Joe Biden Endorses Ashwani Jain

Former Vice President Joe Biden has endorsed Council At-Large candidate Ashwani Jain.  We reprint Jain’s press release below.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

May 23, 2018

CONTACT:

Jaan Williams

Campaign Manager

Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. Endorses Ashwani Jain for Montgomery County Council, At-Large

Silver Spring, Md. (May 23, 2018) — Today, Friends of Ashwani Jain announced that Vice President Joseph Biden has endorsed Ashwani Jain, Democratic candidate for an At-Large seat on the Montgomery County Council. Biden is the former Vice President of the United States in the Obama Administration and previously served as a U.S. Senator from the state of Delaware from 1973 to 2009.

“I am humbled and proud to be endorsed by former Vice President Joe Biden,” said Ashwani Jain. “Working for him on the Cancer Moonshot at the White House was truly an incredible experience, and being a part of his team was one of the proudest moments of my life. I’m honored to follow his example as a kind, compassionate, tireless advocate and public servant as I run for Montgomery County Council, At-Large.”

“I have seen first-hand Ashwani Jain’s commitment to his community and our nation, and I am proud to endorse him for an At-Large seat on the Montgomery County Council,” said Vice President Biden. “He is a first-generation American and a 15-year cancer survivor who worked with me in the Administration on the Cancer Moonshot, an issue close to his heart and one that affects so many families in our community. Ashwani understands that to have a strong economy and build the middle class we must work together and ensure equal access to opportunity.”

Ashwani Jain served on the Vice President’s team working on the first ever 50-state Cancer Moonshot Summit.  Jain worked with the former Vice President, medical professionals, and researchers nationally and in Montgomery County – at the National Institutes of Health, the National Cancer Institute and Walter Reed Medical Center – in the successful creation of the program. Jain previously served in the Obama-Biden Administration as the Associate Director of External Affairs at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Deputy White House Liaison at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and in the White House Office of Presidential Personnel.

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Tom Hucker’s Farm Mailer

By Adam Pagnucco.

District 5 County Council Member Tom Hucker, who is running for reelection, has sent out a mailer spotlighting a Silver Spring farmer who credits him for saving his farm from development.  Hucker’s opponent, Kevin Harris, is criticizing him for not participating in public campaign financing.  This mailer is an effective counter-response in pointing out that Hucker has a progressive record going back more than twenty years, both in and out of office.  We expect to see a lot more communications like this one.

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AFL-CIO Makes Endorsements in MoCo, Prince George’s Races

The Metro Washington AFL-CIO has announced endorsements in local races in Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties.  They have previously endorsed Marc Elrich for County Executive.  Following is their press release.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 22, 2018
Contact: David Dzidzienyo, ddzidzienyo@dclabor.org

Metro Washington AFL-CIO Endorses in DC, Montgomery and Prince George’s Primaries

“With the Supreme Court ruling on Janus vs. AFSCME expected any day, political engagement by union voters is more important than ever,” said Metro Washington Council president Jackie Jeter in announcing endorsements in upcoming local primaries. “These candidates have proven their commitment to the issues that affect the working men and women of our communities and deserve the full support of the local labor movement.”

The Metro Council released endorsements in the following races: DC Mayor, Council and Attorney General; Montgomery County Council, Prince George’s County Council and Prince George’s County Board of Education.

The Metro Council also endorses Cynthia Collins (SEIU 400) for the PG Democratic Central Committee (At-Large) and Initiative 77 in the District.

District of Columbia
Mayor: Muriel Bowser
District of Columbia City Council – Chairman Candidate: Phil Mendelson
District of Columbia – Attorney General Candidate: Karl Racine
District of Columbia City Council – At-Large Candidate: Anita Bonds
District of Columbia City Council – Ward 1 Candidate: Brianne Nadeau
District of Columbia City Council – Ward 5 Candidate: Kenyon McDuffie
District of Columbia City Council – Ward 6 Candidate: Charles Allen

Prince George’s/Montgomery County
Montgomery County Council At-Large: No Recommendation
Montgomery County Council At-Large: Brandy Brooks
Montgomery County Council At-Large: Danielle Metiv
Montgomery County Council At-Large: Chris Wilhelm
Montgomery County District 001: Jim McGee
Montgomery County District 003: Ben Snyder
Montgomery County District 004: Nancy Navarro
Montgomery County District 005: Tom Hucker

Prince George’s County Council At-Large
Prince George’s County Council At-Large: Gerron Levi
Prince George’s County Council At-Large: Karen Toles
Prince George’s County District 001: Tom Dernoga
Prince George’s County District 002: Deni Tavaras
Prince George’s County District 005: No Recommendation
Prince George’s County District 006: No Recommendation
Prince George’s County District 007: No Recommendation
Prince George’s County District 008: Tony Knotts
Prince George’s County District 009: Sidney Harris

Prince George’s County Board of Education
Prince George’s County District 002: Joshua M. Thomas
Prince George’s County District 003: Juwan Blocker
Prince George’s County District 006: Pat Fletcher
Prince George’s County District 009: Arun Puracken

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This Has to Change

By Adam Pagnucco.

Going into this year’s budget deliberations, the County Council was told two important things.

First, county budget director Jennifer Hughes wrote the following on April 5.

The County Executive’s recommended budget, released on March 15, 2018, closed a $208 million budget gap, raising the cumulative amount of budgetary shortfalls resolved in County Executive Leggett’s proposed budgets to more than $3.7 billion. Due to many economic pressures, the shortfalls between projected budget demands and projected revenues will likely continue into the foreseeable future. Our income tax revenues are projected to grow only modestly and the economic recovery continues to be modest and fitful. Additionally, we have not yet adjusted our revenue projections to reflect the effects of H.R. 1, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA). There will be an impact on our revenues due to TCJA although the magnitude of the impact is uncertain at this time.

Second, the council’s own senior legislative analysts wrote this on April 27.

FY18 tax revenue is now estimated to be $106.1 million below the FY18 approved budget, and $11.1 million below the estimate from December’s estimate. FY19 tax revenue projections are $76.8 million below the FY19 projections made less than one year ago.

So shortfalls “will likely continue into the foreseeable future” because the economic recovery is “modest and fitful.”  The GOP’s federal tax law could be a problem.  And next year is already projected to see a $76.8 million shortfall after this year’s shortfall, which was over $100 million.

Suppose you were an elected official reading that information.  What would you do?  Perhaps you might say, “Wow, things are kind of tight.  We need to cut back a little because if there is a downturn, we are going to have a problem.”

That’s not what happened.  Instead, the council tapped a total of $77.7 million in one-time fund transfers to finance ongoing spending both this year and next year.  Here are the one-shot revenue sources we know about:

$62.4 million in retiree health fund money (for FY18)

$4 million from the Public Election Fund (FY19)

$10.5 million from the Employee Health Benefit Self Insurance Fund (FY19)

$800,000 inter-fund from Park and Planning (FY19)

$77.7 million total

Believe it or not, there could have been more.  There were serious discussions of financing additional spending by tapping into retiree health money a second time.

The council was justified in taking money out of the Public Election Fund since its balance ($11 million) far exceeds the likely total cost of public financing this cycle.  But the $10.5 million transfer out of the county employees’ health insurance fund is problematic since it contains premiums paid by employees in addition to taxpayer money.  A group of employees has already sued to stop such transfers although both the Circuit Court for Montgomery County and the Court of Special Appeals have ruled against them.

This continues a pattern we have written about before: the council’s practice of using one-shot revenues to pay for ongoing spending on top of the Executive’s budget.  The council has used such methods to add many millions to the budget over the years, though it’s hard to tell exactly how much came from one-time sources because their financing methods are not posted along with the items that are added.  As a result, this is all rather opaque even for someone such as your author who used to participate in the council’s budget process.  (Yes, that makes me part of the problem!)

The council might reply by citing the fact that the county has enjoyed a triple-A bond rating for a long time.  That’s true.  There is much to recommend about the county’s financial practices, including its top-notch pension plan funding ratio (currently 92%) and its reserve ratio, now close to ten percent of revenues.  But the bond rating agencies care primarily about one thing: can bond issuers repay their debt?   Because the county contains a subset of very wealthy neighborhoods and has demonstrated a repeated willingness to raise taxes on them (along with the rest of us), we have a pretty low risk of default.  That probably allows us to get away with using band-aids a little more than some other triple-A jurisdictions that have less resources , like Prince George’s.

Ultimately, the bond ratings agencies’ interests are not identical to county residents.  The ratings agencies are perfectly happy to see more tax hikes that go to debt service.  They are less concerned with whether residents get better services to go along with higher taxes.  That’s our business.  And here is what is happening, folks.  The economy is not as great as our elected officials say it is.  Even Ike Leggett’s own budget director says, “the economic recovery continues to be modest and fitful.”  The county is resorting to band-aids, transfers and using money that is supposed to go to health insurance to add more ongoing spending.  Eventually, if it keeps doing such things, those options are going to dry up when the next recession comes.  And if the next downturn is bad enough, there will be three options on the table.

Raise taxes – again

Lay off county employees

Lose the bond rating

This has to change.  We need elected officials who can prioritize spending and exercise restraint now to head off problems later.  If you agree, remember that on Election Day.

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Brooks and Wilhelm Campaign as Team Progressive

By Adam Pagnucco.

Council At-Large candidates Brandy Brooks and Chris Wilhelm, both of whom have been endorsed by numerous progressive organizations, have produced a joint lit piece in which they call themselves #TeamProgressive.  Candidates in public financing, like Brooks and Wilhelm, cannot be members of slate committees.  But nothing in the public financing law prohibits them from producing joint lit with multiple authority lines, as this piece is.  This is the first joint lit piece we have seen in the council at-large race.

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Montgomery’s Undervalued Gem

In votes on the Montgomery County budget, Councilmember Craig Rice expressed deep unhappiness about the process and cuts to the Montgomery College (MC) budget:

Montgomery College’s budget was severely cut which could mean even greater increases in tuition than originally proposed, reductions to strategic programs designed to reduce the achievement gap and eliminate disparities, or reductions in staff pay. And none of these things will help us to address workforce disparities that our community college has been partners with us on fixing for many years…

I can’t speak to the process, though the last time I saw Craig speak out publicly in this way was to defend constituents against George Leventhal’s atrocious behavior on the dais. I also am not knowledgeable to assess MC staff pay.

What I can tell you is that Montgomery College is the least discussed major asset in the county and does far more good than will ever get mentioned. In particular, it does more to promote upward mobility than any other institution.

For starters, it provides an affordable, accessible path to a college education. The idea of taking out ginormous loans to pay for an away-from-home school like UMD understandably scares the bejeezus out of many people who loathe debt and have never seen remotely that much money. It’s also not the most cost effective way to pay for a college education. The cost effectiveness of MC also means that government gets far more bang for its buck in terms of outcomes.

MC makes it possible for students to live at home and pursue degrees at their own pace, commonly while holding down a job to support themselves or help defray the far more affordable cost. Students who earn their associates degree are also then well prepared, if they choose, to pursue a four-year degree at a college like UMD.

Another virtue of many of MC’s educational programs is that they are geared toward obtaining practical skills in various areas that lend themselves to employment immediately upon graduation in fields as diverse as teaching, hotel management, nursing, and cybersecurity. As a result, it provides students with skills that result in higher wage employment and employers with more highly skilled employees, which makes Montgomery a more attractive place to do business.

Additionally, MC provides needed vocational training. Too often, education is talked about in terms of college or nothing. But not everyone wants to or is going to college and a lot of jobs require skills. As anyone who has hired a plumber or had their or A/C unit fixed knows, many non-professional jobs pay a lot better than unskilled labor.

In short, what MC provides is a range of real opportunities for students looking to move up the ladder at an affordable cost to both the students and the government. Ramping up institutions like the University of Maryland has aided the state and DC suburbs enormously. But we should not underrate the role played by Montgomery College is not just training students but also providing many different employers with skilled workers.

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Evan Glass, Watchdog

By Adam Pagnucco.

Council At-Large candidate Evan Glass has sent out a mailer drawing on his journalistic background and saying he will be a watchdog if elected.  We could use a watchdog in the aftermath of the Silver Spring Transit Center fiasco!  We are particularly amused by Glass’s citation of a story on which he worked called “Crooked congressman going to prison.”  We think incoming Council President Nancy Navarro should establish a new council committee to investigate crooked congressmen and make Glass its chair.  It will be the busiest committee at the council by far!

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