, we will reveal how another state is dealing with those same issues.


Saturday, November 22, 2008

Turkey-Killing Fowls Palin News Conference


Friday, November 21, 2008

Rich Madaleno on the Budget

Following is a statement from Senator Rich Madaleno (D-18), a member of the Senate's Budget and Taxation Committee, on the state's budget.

On Tuesday, the Department of Legislative Services (DLS) briefed the Joint Committee on Spending Affordability concerning the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) and the state’s capital budget for FY10. Much like the last two Redskins’ games, there were few highlights and the news got worse as time went by. The briefing document is available here.

As you may have read in the Post and Sun, the main news from the briefing concerned the TTF. Even after the $1.1 billion in cuts, DLS estimates the trust fund projection for the next six years to be overstated by $2.3 billion. Put another way, the current six year Consolidated Transportation Program assumes a $5.8 billion capital program. The DLS revised projection would suggest the state can only afford a $3.3 billion capital program. This would limit the state to finishing currently under construction projects and then only proceeding with system preservation projects.

The briefing on the capital budget focused the Capital Debt Affordability Committee’s action to raise our debt limit from 3.2% to 4% of total statewide personal income. It is the first change in more than three decades. Because of the cuts to the transportation capital plan, we are no longer projected to exceed 3.2% over the next five years. This is good news since it will allow this new policy to be reviewed by the credit rating agencies in the abstract when we next go to the bond markets in February. If the rating agencies question the change, it can be reversed without having to constrain our capital program. This also leaves the state with additional debt capacity if we choose to use it for stimulus. Finally, DLS reported that a small property tax increase (one to two cents) will be necessary over the next two years to avoid having to subsidize debt service with general funds. Our current $0.112 property tax is dedicated to paying debt service.

The final piece of bad news concerns the general fund. All indicators suggest that our revenue picture will continue to worsen over the next few months. Data from September indicate that initial claims for unemployment insurance are up 62.6% over the same month last year. Sales tax revenues are down 7.8% for October over last year, and titling tax revenues are down 20%. The chart on page 34 shows that, while the cuts made by the Board of Public Works last month helped, we are still facing a $1.3 billion hole for FY10. Hopefully, Congress will act quickly over the next two months on a rescue plan for the states before Gov. O’Malley has to submit his next budget. It may also be time to seriously consider dipping into the Rainy Day Fund.

Please let me know if you have any questions. Have a nice weekend.



On Political Pulse

Due to technical problems in the previous showings, Channel 16 is showing a rebroadcast of my interview on Political Pulse on 11/21, 11/22 and 11/23 (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) at 7:30 PM.


Examiner: MoCo's Budget Deficit Could be Much Worse

Kathleen Miller's scoop is a must-read. County Council Member and Management & Fiscal Policy Committee Chair Duchy Trachtenberg believes the county's budget deficit could ultimately be as much as $500 million - much higher than the $251 million estimate that was previously reported.


Chris Van Hollen: Man of the House

By Marc Korman.

Recent indications that Barbara Mikulski is running for reelection and another appointment as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee indicate that Chris Van Hollen is headed for a long and fruitful career in the House of Representatives.

It is no secret that Chris Van Hollen has Senate aspirations, despite his decision not to run for the seat left open by Paul Sarbanes’ retirement in 2006. But his work in the House along with the lack of an open Senate seat in 2010 mean there is less and less reason to seek a Senate seat in the future. Van Hollen should continue to focus his energy on the House of Representatives, where he is on the fast track to House leadership and sits on one of the most powerful House Committees, Ways and Means.

Politics and Leadership

After declining the 2006 Senate run, Van Hollen immersed himself in his duties as one of Rahm Emanuel’s deputies at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the political arm of the House Democrats. The DCCC was successful in 2006, giving the Democrats majority control of the House of Representatives for the first time since the 1994 election. Van Hollen was rewarded for his work recruiting candidates around the country with the chairmanship of the DCCC when Emanuel moved into House leadership.

The early belief was that Democrats would have difficulty building on their majority. In the 1996 election, two years after their wave election, the Republicans lost two seats. Though the results are not yet final, Democrats managed to increase their majority by at least twenty-three seats.

Van Hollen hoped to follow Emanuel’s path and join the House leadership. With Emanuel vacating his leadership post and the House to work for the Obama Administration, Van Hollen considered a run for Caucus Chairman against Caucus Vice-Chair John Larson (CT), but ended up taking a second appointment as DCCC Chair. To make the grueling task of DCCC Chair a little sweeter, the Speaker also carved out a special position for Van Hollen as a liaison between the House of Representatives and the White House. A Speaker created position has the potential to be just a title and relatively meaningless, but given Van Hollen’s close relationship with Emanuel, he may be able to do a lot with it.

Perhaps more importantly, each Democrat Van Hollen helps as he travels the country is a potential vote for him in a future leadership race. With hard work, he could even some day replace Maryland Congressman Steny Hoyer as House Majority Leader. Building on majorities is difficult, but not unprecedented. Since the 435-member House came into being after the 1912 election, Democrats have managed to build on existing majorities in three or more elections in the 1930s, 1950s, and 1980s. If Van Hollen succeeds in 2010, his chances of leadership will continue to grow.

Policy and Committees

On the policy side, Van Hollen is also well positioned. He sits on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which is important for his district full of federal employees and contractors. But he is also on the prestigious House Ways and Means Committee. He ranks 21st in seniority on the committee, but three of those ahead of him will not be returning in the next Congress and six others are over 70 years old. That means in just a few years Van Hollen could be in striking distance of chairmanship of a subcommittee. Just shy of fifty, Van Hollen can afford to wait a few years.

When Ben Cardin decided to run for the Senate, he did not expect Democrats to win a majority in the House. Had Cardin stayed in the House, he would have been chairman of the Trade Subcommittee, part of the Ways and Means Committee, instead of a freshman Senator. Although now in a statewide office, Cardin would have had much more of an impact on policy as a Subcommittee Chair than as a freshman Senator. I actually believe that had Cardin thought the Democrats would retake the House before he launched his Senate campaign, he would have stayed.

As the years go by and if Democrats maintain their House majority, Van Hollen should focus his efforts on House leadership and substantive committee work. Leave the Senate for someone else and be a man of the House.


WSSC Needs to Get Flushed, Part Two

In Part One, I described the bewildering problems my neighborhood is having with WSSC’s pipe replacement procedures. If we had issues of this kind with any other county agency, we could contact the County Executive’s office, our County Council Members or our regional services center. But WSSC is different. It is a bi-county agency governed by a six-member commission with three members each from Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties. The commissioners are appointed by their County Executive and confirmed by their County Council, but they are then charged with overseeing the affairs of the agency. And that is where the trouble starts.

Last February, former General Manager Andrew Brunhart recommended instituting a fee to pay for infrastructure replacement, a proposal killed by the commissioners from Prince George’s County. According to the Washington Post, Brunhart told the commission that failure to pass the infrastructure fee “communicated to WSSC and to our ratepayers that decaying infrastructure is acceptable to the governing body” and that he would he would “recommend dropping the words ‘entrusted,’ ‘reliable’ and ‘clean’ from the WSSC mission statement.” Brunhart had previously said that hundreds of homes in Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties were at risk of cataclysmic pipe failure that would generate an explosion like “a missile.”

After Brunhart’s departure, the commission deadlocked along county lines and could not agree on a successor. WSSC’s leaders could agree on one thing, however: Montgomery County’s Inspector General was denied access to the agency’s records for an audit. Next came a giant pipe break in Derwood and direct intervention by the two County Executives in finding a new General Manager. But after repeated delays, no one knows when a new General Manager will be hired. And now Montgomery's commission members have told the Gazette that they "have a lack of trust in our fellow commissioners."

Even the best General Manager cannot compensate for WSSC’s biggest problem: a divided commission. The rate dispute revealed that the commissioners have different agendas along county lines. The Prince George’s members successfully battled against a $6 monthly fee for infrastructure replacement because it was regressive. Montgomery’s members were willing to adopt the flat fee but not a Prince George’s proposal to tie the fee to property values, thereby shifting most of the infrastructure cost to Montgomery. The end result: no fee at all. If the two boards were separate, would they have been able to develop different infrastructure proposals covering each county by itself?

Some suggest having the Governor appoint a tie-breaking commissioner while others would like to see a complete divorce between the counties. An alternative model for WSSC is the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC), a bi-county agency that is comprised of two autonomous boards that each oversee county-specific park and planning departments.

But if this agency is not reformed one way or another, things are going to get a lot worse. And then more pipes – and tempers – will explode.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Ross Capon's Testimony on the Purple Line

Ross Capon became Executive Director of the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) in 1976 and was named President this year.

Statement of National Association of Railroad Passengers And Ross Capon, NARP President and a Bethesda resident

Before the
Purple Line Alternatives Analysis/Draft EIS Public Hearing
Chevy Chase, Maryland
November 18, 2008

Support for Purple Line Light Rail Transit

Thank you for this opportunity to speak.

As a co-founder with Harry Sanders of the Action Committee for Transit back in 1986, I had no idea that, 22 years later, there would still be a question about whether to build light rail on the former B&O freight line—and that I would be telling you at this hearing that my oldest son, a Maryland senior and daily commuter, has spent a good part of the last four years on the Beltway. I hope my eight-year-old, should he attend Maryland, will have better public transportation.

The Purple Line will bring important travel-choice and environmental benefits. We urge that it be built as rapidly as possible.

The Purple Line will enhance the usefulness—and extend the reach of—Metrorail due to connections at Bethesda, Silver Spring, College Park and New Carrollton.

We are pleased that the University of Maryland administration has agreed to the right-of-way that the student government pressed for and which will insure maximum usefulness of the service for the university community.

Bus Rapid Transit is not the right answer. A GAO study found light rail 15.5% less costly to operate than bus. Vehicle life-cycle costs favor rail. Federal Transit Administration will assist in bus replacements at 12 years, rail vehicles at 25 years (and rail vehicles can operate for 30-35 years).

Rail attracts riders by virtue of greater comfort—that is, generally more on-board space per passenger and a smoother ride—and better system identity. Rail also is safer, particularly in bad weather, and more reliable. In a February, 2006, storm, New Jersey Transit shut down its entire bus system but not the light rail lines in Newark and Jersey City. Boston had to remove articulated buses from its Silver Line because they fishtailed dangerously in the snow.

Our impression is that Bus Rapid Transit, for the most part, is supported by people who really don’t want anything at all, or whose main goal is to keep transit of any kind off the Georgetown Branch right-of-way in Bethesda, placing it instead on Jones Bridge Road where it will inevitably serve lower passenger volumes.

To people (and the Columbia Country Club) who have worked hard against light rail, I recommend a visit to Newton, Massachusetts. I grew up there, on the “wrong side of the tracks” (the former Boston & Albany mainline, now MBTA commuter rail and the Mass Turnpike Extension). However, on the city’s south side, there is the Highland Branch which, in the late 1950s was transformed from a low-frequency diesel railroad to light rail (Riverside branch of MBTA’s Green Line). This service is highly successful and an asset to property values. The line bisects the historic Woodland Gulf Club, founded in 1896.

It is a sad commentary on transportation priorities in Maryland that, even today, we are asking whether to build the Purple Line, and holding hearings on cutting MARC train and MTA transit services, and seeing continuing cuts on Ride-On bus service, but construction on the InterCounty Connector moves along. I have asked Maryland DOT, and not received an answer, about how the budget cuts were allocated among the modal administrations, and whether the same percentage cuts were applied to the Highway Administration and the MTA, even though the former is huge and the latter is smaller and more environmentally beneficial.

Thank you for considering our views.


Gigi Godwin's Testimony on the Purple Line

Georgette "Gigi" Godwin has been President and CEO of the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce since 2006.

Good Evening. I am Gigi Godwin, President of the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce. Thank you for the opportunity to testify tonight in support of the Purple Line. The business community supports those transportation projects that do the most to relieve congestion, promote economic development, and contribute to the long term economic and environmental vibrancy and sustainability of our community.

For those reasons, the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce supports a Light Rail Purple Line. We believe that this is the best long term investment that the Maryland and Federal Transit Administrations could make in our community. A Light Rail Purple Line will provide a reliable, efficient and environmentally sound mode of transportation for our employees, our students and all our citizens. A high quality mode of transportation is a critical component of attracting and retaining high tech employers and high tech jobs. And, finally, a Light Rail Purple Line will provide the missing link in our regional transit connectivity.

Therefore, we urge the selection of a Light Rail mode along the Georgetown Branch Alignment as the locally preferred alternative.

Reliability and Efficiency
In order for a new transit system to improve the convenience and connectivity of those who ride it everyday, it must be reliable and efficient. It must provide significant decreases in travel times via car and it must be able to reliably deliver on those promises for decreased travel times. The Light Rail options outlined in the DEIS significantly outperform the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) options in both reliability and efficiency.

Given that both the low and medium BRT systems would use shared lanes and existing roadways, reliability of these systems decrease as traffic continues to increase, with those buses stuck in the same traffic as the cars on the road, offering commuters no incentive to leave their cars and use the Purple Line. Light rail, however, with its faster speeds and dedicated right of way along the Georgetown branch trail, offers significant efficiency AND reliability, with travel times of 9 minutes from Bethesda to Silver Spring as opposed to the 25 minutes the Bus Rapid Transit system would offer.

For businesses and their employees, time is money, and the only way these employees will use the system is if they know they can rely on it to get them to their destination, whether it be work, school, or daycare, in a predictable and short period of time.

Economic Development Benefits
Economic Development along the Purple Line’s East/West corridor will prove to be a major benefit of the transit project. Many stations have been identified as opportunities for economic development including Chevy Chase Lakes, and the Takoma/Langely area, which is part of a joint master plan between Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties. This kind of economic development is consistent with both Montgomery County and State of Maryland Strategy for transit oriented development that creates environmentally friendly pedestrian communities. Light rail is preferable to Bus Rapid Transit because of the fixed investment by government in the infrastructure, which gives potential buyers of property, both business and residential, a confidence that property will continue to appreciate because of proximity to the light rail station.

Regional Connectivity
The Purple Line plays a critical role in connecting our region’s outdated transportation system – a system based primarily on assumptions of employee’s work habits and commuter patterns that were true 30 years ago, but have drastically changed in the past three decades. As our economy has changed, so too has our workforce, and the way we work. A purple line light rail link is CRITICAL to ensuring new regional connectivity. This new regional connectivity will allow our community to continue to grow and thrive in our new, diverse, growing economy.

Thank you for the opportunity to get the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce’s comments regarding the AA/DEIS on the record. We look forward to working with the MTA to make this project a reality.


George Leventhal's Testimony on the Purple Line

At-large County Council Member George Leventhal is a member of the Council's Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee and is currently serving his second term.

• Increased convenience and improved quality of life.
• Reduced commute times.
• Alternatives to the automobile. A way to get out of traffic.
• Access to jobs, shopping, entertainment and education.
• Decreased greenhouse gas emissions.
• Less dependence on imported petroleum.
• Closer links to our great research university, the University of Maryland at College Park.
• A direct connection between both branches of the Red Line, the Green Line, the Orange Line, three MARC train lines, and AMTRAK
• Protection, enhancement and completion of the Capital Crescent Trail.
• Transit-oriented economic development, smart growth and community revitalization inside the Beltway.

What other public investment now underway provides so many benefits for the citizens of Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties?

We need the Purple Line now.

We need to recognize the stiff competition we will face from other parts of the country that are also seeking federal approval for transit projects. We can’t afford to take for granted that there will be a Purple Line.

Despite the options under study in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, the real choice that confronts us is not between rail and bus, or between an at-grade system versus an underground system. Because the competition is so stiff, our choice is between cost-effective light rail and no transit improvement at all.

We must unify – Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties, our congressional delegation, our state senators and state delegates, County Executives and County Councils. We must speak with a single voice and make it clear that we want the Purple Line.

Because if we don’t, we will end up with nothing at all.

And what would that mean? With no transit improvement, travel times between Silver Spring and Bethesda will increase from the current 20 minutes to 35 minutes by 2030. Between Bethesda and College Park, from the current 49 minutes to 81 minutes. Traffic congestion, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions will all get worse. However, medium investment light rail will make travel times considerably better in 2030 than they are today. From Silver Spring to Bethesda, only 9 minutes. From Bethesda to College Park, only 34 minutes. With concomitant improvements in energy use and greenhouse gas reduction.

I want to thank Governor Martin O’Malley, Secretary of Transportation John Porcari, Maryland Transit Administrator Paul Wiedefeld, Project Manager Mike Madden and all the staff who have worked so hard to get us this close to realizing this vision. Mike Madden and his team have held hundreds of community meetings and listened carefully to concerns over alignments, design elements, buffering, landscaping, noise, placement of the trail and many other issues. The DEIS is much better as a result of all the input they have received, and the state’s preferred final alternative will be even better as a result of the testimony they are hearing this month. Legitimate concerns of neighborhoods and trail users are being addressed.

Even as we respond to these important, but relatively narrow, issues, we must keep the big picture in mind. We cannot allow valid concerns over details that can be relatively easily addressed to convey a message that we don’t actually support the vision that the Purple Line represents: a vision of improved mobility; a cleaner environment; invigorated, walkable communities; and a beautiful, safe hiker-biker trail. We must not permit a cacophony of disparate voices to suggest that our region doesn’t really know what it wants.

We may not have unanimity of opinion. In public policy, unanimity is very rare. But I believe there is a clear, strong and growing consensus in Montgomery County behind light rail on the Master Plan alignment. Based upon the input I have received throughout my years in community activism and elected office, I believe that my constituents overwhelmingly want the Purple Line. They want it to be light rail because they perceive that as a higher-quality commuting experience than bus transit.

With a new President taking office in January, Barack Obama, committed to federal investments in infrastructure to stimulate our lagging economy, 2009 will be an extraordinarily opportune time to ask for what we want. And the stronger consensus we have around our preferred option, the better our chances of winning federal funds.

If we ask for what we don’t want, we might get it! And if we aren’t clear about what we are asking for, we might get nothing at all.


WSSC Needs to Get Flushed, Part One

Of all the agencies we have to deal with, none is more frustrating than the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC). Shielded from accountability to county government, overseen by a gridlocked board and nearly leaderless, this rusted-out, leak-riddled organization is a growing problem for the citizens of Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties.

Before delving into the governance issues plaguing WSSC, consider the experience of just one neighborhood: mine. Like other areas, my neighborhood is undergoing pipe replacement, a project that will last well into next year. A WSSC representative promised 24-hour access to a meeting of our civic association last year if anything went wrong. But things have been working out differently than promised.

Here’s one example from our many listserv posts complaining about low water pressure and poor service:

We live on [street name withheld], and our water never came back on after the scheduled shut off on Wednesday. By Thursday evening, we were rather concerned that we still had no water. We checked with neighbors. They all had water. So we called WSSC.

They gave us the run around. After the first call, it was “air in the pipes.” We were instructed to close our main, open the spigots in the house to let the air out, and then *slowly* re-open the main. We did this, and nothing happened.

Then, we called WSSC a second time and told them they result. They promised a person would come out to check our situation “in the next 3 hours.” This person has not shown up yet.

Then, we tried something on a whim. WSSC has connected a hose to our outside spigot. We turned that on, and the result was that we got a trickle of water from our inside spigots. After thinking about it for a while, we then tried shutting our inside main valve. We now have full water pressure.

Nobody at WSSC ever told us to turn on our outside spigot or to turn off our inside water mains. Did other people get this info?

Finally, we called WSSC for a third time. This time, the operator told us (literally) to call a plumber because the problem is not WSSC’s.


1. While they are replacing the mains on [street name withheld], water flows into the house in the *reverse* direction, from the outside spigot (but nobody told us this).

2, While they are replacing the mains, the inside water main needs to be closed.

3. The operators at WSSC are incompetent.
Neighbors often try to help each other figure out how to deal with WSSC. Here is one of the replies to the above account:

On Tuesday, after the water did not come on as promised, I called the Maintenance Service 24-hour number to check about the situation and then, when I was told there was a valve problem, I complained about the lack of notification to the affected families. The woman did not want to deal with my fussing, so she told me to call the correspondence office.

So I did today. That woman took my complaint about that as well as a second one related to your situation. Last Friday, when I went out my door about 8AM, I noticed dripping by my outside spigot. I notice a crew working (I think in front of your house) and went over to have them check the drip. When there, they attempted to get water into my house, but could not. That's when a supervisor told me to open my spigot from the inside and turn off the valves by the water meter. When I did that, my water worked fine. Then I was asked to do the same for my neighbor. So my second complaint was to ask why WSSC or the contractor did not notify houses with inside water meters what to do to get the water into their houses. If I hadn't had a drip, I would have had the same problem as you did.

I suggest that everyone who has had problems call this complaint department. Maybe if WSSC gets deluged, they will do something about communicating better about how to deal with this mess we have.
This is not isolated behavior at WSSC. The agency has severe problems of governance and accountability that go straight to the top. We will have more in Part Two.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

On Political Pulse

Congressman Chris Van Hollen from Maryland's Eighth District will be on the Political Pulse TV Show in Montgomery County on:

Thursday, November 20th at 9 p.m.
Tuesday, November 25th at 9:30 p.m. and
Thursday, November 27th at 9:00 p.m.

Topics that will be discussed include:

-the Government's bailout efforts;
-the Election
-the priorities of Congress when Barack Obama becomes President; and
-the Iraq War.

Political Pulse is on Channel 16 TV in Montgomery County.


David Lublin's Testimony on the Purple Line

Following is the testimony of Town of Chevy Chase Council Member David Lublin, who is a Professor at American University and is the founder of Maryland Politics Watch.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you about this important issue today. Many others will speak about the need to protect the Trail—vital green space in a rapidly growing area—and the need for public transit. However, I plan to focus on serious concerns that the Town of Chevy Chase has regarding the ridership and cost estimates in the DEIS. As will be outlined in the Town’s written submission, these estimates seriously underestimate costs and overestimate ridership for the five options on the Trail. At the same time, MTA has failed to optimize the Jones Bridge Road Bus Rapid Transit alignment despite repeated requests from the Town. Changes clearly need to be made if the EIS is to fulfill the legal requirement to optimize all options and estimate costs and ridership accurately.

First, we remain concerned that the ridership estimates for the five options on the Trail continue to include riders from beyond the half-mile limit in violation of accepted transportation planning standards despite repeated efforts by the Town to point out this error. In response to enquiries, MTA replied that it had adhered to “the model” but this vague answer suggests that it continues to include riders from outside the appropriate catchment area.

Second, the ridership estimates continue to assume a free transfer to Metro and fail to reflect that the cost of the transfer must be borne by either passengers—thus reducing ridership—or by the State—thus increasing operating costs. Again, though the Town has repeatedly pointed out this problem, MTA continues to assume a free transfer even though WMATA’s current practice is to charge for intermodal transfers and FTA requires the analysis to reflect the current practice. In addition, the model fails to follow standard industry practice of including time penalties for transfers. Such penalties account for the amount of time it takes to complete a transfer—including wait time—plus the added inconvenience and anxiety associated with transferring.

Third, there are two significant costs to be borne by the County which appear to be outside the Purple Line cost estimates, raisings questions as to the true costs of the Purple Line. One is the $60 million southern elevator connection at Bethesda Metro. MTA fails to include costs for the elevator in its budget for the master plan light-rail options and it is unclear what credit the County will get for providing this needed amenity. Yet, the costs to put a new Metro connection at National Naval Medical Center are included in that alignments’ budget pushing the costs of the Jones Bridge Road option up. The other is the cost for building the Trail–we’ve heard estimates between $12-14 million—which the DEIS states will be borne by the County. Those costs are not easily isolated in the Purple Line budget and it is unclear if the estimated costs include the many long ramps, grading, retaining walls and landscaping in their analysis. The EIS should contain an accurate estimate of costs and benefits and the County should know exactly what it is committing to.

Despite MTA’s best efforts to produce favorable numbers for the light rail options on the trail, these options remain like horses which barely qualify for a race and have little chance of finishing in the money—or receiving federal funds. If we really want to move the Purple Line forward, MTA and the EIS need to take a more serious look at the Jones Bridge Road option and to optimize it correctly. The projected growth of the Woodmont Triangle, the BRAC process, and the enormous growth of the National Naval Medical Center make this imperative.

MTA has repeatedly explained that it has relied on the accepted Council of Governments model in estimating ridership. However, MTA has amazingly relied on a pre-BRAC version of this model. If the changes caused by BRAC were minor, this wouldn’t matter much. However, BRAC is going to produce enormous increases in traffic. The Purple Line is an ideal opportunity to address this problem by providing a one-seat ride to Medical Center and Bethesda.

Yet, MTA has not optimized this option. Unbelievably, MTA’s estimates have the supposedly optimized version of Bus Rapid Transit on Jones Bridge Road running at a slower speed than the slowest local bus on the same road today. MTA also has not done a reasonable study of traffic signal priority for this alternative, which is a key feature of Bus Rapid Transit. Moreover, MTA still has this option taking a slower path than any of the other options east of Jones Mill Road.

Finally, the DEIS repeatedly states that the Trail was purchased as a “transitway” and in the Master Plan. Reality is far cloudier. The formerly little-used train right-of-way was purchased as part of the “Rails to Trails” program. The Montgomery County Master Plan calls for a one-lane trolley—not the two-lane light rail proposed by the Purple Line. And the $10 million used to purchase the Trail includes the segments now part of the Capital Crescent Trail between Bethesda and DC. Does MTA claim that this portion of the Trail is also reserved for a future light rail network as well?

Thanks again for providing myself and the Town the opportunity to participate in this process. Instead of promoting an option which wrecks two parks—the Capital Crescent Trail and Woodmont Plaza—for the price of one light rail, the EIS needs to reexamine the Jones Bridge Road Bus Rapid Transit option so that we can get two transit lines—the Purple Line and Corridor Cities Transitway—for the price of one.


Al Carr's Testimony on the Purple Line

Delegate Al Carr (D-18) was appointed to the House of Delegates in 2007 and is a former member of the Town of Kensington Council.

Good evening.
My name is Al Carr. I live in Kensington and I represent the citzens of District 18 in the Maryland House of Delegates.

I have been following this debate for nearly twenty years.

I support the Purple Line.

But I do not agree with those who say that we should limit our options to light rail as the only mode and to the Capital Crescent Trail as the only route.

To achieve the best result, we need to make sure that we can think outside the purple box.

In planning for the Purple Line we need to:

Keep our options open
Preserve and expand the Trail
Address growth at the Bethesda Naval Hospital due to BRAC
Address local traffic problems that the ICC will bring, and
Be prepared for all financial scenarios

A true Bus Rapid Transit solution along Jones Bridge Road needs to be added to the alternatives being considered.

The newest transit line in North America opened a few weeks ago in Cleveland Ohio where I was born. My son and I plan to ride it next week when we visit grandma for Thanksgiving.

Cleveland is no stranger to light rail. Unlike the Washington area, they never dismantled their light rail network. They considered light rail during the planning for their new line. But they ultimately chose bus rapid transit.

They found BRT to be an efficient, environmentally friendly way to move people, and to support economic development while being twice as cost effective as light rail.

In these times of extreme financial challenge, we need to be prepared for a range of options with a range of price tags.

Bus Rapid Transit on Jones Bridge Road is an option that will preserve the Capital Crescent Trail. This is a heavily used, wonderful urban park that brings people together.

I don't know how many of the people in this room have actually lived next to a light rail line. Well I have. And I can tell you that there is no better way to forever divide a neighborhood and keep people separated. And that is what will happen if we put light rail on the Capital Crescent Trail.

The entire Connecticut Avenue corridor including Kensington has traffic problems that are about to get worse. This corridor suffers from pedestrian fatalities, extreme congestion and dangerous cut through traffic. All of these problems will be made worse by growth at the Naval Hospital due to BRAC and by the added traffic caused by the Intercounty Connector.

If we fail to consider Bus Rapid Transit on Jones Bridge Road, we will miss an opportunity to address these problems. And we will continue a pattern of piecemeal transportation planning rather than coordination.

Let's not paint ourselves into a purple corner. Let's keep our options open, so that the end result will be a smarter Purple Line.


Rich Madaleno's Testimony on the Purple Line

The following statement from Senator Rich Madaleno (D-18) was read by his aide, Scott Tsikerdanos, at last night's state Purple Line hearing in Chevy Chase.

Statement by Sen. Richard S. Madaleno, Jr.
Presented at AA/DEIS Purple Line Hearing
November 18, 2008

During the course of my 20 years in and around the General Assembly, I have seen and heard all of the arguments for and against the Purple Line. After many years of discussion, planning, and community outreach, I still have very serious reservations about this project, from a fiscal standpoint, from an operational standpoint, and with regards to the effects it will have on the communities in our region.

It is no secret that our state, like every other, is facing a severe economic downturn from the global financial crisis. With the end of this crisis nowhere in sight, our state will have to make some very serious decisions on our transportation priorities. Our transportation infrastructure across the state requires serious attention and dwindling gas tax and titling tax revenues, combined with this economic downturn, will severely restrict our spending on many worthwhile projects.

Quite frankly, the state does not have the resources to pay for any of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) or Light Rail Transit (LRT) options. Over the past decade, the only major new construction projects the state has moved forward with have been funded primarily with toll-backed revenue bonds. There are no alternative funding mechanisms available for this project. As a member of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, I feel confident in reporting that no new revenue options appear politically feasible in the foreseeable future.

Because there are, at best, limited state funds available for this project, the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) assumes a local contribution but does not suggest what shape or size that it may be. I think it is irresponsible for the state to propose this project without informing either local county government of what its share might be. I would also note that no local government in the Baltimore region has been asked to make a direct contribution towards the construction or maintenance of their light rail system. Questions about the state’s ability to pay should alone prevent the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) from allowing this project to move forward.

It was only a little over a year ago that the state of Minnesota saw a major bridge collapse during the evening rush hour, killing 13 people. This summer, a serious accident on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge led to the discovery of corrosion on the bridge’s steel reinforcements, requiring emergency repair. It is clear that other bridges, overpasses, and tunnels in our state will require expensive maintenance in the future.

From a statewide perspective, this transportation project would take the lion’s share of transportation investment money for the foreseeable future. The estimated price tag on the high investment light rail transit is nearly $2 billion. Even with very optimistic ridership numbers, the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) is estimating a daily load of 34,000 round trip riders, of which, 27,200 – 80 percent – will be drawn from some other form of mass transit. Are the remaining 6,800 new riders enough to justify the cost of the system, which at nearly $2 billion, works out to roughly $294,000 per rider new to mass transit? It would be cheaper to buy these 6,800 people new residences closer to their jobs.

The communities that will be impacted by this project, in whatever form it takes, will also undoubtedly be changed forever. As a frequent patron and supporter of the Capital Crescent Trail, I am disturbed by the potential impact a light rail line would have on this tract of parkland. MTA has provided many artists’ renderings of what the trail would look like with the rail line, but has avoided the most glaring part of this equation: most of the trees and accompanying tree canopy would have to be removed to accommodate a large set of wires. The trail would be never be the same and would never be able to thrive as it does now.

Personally, I find MTA’s comments about the trail highly disingenuous. The construction of the LRT alternatives will devastate the trail. It is clear that light rail and heavy forestation do not work well together. Ironically, today’s Baltimore Sun reports that the northern half of the Baltimore light rail system has been shutdown indefinitely as falling leaves are creating unsafe conditions on the tracks. The Sun reports that this problem is on the section of the line that “follows a narrow, old railroad right of way along the Jones Falls Expressway through forested parkland.” The same design problems exist here. To limit potential tree and leaf damage to both the overhead wires and tracks, MTA will have to continually trim the trees that border the right-of-way. A once green and enjoyable park facility will be irreparably destroyed. While this point alone may not be reason enough to stop the LRT or BRT alternatives, the government should be upfront with its citizens about the impact of this decision. Trivializing the impacts along the trail has done immeasurable harm to the reputation of this proposed project.

Beyond today’s operating problems caused by leaves, MTA has a checkered history planning and operating light rail. The Baltimore system, after nearly 20 years of operation, has realized less than half of the ridership MTA estimated during construction. The light rail line has become a money pit with the state having to subsidize roughly 75% of its operating costs. The MTA Administrator during the Glendening Administration once testified that he would close it if it were not for the capital costs already sunk in it. The Baltimore light rail line does not attract riders because it is not interchangeable with the pre-existing heavy rail line and moves slowly along city streets. Yet, MTA is proposing making the same billion dollar mistake again. Light rail is not currently a part of the highly successful Washington Metro system. LRT will require new cars, new maintenance facilities, and new mechanics that can never be integrated with our existing system unlike the new rail extension currently under construction in Northern Virginia. And, in many places along the proposed LRT alignment, the trains will be slowed by operation on roads. This will not be an effective or efficient use of federal, state, or local taxpayers’ money.

With little chance to expand on the current heavy rail system, I think it is clear that buses are the future of transit expansion in this metropolitan region. While the state includes new and denser development as a potential benefit of the LRT alternatives, there is no guarantee any of this development would occur. Decades after opening, many of the existing Metro stations lack new or dense development. Building it will not, as they say, ensure that “they will come.”

Greatly improved and expanded bus service will best serve the development and commuter patterns of our region. On this point I would note that the TSM alternative provides more than a third of the benefit with less than a tenth of the cost of the high investment LRT. For decades we have overlooked and under-invested in bus transit in our region. With roughly half of the cost of the state’s share in the LRT alternatives, we could probably divert more single occupancy vehicle (SOV) trips than estimated in the DEIS. My colleagues and I have focused too much time and attention on high-profile potential rail projects and not enough on sensible bus improvements. An investment in new vehicles and new technology could makes buses much more attractive to commuters. We need to expand bus transit into less dense existing and growing communities outside the Beltway more than we need to sink billions into transit to support a dreamlike vision of future high-density communities.

In the headquarters of the Baltimore Jewish Charities is a sign proclaiming “Our parents built for us; we build for our children.” This sentiment briefly but profoundly summarizes the feelings most of us have about our wonderful community and region. We were granted a world-class subway system by our farsighted “parents”- the leaders and activists of the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s. We now wish to leave our children with a similar legacy. While many understandably believe this Purple Line proposal is worthy of this goal, I believe it has too many shortcomings, too many unanswered questions, and too many optimistic assumptions to move forward. In the end, I fear its only legacy will be yet one more unpaid bill left to our children. Instead, we should leave them a flexible, efficient, user-friendly, and affordable bus network that can more easily adjust to future needs and challenges.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Maryland Teachers Fight Against Education Cuts

The Maryland State Teachers Association (MSTA) is running this ad in the Baltimore and Washington media markets. The Baltimore Sun has more.


The Defining Crisis of Weast's Era: Teachers, Salaries, and Workload

By Eric Luedtke.

For those of you on a time crunch, here’s the summary: Teachers are essential to student success. Teachers are probably losing most if not all of their scheduled cost of living adjustment. This could lead to the loss of good teachers in the school system. To offset the loss of the COLA, the school system needs to start being serious about streamlining the work of teachers so they can spend their time serving students rather than in makework or unnecessary tasks.

Crises are defining moments for leaders in the public sphere. Lincoln wouldn't have been Lincoln without the Civil War, Washington would have remained a little known veteran of the French and Indian War if no shots had been fired on Lexington Green, and FDR's greatness was brought to light in his response to the dual crises of the Great Depression and World War Two. Today's history lesson ends there, so don't run off yet, because there is a point to this in the here and now.

There's a local application of the crisis rule that we're beginning to see play out in our own community, in the schools whose success has been so central to Montgomery County's prosperity over the last few decades. For nearly a decade, MCPS has been in what can only be called the Weast Era. It's been an era of relatively rapid changes and reforms, an era where the system refocused itself around priorities like closing the achievement gap, doing a better job addressing the needs of students with special needs and English language learners, and crafting an elite instructional workforce to help meet those goals. It’s been a very successful era, but now, for the first time in more than a decade, forces outside our local control are threatening that success. How Dr. Weast, the Board of Education, and the County Council respond will quite possibly define their careers as public servants.

The Weast Era has coincided with a long period of economic prosperity, with the exception of the slowdown after 9/11. Consistent and sustainable funding is essential to the success of a school system, so these have been good years for MCPS. When the money is easy to come by, it's relatively easy to drive reform in schools. The dollars Dr. Weast secured through a decade of prosperity have paid for the full implementation of all-day kindergarten, major class size reductions in elementary schools, and a variety of reforms-in-progress in middle and high schools. He has also, in conjunction with the board of education and the unions, developed a salary and benefit package aimed at making sure the best educators work in Montgomery County. This is partially a competitive necessity - we're surrounded by other high-paying jurisdictions - and partially a way to offset falling morale due to increasing workload.

Weast himself acknowledges that he and the leadership of the school system ask a lot of their employees, and that the impressive salary increases over the last few years are designed to offset that. As his reforms have been put in place, the professionals who implement them have been asked to work harder and harder every year. We've learned new ways of using data to drive decision making at the classroom, school, and system level. We've mastered new technology in the classroom and system-wide. We've found new methods for communicating with parents. We've retooled the school system to allow students with special needs more access to mainstream settings. But one thing has not changed - the amount of time we have to get all of this done. The school day and work day are unchanged from when I was a student in MCPS, under Dr. Weast’s predecessor.

There has been some grumbling, to be sure, though the vast majority of staff have accepted the reforms and come to value many of the changes. But grumbling was never the concern. The concern has always been the effect of this on staff retention. To provide a good education, we need good teachers. If increased workload started driving good teachers out of the system, the reforms would be useless. So the school system leadership under Weast made a calculation – pay high salaries to teachers to keep them in the classroom. It’s helped to keep good teachers in the classroom through ten years of aggressive, sometimes disruptive reforms.

But large salary increases no longer seem to be a possibility. The school system unions have gone back to the bargaining table in the hope of trying to solve MCPS’ budget problems before they get out of hand. This will almost certainly entail a partial or full loss of the 5% cost of living adjustment scheduled for the next school year. That’s money that was already promised to teachers that they now won’t get.

This loss will be a blow to morale. It will start some teachers looking for jobs in other places, like in the federal government where many employees are still getting a 5% COLA. Unless he wants to watch his reforms unravel around his ears, Dr. Weast is going to have to do something about that.

The only solution is to take a serious look at workload. There isn’t money for improvements in salaries or benefits. And there isn’t money for the sort of big-picture workload reductions many teachers would like to see, like smaller class sizes. But there are low or no cost steps the system could take that will have profound effect on the workload of teachers, while not in any way hurting the education of students. In fact, done right, streamlining the work of our educators may make them better able to serve students.

Step one is making attention to workload as central a part of the system’s operation as attention to money. Any time required by a new initiative needs to be offset by time or workload reductions in some other area. And any central office bureaucrats whose actions affect the work of direct service providers need to take a serious look at how their actions may impact workload.

Beyond that commitment, low or no-cost impact on workload will only come through a series of small, incremental improvements. E-mail has rendered many whole-staff meetings obsolete, so those can be reduced. Advances in file-sharing networks would make it possible for the school system to allow teachers to share lessons and materials electronically, if they would only make such a space available and drop the condescending insistence that every lesson a teacher writes needs to be vetted by central office staff. There needs to be a serious analysis of paperwork to eliminate those things which are little more than busywork for frontline educators whose time is better spent serving children. And the system needs to stop doing an end run around contract by allowing some schools on block schedules to force teachers to teach 6 classes instead of five – it only stresses teachers and reduces their ability to serve students. If the system is really committed to eight-period blocks, they need to pay the marginally more expensive cost of 5/8 schedules and give teachers the time to plan collaboratively and participate in teacher-driven professional development.

This recession will be Dr. Weast’s defining test as a leader in MCPS. On the one hand, there is the possibility that loss of salaries will lead to loss of good teachers and the system will start to slide backwards. On the other, there is the possibility that by changing tactics, the system will be able to continue to attract and retain exceptional educators, and maintain its path down the road to success for all students. For the sake of Montgomery County’s children, I hope that Dr. Weast and the other leaders of the school system will pass the test.

Eric Luedtke is a teacher at A. Mario Loiederman Middle School and a member of the board of the Montgomery County Education Association.


Monday, November 17, 2008

Show Us the Money!

Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) Secretary John Porcari held his annual Road Show event in Rockville last Thursday. Its purpose is to brief Montgomery lawmakers and constituents on what the state is building in the county. But of course, lots of attention is also directed at what the state is not building. And that means – surprise, surprise – it all comes down to money.

From left to right: SHA's Darryl Mobley and Neil Pedersen, Senator Rich Madaleno (D-18), Delegate Brian Feldman (D-15) and MDOT Secretary John Porcari.

John Porcari is a considerably more skilled man than his predecessor, Ehrlich Transportation Secretary Bob Flanagan. Flanagan was notorious for saying in barely veiled terms, “You guys are getting the ICC. Isn’t that enough?” Porcari is facing a far more constrained budget situation than Flanagan ever did. Yet, his style is to lay out the budget realities in plain terms, have his aides drone on for very long periods about every state project line by line and artfully deflect the darts thrown by unhappy politicians.

And there were a lot of politicians present. We saw County Council Members Nancy Floreen, Mike Knapp, Don Praisner and Phil Andrews; Delegates Sheila Hixson, Susan Lee, Jim Gilchrist, Charles Barkley, Brian Feldman, Kumar Barve, Kirill Reznik, Karen Montgomery, Al Carr, Kathleen Dumais, Bill Bronrott, Jeff Waldstreicher, Bill Frick and Roger Manno; and Senators Jennie Forehand, Brian Frosh, Jamie Raskin, and new Senate Delegation Chair Rich Madaleno. All were on hand to hear the following:

1. There Are Only THREE Road Projects Under Construction by the State in MoCo.
You read that correctly: THREE road projects under construction. They are the ever-popular ICC, a 1.1 mile 6-lane highway along MD 124 (Woodfield Road) near Montgomery Village, and the Randolph Road/Montrose Parkway interchange in Rockville. A dozen more projects are in various stages of planning with no construction money scheduled.

John Porcari (center) has better political skills than most politicians.

2. The ICC is a Done Deal
The ICC consists of five contracts. Contract A, linking I-370 to Georgia Avenue, is now under construction. Contract C, linking US-29 to I-95, is also under construction. Contract B, linking Georgia Avenue to US-29, has just had a notice to proceed issued. Construction will start in early 2009. Contract E, linking I-95 to US-1 in Prince George’s County, is scheduled to have a notice to proceed issued by the summer of 2009. Contract D, which would build a network of feeder roads around I-95, has been “indefinitely deferred” due to cost overruns on other phases of the project. Just to hammer the point home, State Highway Administrator Neil Pedersen stated “it is not our intention” to replace Contract B with local road work. At this point, 92% of the construction funding has already been awarded.

3. No Worries About the Purple Line or the CCT – Right?
Porcari and his staff were adamant that Baltimore’s Red Line, the Purple Line and the Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT) are on parallel tracks for the federal approval process. When challenged by Delegate Charles Barkley (D-39), Porcari said that the recent planning cuts ($25 million for the Purple Line and $43 million for the CCT) would not affect the readiness of those projects for federal review. No one asked the obvious question: if those amounts were unnecessary, what were they doing in the budget in the first place?

Nancy Floreen calls the question - again.

But County Council Member Nancy Floreen asked the question of the night. When would Montgomery County be told of its expected “local contribution” for either of the two transit projects? This pulls the pants down on a dirty secret not commonly reported in the press. When the federal government and the state decide how much funding they will channel to any of the state’s three competing transit projects (assuming that any are federally approved), the local jurisdiction will be expected to make up any difference with project cost. Porcari’s staff could not provide an answer on when those costs would be known, but estimated they might be available in two years.

The discussion of the two major transit projects has always assumed they would be mostly paid by the federal government and the state. But what if a large bill is headed to the county? How much will county taxpayers be willing to pay for the Purple Line or the CCT? What if the property tax limit has to be broken, thus triggering the anti-tax Ficker Amendment? There are many issues awaiting the County Council and the voters in years to come.

Senator Brian Frosh (D-16) asks about BRAC.

4. Not Enough Money is Available to Complete BRAC Work
The Medical Center north of Bethesda is scheduled to add 2,500 new jobs and more than double its outpatient visits to nearly 1 million annually by September 2011. That necessitates reconstructing at least four major intersections near the facility as well as perhaps a larger corridor study between Bethesda and Randolph Road. That work could easily add up to more than a hundred million dollars. Yet, after cutting $16 million, the state has now scheduled just $31 million for the project, of which only $8 million is for construction. Senator Frosh and Delegates Bronrott, Lee and Carr all asked Porcari about this. Porcari answered, “We know we will need additional construction funding” but he also cautioned, “We know we have to live within our means.”

The Road Show was well attended by the Montgomery Delegation and many of them questioned Porcari and his staff. But the bottom line still comes down to money. During the special session, the General Assembly raised enough transportation funding to pay for $150 million in new projects and $250 million in additional system preservation. But the economic collapse and the diversion of $50 million to pay for repealing the computer tax have depressed revenues to the point that the state is only receiving $265 million in new money – almost all of which is scheduled for maintenance. Had the legislature listened to the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce and raised $600 million for transportation, projects such as BRAC might be better funded.

If the county’s state legislators are truly interested in moving these projects along, complaints to Secretary Porcari will not suffice. The only way to make progress is to raise more transportation funding. Show us the money!