How is MoCo Doing on Pedestrian Safety?

By Adam Pagnucco.

Pedestrian safety is arguably THE hottest issue in MoCo government right now.  With several recent high profile pedestrian deaths and residents swarming a county council meeting on the subject, alarmed elected officials are terming pedestrian crashes a “public health crisis” and demanding action.  The county has responded by hiring a full-time pedestrian safety coordinator and is promising more to come.

Pedestrian safety has been a challenge in Montgomery County for decades.  How well is the county doing on this issue?

First, let’s look at MoCo’s rate of pedestrian involved crashes in comparison to the rest of the state.  The table below, sourced from data provided by the Maryland Department of Transportation, compares the average annual number of pedestrian crashes by county to county populations.

Three of the top four counties on a per capita basis – Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Prince George’s County – are among the most urbanized jurisdictions in the state.  The other county in the top four – Worcester – has an unusual amount of pedestrian activity on the Ocean City boardwalk.  MoCo ranks 7th of 24 counties on crash rate but its average annual crash rate per 1,000 residents (0.44) is below the state average (0.54).  Admittedly, the state average is skewed upwards by Baltimore City.

It’s interesting that MoCo’s pedestrian crash rate is similar to less urbanized jurisdictions like Wicomico, Dorchester and Washington Counties.  Urbanized counties should have greater volumes of pedestrian activity because of a greater abundance of walkable districts.  MoCo certainly has more of those than Wicomico, Dorchester and Washington Counties.  That suggests that MoCo isn’t a relatively bad performer on this measure given its substantial (and increasing) urbanization.

One thing MoCo does is spend significant amounts of capital money on pedestrian projects.  The table below compares capital budget spending on pedestrian and bikeway projects (the two are one category) to total capital spending excluding the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission in the last 16 Capital Improvements Program (CIP) budgets. 

MoCo’s spending on pedestrian and bikeway projects steadily accelerated from $44 million in the FY7-12 CIP to $225 million in the FY19-24 CIP.  Major projects like the Metropolitan Branch Trail, the MD-355 BRAC crossing and the Capital Crescent Trail are partially responsible for these increases.  However, the FY21-26 executive recommended budget is a step back.  The six-year total pedestrian and bikeway spending of $181 million is the lowest since the FY13-18 amended budget.  So is the percentage of the total capital budget accounted for by pedestrian and bikeway projects.

All of this gives rise to two questions.

1.  MoCo spends a lot of money on pedestrian projects, but is the county getting a good return?  A 2007 county council press release states that the county averaged 430 pedestrian collisions per year from 2003 through 2006.  The Maryland Department of Transportation estimates that the county averaged 459 pedestrian crashes from 2014 through 2018.  Between the two periods, the county’s population rose by 13% while its pedestrian crashes rose by 7%.  Is that a sufficiently positive result from the enormous sums the county has spent in recent years?  Given the significant needs in this area and the limited resources in the capital budget, the county may wish to study the most cost-effective ways of promoting pedestrian safety and direct its funding accordingly.

2.  As noted above, the executive’s new recommended capital budget decreases pedestrian and bikeway spending to its lowest level in seven years.  One reason for that is that the overall level of capital spending is declining.  (That’s a subject for a future series.)  With all areas of the capital budget under stress and the looming possibility that school construction delays will trigger residential moratoriums, it’s extremely difficult to add or even maintain funding for any program, not just pedestrian and bikeway projects.  That said, county elected officials will look terrible if they declare pedestrian safety to be a “public health crisis” but then cut funding for pedestrian and bikeway capital projects.

Overall, MoCo’s record on pedestrian safety is not a bad one when compared to the rest of Maryland.  But funding constraints could hinder its prospects for improvement.

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MoCo’s Moratorium Madness

By Adam Pagnucco.

The Montgomery County government is currently plagued by a $100 million operating budget shortfall and a shrinking capital budget.  So what is the county doing to revitalize its economy and earn more revenue?

Potentially, imposing more moratoriums on housing construction!

County development rules require moratoriums on housing construction inside school clusters or individual school service areas when projected public school enrollment accounts for 120% or more of capacity five years into the future.  Additionally, elementary schools must be 110 students over capacity and middle schools must be 180 students over capacity to trigger moratoriums.  Projects that are already approved are not halted by moratoriums but new project approvals are not granted.

Last year, the county imposed moratoriums on four high school clusters and 13 individual elementary school service areas.  Those areas accounted for roughly 12% of the county and included high-profile markets in Downtown Silver Spring and North Bethesda, thereby directly thwarting the county’s transit-oriented development strategy.

The problem with stopping residential development is that school impact taxes collected from new units can be a major source of revenue for school construction.  As recently as the FY15-20 amended capital budget, school impact taxes accounted for 15% of MCPS’s school construction budget.  Unfortunately, that is no longer the case.

In a memo to the Montgomery County Planning Board, planning staff noted that the county executive’s new recommended FY21-26 capital budget underfunds MCPS’s construction request by $61 million in FY21, $93 million in FY22, $93 million in FY23 and $57 million in FY24.  One of the biggest reasons for the underfunding is that school impact tax receipts have fallen by more than half since FY14.  The planning staff indicates that if the underfunding results in delayed projects, nine elementary school service areas (Bethesda, Clarksburg, JoAnn Leleck, Rachel Carson, Strawberry Knoll, Summit Hall, McNair, Page and Burnt Mills), one middle school service area (Parkland) and seven high school clusters (Quince Orchard, Richard Montgomery, Albert Einstein, Montgomery Blair, Blake, Northwood, Walter Johnson) may be at risk of moratoriums.  For the Blake, Blair, Einstein and Walter Johnson clusters, this would be the second straight year of moratorium, threatening projects in North Bethesda and Downtown Silver Spring.

The cruel fact here is that reducing residential construction has historically had little if any impact on MCPS enrollment increases.  The chart below shows MCPS enrollment (red line and left axis) and residential units permitted in Montgomery County (blue line and right axis) from 1994 through 2018.  MCPS enrollment comes from the county executive’s recommended budget while permitted units comes from the U.S. Census Bureau.  Over this 24 year period, housing construction has been falling while MCPS enrollment has been rising.  The contrast between the two trends has been most pronounced in recent years.  Housing units permitted has fallen from 3,981 in 2012 to 1,947 in 2018 while MCPS enrollment has grown from 146,497 to 161,470.  It defies logic to blame school crowding on housing construction when homebuilding is in an era of decline.

And so here is the effect of MoCo’s moratorium policy.  Housing construction drops, causing school impact tax payments to plummet and depriving school construction of needed funding.  The county reacts by delaying school projects, triggering moratoriums.  That causes housing construction to decline further and the cycle continues.  None of this helps more schools get built but it definitely constrains housing supply, thereby driving up home prices and making the county even more unaffordable to live in than it already is.  Another effect is that it makes the county radioactive to the real estate and investment communities, thereby pushing them into competing jurisdictions.  It’s no wonder that Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks is celebrating her county’s passing of Montgomery County in job creation.

Using residential moratoriums to prevent school crowding is like treating lung cancer by amputating the patient’s legs.  The treatment does nothing to solve the original problem but it definitely causes new problems to arise!

If you wanted to stop economic growth and make it harder for people to live here, it would be difficult to devise something more attuned to such goals than MoCo’s insane moratorium policy.  The county must bring it to an end.

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Affordable Housing Spat: Who’s Right?

By Adam Pagnucco.

County Executive Marc Elrich and his biggest critic, Council Member Hans Riemer, are feuding once again.  This time, the subject is affordable housing.  Elrich says his new recommended capital budget includes a record sum for affordable housing.  Riemer says there are in fact no new resources.

Who is right?

Let’s consider the statements from each of them.  First, here is Elrich.

Affordable housing is one of my top priorities. It is vital to our County’s future success. We must maintain and expand our stock of affordable housing and we are taking this critical issue head on in the capital budget. That is why I am recommending we add $132 million for affordable housing to the capital budget over the next six years.

This is a record level of funding for affordable housing projects for our capital budget. These funds will be used by the Affordable Housing Acquisition and Preservation Project to facilitate efforts to preserve existing stock and increase the number of affordable housing units in the County. But that is not all.

In this Capital budget, I am proposing a new Affordable Housing Opportunity Fund to leverage funding from other partners that will support short-term financing while affordable housing developers arrange for permanent project financing.

Here is Riemer’s response.

On affordable housing, I was initially encouraged by the Executive’s speech about increasing funding levels. Indeed, I am intrigued by his proposal to create a new housing preservation fund. However, while he claims to have added more than $132 million in the affordable housing fund, after further examination it became clear that the annual amount is unchanged at $22 million. Under the last Executive, affordable housing funding was only programmed for the first two years of the six year budget, but additional funding was always added in the subsequent years. We need to increase our affordable housing fund to at least $100 million annually. This change in accounting will not result in increased resources. In combination with his resistance to the Council’s affordable housing goals, developed with and agreed upon by all the local governments in Washington region, the County Executive’s housing policy continues to be a matter of serious concern.

These two like each other about as much as Popeye and Bluto.  (Which one is Popeye depends on your point of view!)  But how can their statements be reconciled?

Since Fiscal Year 2001, the county’s primary affordable housing vehicle has been its Affordable Housing Acquisition and Preservation program, which appears in the county’s capital budget.  The program enables the county to buy or renovate, or assist other entities to buy or renovate, affordable housing.  It is financed by several sources including but not limited to loan repayments and the county’s Housing Investment Fund (which is mostly supported by recordation taxes).

The capital budget, which includes the Affordable Housing Acquisition and Preservation program, is a six-year budget.  In even years (like 2020), it is written anew and in odd years, it is amended.  Projects in the capital budget can have up to six different years of funding in them (with more scheduled outside of the budget’s six year horizon).  In the past, the affordable housing program has only shown funding for the first two years of the capital budget with zero money programmed in the last four years.  But since the capital budget is rewritten every two years with affordable housing money renewed in each successive budget, that has not mattered.

The table below shows funding for the Affordable Housing Acquisition and Preservation program in the last 16 capital budgets.  Each budget covers six years.  Budgets labeled with an “A” are amended budgets programmed in off years.

At first glance, Elrich appears to be right.  His new recommended capital budget includes $132 million for Affordable Housing Acquisition and Preservation, which is far higher than any previous capital budget.  But let’s remember what Riemer said about the annual amount of spending.  All the previous six-year budgets included funding during the first two years only.  Elrich’s new capital budget shows funding for the Affordable Housing Acquisition and Preservation program in all six years.  Riemer is correct: an accounting change caused the apparent increase in this program.

But the story doesn’t end there.  Elrich created a new program in the capital budget called the Affordable Housing Opportunity Fund.  This program is dedicated to acquiring affordable housing in areas at risk of rent escalation, such as those near the Purple Line and other transit corridors, and is intended to use public funds to leverage private funds in acquiring and preserving affordable housing.  This new program provides $10 million in each of the new capital budget’s first two years for this purpose.  That money comes from recordation tax premiums which are normally used to finance transportation projects, so it’s not “free” money.  But it is more money for affordable housing.

Combining the existing Affordable Housing Acquisition and Preservation program and Elrich’s new Affordable Housing Opportunity Fund, the table below shows the annual expenditures for affordable housing in the capital budget since FY05.  Annual expenditures are drawn from the first two years of every amended capital budget with FY21 and FY22 drawn from the executive’s new recommended capital budget.

Combining the two programs, Elrich recommends spending more capital money for affordable housing in FY21 and FY22 than any annual expenditure in the preceding published budgets.  When adjusting for inflation, Elrich’s FY21 and FY22 spending amounts are roughly equal to the Leggett administration’s peak affordable housing years of FY09 and FY10, so one can quibble about whether Elrich’s spending is truly a record.  But when Elrich’s new Affordable Housing Opportunity Fund is included, the first two years of his new budget definitely show an annual increase for affordable housing over the prior budget.

The county’s capital budget has been shrinking due to cutbacks in general obligation bond issuances and declining projected school impact tax receipts.  That’s a dire subject for another time.  But given the county’s budget difficulties, Elrich’s financial commitment to affordable housing is meaningful.  Friends and foes alike should give him credit for it.

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Alsobrooks Brags About Beating MoCo

By Adam Pagnucco.

In a blast email sent today, Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks bragged about a recent Washington Post story showing her county pulling ahead of Montgomery County in job creation. The email is reprinted below.

*****

Prince George’s Overtakes Montgomery as Top Job Creator in Maryland Suburbs

Dear Prince Georgians:

In case you missed it, an article published Monday in the Washington Post showed that our County has officially overtaken Montgomery County in terms of job creation for Maryland.

From 2013 to 2018, we added 21,236 jobs in our County, growing by 7.1%.  That growth secures our County’s spot as the top job creator for the entire State of Maryland.  I am Prince George’s Proud to say that these numbers confirm what we have been saying, which is that we are the economic engine for our State.

As the article states, our job growth is due in part to honest and effective political leadership in our County over the past several years.  In addition, our County has aggressively courted businesses by making key investments over several budget cycles.  We are not just waiting for businesses to come, but instead going out and beating the bushes to tell the story of Prince George’s.  These factors, plus the strong working relationship that we have with our colleagues on the County Council, have contributed to a very business-friendly environment in our County.

As we maintain the spot as the top job creator for the State of Maryland, we will not rest on our laurels.  Over the next several years, we plan to continue making investments to incentivize businesses to locate to Prince George’s County.  Some of our top priorities include high-quality dining and amenities, technology companies, and even federal government facilities that are looking to relocate.

We also plan to invest in creating what we call the Downtowns of Prince George’s.  These are areas where we will focus on mixed-use, transit-oriented development to continue attracting new businesses and growing our commercial tax base.  In the past year alone, we have seen several successes with these projects and the investments we have already made.

For example, in the area around the New Carrollton metro, Kaiser Permanente opened its new regional headquarters last year, and we learned that WMATA plans to move its regional headquarters there as well.  Construction will soon begin on the Carillon Project in Largo, which will revitalize the former Boulevard at Capital Centre.

Finally, we broke ground on the Hampton Park Project, which will replace the former Hampton Park Mall in Capitol Heights.  We’ve already secured several commitments from businesses to open in this location when construction is done, including the award-winning Ivy City Smokehouse restaurant and a Market Fresh Gourmet grocery store.

Those are just a few of the accomplishments we had in 2019 in terms of attracting new businesses and job creation.  You have my commitment that my administration will continue telling our story, making critical investments and attracting new businesses to create even more jobs over the next several years.

The best is truly yet to come for Prince George’s, and I know that by working together, we’ll have an even better story to tell in the coming months.

Yours in service,

Angela Alsobrooks

Prince George’s County Executive

Additional Coverage: The Economy is Booming in Prince George’s County

Following the Washington Post article, WJLA ran a story discussing the booming economy in Prince George’s County.  We have thousands of job openings in the County, and engineering firms like ATCS are excited to be here and hiring now. In case you missed the story from WJLA, watch it online by clicking here.

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Grading the County Council

By Adam Pagnucco.

Regular readers know my views on the administration of County Executive Marc Elrich by now, but let’s turn to an equally important entity: the Montgomery County Council. The county’s charter gives the council enormous powers, especially over land use, legislation and the budget, and its decisions are at least as important to the county’s direction as the activities of the executive.

The current council has four freshmen, the most at any one time since the council of 2006-2010. The freshmen include a former county department head, a former senior state government official, a former Obama White House official and one of the county’s most seasoned civic activists, so they came well-prepared to serve. In fact, they have become so ensconced at the council that they don’t seem like true freshmen any more. Overall, while the council has some internal rivalries that occasionally can be seen, it has been devoid of the open infighting that plagued many prior councils. Like them or not, they have mostly stuck together during the trials of governing.

The council’s portfolio is vast and it has made dozens of decisions in its first year. In my view, eight consequential events rise above the others. The council’s performance on these events is the determinant of its overall grade, which appears at the end. Let’s get to it.

Mid-year savings plan (January)

The new council members had hardly adjusted their dais seats when they were confronted with a $41 million budget hole, prompting a mid-year savings plan from the executive. The council – and especially the new members – could have complained, delayed and otherwise squirmed. But instead they got down to business and made the cuts in short order.

Grade: A

MCGEO agreement (March through May)

After Elrich negotiated a set of raises with the largest county employee union that included a peak raise of 9.4%, the council had to decide on their affordability. This was not easy as the union had a long history of torturing defiant politicians. But the council stuck together and unanimously forced Elrich to negotiate slightly lower raises. Expect this issue to return if Elrich negotiates more mega-raises in the face of the county’s financial problems.

Grade: A

MCPS and Montgomery College funding (March through May)

When Elrich released his first recommended budget in March, two of the losers were MCPS and Montgomery College. MCPS received a stingy 0.9% local dollar increase while the college got an absolute cut. Council Member Craig Rice, who chairs the council’s Education and Culture committee, called the budget “an education last budget.” But the council didn’t do a lot better. Yes, it cashed a big state check containing Kirwan money to help MCPS. But local funding for MCPS went up by just 1.2% and the college still took a cut.

Grade: C

OPEB raid (March through May)

One of the biggest problems with Elrich’s budget was that it relied on a $90 million raid on the county’s OPEB fund, which pays for retiree health benefits. The council grumbled about it, but approved the raid on an 8-1 vote with only Council Member Andrew Friedson dissenting. The result was a comment from Wall Street credit agency Moody’s labeling the move “a credit negative.”

Grade: D

Accessory dwelling unit legislation (January through July)

Council Member Hans Riemer’s zoning text amendment to liberalize county restrictions on accessory dwelling units (ADUs) provoked fierce opposition from Elrich and some civic activists. In other years, the legislation would have been either killed or watered down into oblivion. But this time, the council tweaked it and passed it unanimously. The legislation probably won’t result in huge waves of new ADUs, but the council took an important stand on the need to build more affordable units. The issue of affordable housing will come back over and over again during this term.

Grade: A

Public safety communications project (May through July)

When Elrich vacillated on placing the final two towers for the county’s long-standing public safety communications project even after a crippling outage, the council sprang into action. After the council threatened to override Elrich and write the towers directly into the capital project, Elrich ultimately conceded. The council would have received a better grade on this if it had not had its own history of delaying this project, but the council did the right thing in the end.

Grade: B+

Police chief search (July through September)

After the retirement of long-time police chief Tom Manger, Elrich nominated former Portsmouth police chief Tonya Chapman to succeed him. Chapman had more baggage than an airport terminal. Once the council made clear that Chapman did not have the votes for confirmation, the administration considered another nominee who had a pension benefit issue that probably required a legislative fix. That nominee did not fly either, so Elrich ultimately nominated an acceptable choice to many on the council, acting chief Marcus Jones, whom Elrich had previously rejected. This was truly historic stuff. Never before has any council imposed its will like this on an executive to ensure a high caliber nomination for one of the county’s most important positions.

Grade: A+

Fox subsidy (November)

I have written about this again and again. It could take a while, but this decision is going to come back to haunt the council.

Grade: F

Overall

Setting aside OPEB and corporate welfare for Fox, the council’s record is pretty decent on a number of issues. And the council was magnificent in forcing Elrich to hire a competent police chief. Year two should be more challenging, especially if the county’s lackluster economic performance forces tough choices on the budget.

Overall grade: B

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Vaping and Social Justice

Councilmember Gabe Albornoz (D-At Large) has sponsored an excellent piece of legislation designed to curtail the sale of vape materials, especially to kids, within Montgomery County.

The bill would prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes within a half mile of any middle or high school, eliminating sales at 19 of the 22 existing shops as well as preventing many of the other 600 retailers who sell vape materials from easily picking up the slack in sales to minors. Albornoz’s proposal would also sensibly prohibit the distribution of flavored e-cigarettes to any stores within a mile of a middle or high school.

I’m pleased that the bill has strong support from County Executive Marc Elrich and the entire Montgomery County Council. This is one business we don’t need. I only hope the prohibitions on conventional cigarettes are equally strong.

Racial Equity and Social Justice Analysis

The Council is also about to give final approval to Council President Nancy Navarro’s racial equity and social justice legislation. It’s not yet in effect, so I imagine no racial equity and social justice analysis of Albornoz’s bill has been performed. But it nevertheless provides a salutary example of why Navarro’s bill will not do much to advance its laudable goals.

Let’s imagine that the racial equity and social justice analysis indicates that whites and Asians vape at greater rates than blacks and Latinos in Montgomery, perhaps because they can, on average, better afford the habit. The correlation between education and smoking renders this unlikely. But should the Council kill the legislation if it would widen the economic and racial health gap if its positive effects fall disproportionately on whites and Asians?

On the other hand, economically disadvantaged African Americans and Latinos who enjoy the legal, adult pleasure of vaping might not appreciate the creation of vaping deserts in their areas. I envision the vaping industry, already working hard to blackwash vaping, will try to ride this argument combining freedom and minority rights hard. Though I find it self-serving and unpersuasive, vapers might not agree. Equity can prove a tricky concept.

The clampdown on vape stores and sales might disproportionately impact poor and working-class people who work in vape stores and small minority-owned businesses that make a nice profit off of selling vaping supplies. The Council has oft utilized the latter argument for why we need to protect the alcohol monopoly.

Would the Council really change its mind on vaping and protect these employees and businesses in the name of racial equity and social justice? Alternatively, would the Council appropriate funds to aid workers and businesses transition away from their economic addiction to vape sales instead of, say, school construction?

Any racial equity and social analysis impact of this legislation will require a considerable amount of time to gather and to analyze hard data. Navarro’s bill applies to all new proposed legislation as well as existing programs and expenditures, so her well-intended legislation will shift county employees away from their normal duties to address this requirement even if its impact, as with Albornoz’s legislation, is irrelevant, mixed, or unclear.

Racial equity and social justice remain laudable goals. But Navarro’s bill will unintentionally shift resources away from accomplishing them. Instead, allow county employees to focus on doing their jobs well, which already often involves accomplishing these goals. Any money saved could go to Montgomery College. The education and skills that it imparts do a tremendous amount to allow people to move up the ladder. That’s racial equity and social justice.

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Yes to Racial Equity and Social Justice. No on this Legislation.

Montgomery County has decided to tackle racial equity and social justice with legislation sponsored by Council President Nancy Navarro and supported by the entire County Council and County Executive. As Bethesda Beat reported:

The bill would establish a countywide racial equity and social justice program, according to language introduced Tuesday in a council session. It also calls for a separate Office of Racial Equity and Social Justice.

It would require a countywide equity action plan and individual plans for each of the more than 30 executive departments and offices, including Montgomery County Public Libraries and the county’s police department.

The act would require a racial equity and social justice impact statement at the end of every bill, program, or master plan submitted before the council.

Unfortunately, this bill will do little to address either racial equity or social justice in any meaningful way. But it will create a new county office and take up many hours of time by county bureaucrats in other offices that could be better spent on county services, including existing policies that promote the goals of the legislation.

What Will Happen

Bureaucrats will respond to the requirement for action plans by deploying personnel to writing plans that demonstrate (surprise!) that their current approach promotes racial equity and social justice. These numerous new reports will be more produced than read but will satisfy the new mandate from their political masters.

Similarly, all new bills, programs and master plans will have racial equity and social justice impact statements arguing for their positive impact. It’s hard to imagine that the people who write the impact statements on new bills or new master plans will write negative reviews of proposals by the people who employ and supervise them.

What is Racial Equity and Social Justice?

Debates over the nature of racial equity and social justice give the writers of these many new required plans and impact statements more flexibility than Gumby. Consider the following examples:

Raises for County Employees. As I pointed out not too long ago, the County Council voted to give delayed pay increases to all county unions except MCGEO–the only majority female and majority minority union in the county. Yet Navarro still took umbrage at the idea that she had overlooked racial equity.

Ironically, Navarro focused on the budget as a primary reason to pass her racial equity legislation: “Budgetary decisions are where the rubber meets the road.” The bill’s primary sponsor failed her own blue chip test for racial equity. Or else the idea is so malleable as to lack real meaning.

Purple Line. The new light rail line is touted as making it easier for poorer people to travel to work. Except that transportation access raises property values, making it harder for poorer people to continue to afford rents around light-rail stops. It also encourages property owners and developers to redo or to tear down existing apartments to attract higher paying tenants, rendering existing residents homeless.

The Purple Line has already created pressure to rezone areas populated by low income residents and businesses. The County Planning Board rejected a proposal to rezone the light industry area in Greater Lyttonsville along the Purple Line to a CR (commercial-residential zone) on a 4-1 vote. This highly diverse area (see pp. 12-13) is home to many small businesses owned by African Americans and Latinos that would have been displaced by the zoning change. The sole vote in favor was Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson, who was recently unanimously reappointed by the same Council that sponsored the racial equity and social justice bill.

Casey can reasonably argue that the decision will reduce the county tax base over the long term, giving it less money to spend on racial equity and social justice. Possibly true but cold comfort for the immigrant and minority-owned businesses that would have been ejected. In any case, arguments can be marshaled for or against policies like the Purple Line and zoning changes on racial equity and social justice grounds. The required reports will likely often be political documents rather than objective analyses.

Won’t Address the Problems Cited by Councilmembers

Here are some of the rationales for the legislation reported in Bethesda Beat:

Council member Will Jawando said he experienced racism for the first time in fourth grade — a lobbed slur as he brushed past an older white women [sic] on the street.

Unemployment is three times higher in District 5, a diverse region with a majority black population, than in the rest of Montgomery County, Council member Tom Hucker said.

Council member Craig Rice raised two daughters who thought people didn’t see skin color, he said, until one of them was the target of a racist taunt on the school bus last week.

“It’s a reminder that there’s a systemic issue here and we need to make sure we’re doing everything we possibly can to change things,” Council member Sidney Katz said at the council session.

Churning out more reports isn’t going to stop racists from calling people ugly and awful racist slurs or prevent children from learning them. I wish it would. I would love for Will Jawando not to experience them, and Craig Rice not to have to explain them to his beautiful daughters.

Most of the county budget goes to schools and basic services like police and fire, so the county’s ability to tackle larger problems like the unemployment rate gap is somewhat limited beyond its very smart decision to continue investing heavily in Montgomery College. In any case, systemic reports won’t do anything about it.

Our Past and Ongoing Commitment

If one views our county’s budget as a moral document, it reflects the county’s long-term commitment to racial equity and social justice.

We dedicate roughly one-half of our spending to the public schools, as part of our effort to assure that every kid has an opportunity. The county schools continue to include more kids of color and more from poorer backgrounds (often not the same). Moreover, MCPS directs substantially more funding to the schools with poorer kids who tend to have greater needs and parents with less means to meet them.

In short, the wealthier areas of the county pay a disproportionate share of taxes, but a disproportionate share of funding goes to schools outside their neighborhoods. That’s entirely as it should be. It’s makes me proud to live in Montgomery. This is not new policy but a very long-term commitment.

In a similar vein, we pay county employees well and give them good pensions. The county works hard to make sure that pensions are fully funded, a commitment that Ike Leggett worked mightily hard to keep as the county coped with the economic downturn’s enormous budget crunch and newfound demands from rating agencies for higher funding. It goes without saying that the county supports and works with unions.

If all of this isn’t social justice, then what is?

I also have little doubt of the concern of each and every councilmember in this area. I don’t think that Nancy Navarro believes that she or other longtime councilmembers, like Craig Rice or Hans Riemer, have failed this test year after year. Marc Elrich became county executive on a platform to combat exactly these sorts of problems.

Did past councils, who put the progressive structure of our county government in place, really ignore these questions? I may often disagree with this or that Montgomery politician, but I’d be hard pressed to name one who doesn’t care. Did Ike Leggett in his long tenure on the county council or three terms as county executive ignore these problems? How about Howie Denis? Or was it Roger Berliner, Nancy Floreen, and George Leventhal?

I’ll take the county council at its word that the proposed bill comes out of a sincere desire to represent the support of Montgomery voters to continue to move forward on these issues. But instead of passing a bill that will mainly generate mounds of reports, it should spend more time engaging with the tough work on issues from affordable housing to making sure students from all backgrounds have the skills and support they need.

Nevertheless, I have no doubt that the proposal will pass easily. The chances of the Montgomery County Council voting this down are about as likely the Montgomery County Republican Party sending me an email in support of undocumented immigrants. No Democrat wants to be seen opposing racial equity or social justice. It is just not worth the ire from progressives attacking one as a racist or insufficiently committed to stamping it out.

That’s a pity. We need fewer totems of our commitment and more of the hard and sadly often not headline-grabbing work of delving into policy that making real change on these difficult issues entails.

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Jealous’s Latest Float Vaporizes

Ben Jealous had invited speculation that he’d run for mayor of Baltimore but pulled out as the race picked up. In the wake of Rep. Elijah Cummings’s sad passing, history has repeated itself at a faster pace around the open seat:

Jealous said in a text that his attention is “on running the kids to baseball and rowing practices, keeping door open to run for governor.”

Weird how the kids don’t need to attend practice in gubernatorial election years. Of course, it’s no stranger than the Democrat who got blown away with just 43.5% in a stellar Democratic year thinking that he should run again. That’s a lower share than received by any Democratic nominee in the last 50 years.

Regardless, Jealous would have been an odd successor to Cummings. While Jealous is a Juul consultant , Cummings broke ground in the fight against big tobacco:

In the Maryland House of Delegates, where Mr. Cummings served from 1983 to 1996, he championed a ban on alcohol and tobacco ads on inner-city billboards in Baltimore — the first prohibition of its kind in a major U.S. city.

The 1980s were the glory days when you could still smoke on airplanes and Joe Camel marketed smoking as cool to kids. Ben Jealous’s client, Juul, has been accused of similarly targeting teenagers.

The sales campaigns for Juuls — now hugely popular with teenagers across the nation — are at the heart of a federal investigation into whether the company intentionally marketed its devices to youth. The attorney general of Massachusetts, also investigating the company, contends that Juul has been luring teenagers to try the product and has introduced many to nicotine.

“From our perspective, this is not about getting adults to stop smoking,” the Massachusetts attorney general, Maura Healey, said in an interview. “This is about getting kids to start vaping, and make money and have them as customers for life.”

Elijah Cummings took the battle for kids against big tobacco to Annapolis. “Progressive” Ben Jealous just took the money.

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Filling Sad Vacancies

Rep. Elijah Cummings was one of those people who truly grew in stature and value to the country over time. His indefatigable stand against ceaseless efforts to deprave our institutions from the Benghazi witch hunt to his ringing words fighting Trump’s seemingly bottomless corruption provided badly needed moral voice and leadership. Nor did he forget problems at home even as he led on national questions.

Seventh District Vacancy

The Baltimore Sun explained the process for filling this sad vacancy:

Gov. Larry Hogan has 10 days to issue a proclamation stating a special primary election and a special general election will be held to fill the vacancy, according to the law. The seat will remain vacant until then.

The special primary election shall be held on a Tuesday that is at least 65 days after the proclamation was issued and the special general election shall be held on a Tuesday that is at least 65 days after the primary.

That’s near the end of February at the absolute earliest.

“The whole process could be five months,” said Jared DeMarinis, the state elections board’s director of candidacy and campaign finance. “And that’s moving it along.”

Hogan’s spokesman, Mike Ricci, said Thursday morning that it wasn’t clear yet when the special election would take place.

The elections board needs that window of time to get procedures in order. Ballots will need to be printed and sent out, along with other logistics.

“What we’re waiting for is when the governor issues the proclamation,” DeMarinis said. “That fills in all the gaps.”

In short, it depends how fast Gov. Hogan moves to call the election. The Third District takes in portions of Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Howard County.

While I imagine many will be eyeing this rare opening, I suspect that Cummings’s widow and current Maryland Democratic Party Chair Maya Rockymore Cummings would be a lock for the seat if she seeks it. Beyond being this respected representative’s widow, she raised her own profile through her gubernatorial run and then her successful run for Democratic Party Chair in the wake of the 2018 election.

Oversight Chair Vacancy

Cummings’s passing is a also a loss for Maryland’s influence in the U.S. House. On the House Oversight and Reform Committee, Cummings’s chairman’s gavel will be up for grabs. The committee has played a critical role in the impeachment inquiry.

Based on strict seniority, the post would go to Carolyn Maloney (NY 12), who has been named acting chair. Just behind her are Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC AL) and William Clay (MO 01). Norton, who also possesses significant legal chops, would be the first DC delegate to chair a committee.

Rep. Jamie Raskin (MD 08) is also a rising star on this committee. After just a couple of terms, he’s already eighth in seniority, which puts him ahead of fifteen other Democrats but still probably too junior to leapfrog into the post.

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Progressive Juuling with Ben Jealous

After Gov. Larry Hogan trounced him at the polls in 2018, Ben Jealous moved fast from his job as a venture capitalist to combining it with new work as a corporate consultant for Juul. Jealous’s hiring appears part of a larger effort to blackwash the vaping company through strategic donations and hiring connected African-American leaders.

The corporately credulous may believe that Jealous is taking Juul’s money in order to keep kids away from vaping. The FDA called out Juul for illegally claiming that its harmful products are safer than cigarettes. Juul is also being sued for marketing to youth. Montgomery County filed its own lawsuit against Juul last week.

Progressive Maryland (PM) has not only ignored Jealous’s ties to a truly awful corporation but also embraced him since he started working for Juul.

PM brought Jealous in to speak on mass incarceration at a September event. During his campaign, Jealous oddly used statistics from Georgia rather than Maryland on this topic. He also made no mention of significant reforms made thanks to General Assembly Democrats. Maryland Matters coverage of the PM event similarly quotes Jealous on the issue from a national rather than a state perspective.

Jealous used Progressive Maryland’s platform to tout a potential 2022 gubernatorial bid. This comes shortly after he dropped a floated bid for mayor of Baltimore because he wants to spend more time with his 7- and 13-year old kids. “I’ve really got to focus on running my daughter to rowing practice in South Baltimore and running my son to baseball practice in Roland Park.”

Jealous nonetheless felt okay with running for governor two years ago and already is making soundings for a 2022 run, so it seems more likely that other reasons came into play. Hogan criticized Jealous for his recent residence in Maryland—the 2018 primary was the very first in which he voted in Maryland. His Baltimore residency is of even more recent vintage.

Running for mayor might also have entailed needing to explain all that addictive Juul money. Taking big bucks from a company that is being sued for getting kids hooked on vaping instead of phonics may go down well at Progressive Maryland. A harder sell to the electorate.

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Maryland Politics Watch

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