Giving Thanks

By Adam Pagnucco.

Today is Thanksgiving, an occasion for celebrating with friends and family and giving thanks.  And we here at Seventh State have many thanks to give.

We are thankful for the reporters, bloggers, troublemakers, rascals, rogues and scalawags who keep our government honest.  And we are thankful to this nation’s founders who created the First Amendment to protect them.

We are thankful for Facebook, which gives us online tirades by politicians available for screen shots.

We are thankful for the liquor monopoly, which gives us a rare county service to complain about.  (Snow plowing season hasn’t started yet.)

We are thankful for public campaign financing, which has helped give us more candidates than can fit in RFK Stadium.

A recent day at the County Board of Elections’ candidate counter.

We are thankful to all the County Council candidates who will shortly be filling out our 72-question questionnaire.  (We are kidding – or so they hope.)

We are thankful to our guest bloggers.  After all, someone has to come up with good content for this site!

We are thankful to David Trone, who has promised to give Total Wine coupons to everyone who votes for him.  (OK, this hasn’t happened, but we are entitled to our fantasies!)

We are thankful to Comptroller Peter Franchot, who is doing everything in his power to help Maryland craft beer connoisseurs.  (His occasional entertaining spats with Senate President Mike Miller are a bonus.)

We are thankful to Council Member Hans Riemer for having the best pair of pants in county politics.  (Not to mention one of the best-looking families of all time!)

We are thankful to everyone who signed the petition to deport Justin Bieber and we hope there is another one.  Perhaps the current President will take action!

We are thankful for Roger Goodell, who might be the only person in pro football worse than Dan Snyder.

We are thankful for Baltimore City State Senator Nathaniel Oaks, who brought back fond memories of Senator Clay Davis.

We are thankful to our many off-the-record sources without whom it would be impossible to understand what the government is doing.  Keep it coming, folks!

We are thankful to the government employees who educate our kids, protect us from crime and provide us with professional, top-notch services every day.  And we are thankful to the private sector employees and business owners who pay for them.

We are thankful for our families and friends, who knock us down when we deserve it and pick us up when we need it.

And most of all, we are thankful to Seventh State readers, who tolerate our dreck and inexplicably come back for more.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Bill Frick: Name One Program You Would Cut

Name one program in the county budget that is not working and can be cut.  Tell us how much in annual savings that would yield.

For too long, Council members have used the County budget as a piggy bank to fund their pet projects and ideas, often ones that could not survive a serious cost/benefit review.

As we reorient County government to be a constituent-consumer focused organization, we can find savings.  For example, the county employs nearly 40 personnel in its 311 call center, despite the dramatic shift in technology away from phone calls and towards electronic communications.  If Montgomery County complemented this with a constituent service app, as exists in neighboring jurisdictions, many constituent services would be routed directly to the relevant agencies instead of going first through bureaucratic call centers, and we could save taxpayer money.

Finally, the County should not be a leader in corporate welfare.  I would end our tax credits for investors, money that goes from everyday taxpayers straight to the pockets of wealthy investors, often to reward them for making investments they would have made regardless.  This is a fight I led at the state level as the architect of the Tax Credit Evaluation Act, legislation to spotlight and reform our runaway subsidies, and by going toe-to-toe with Hollywood to make sure our tax dollars were being spent productively.

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Roger Berliner: Name One Program You Would Cut

Name one program in the county budget that is not working and can be cut.  Tell us how much in annual savings that would yield.

I have been a leading proponent of trying to find ways that our county could operate more efficiently.  Working with the County Executive, I was the lead sponsor of legislation that created the Organizational Reform Commission, led by a diverse and talented group of citizens to identify ways we could make our county government more efficient.  However, at the end of the day, while there were steps we were able to take that made our county government more efficient, direct dollar savings were not significant.

I have for years argued that the County Executive should move to what is known as “zero based budgeting”.  What is zero based budgeting?  “Zero-based budgeting is a repeatable process that organizations use to rigorously review every dollar in the annual budget, manage financial performance on a monthly basis, and build a culture of cost management among all employees.”  That would be my goal as County Executive.

In addition to rigorous scrutiny of costs, there are initiatives that you don’t readily think of that can produce cost savings – initiatives like having our county buy 100% renewable power and putting solar on our county rooftops.  Those initiatives alone will save many millions of dollars going forward.  Sometimes doing the right thing actually can save taxpayer dollars!

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Raising Money in Public Financing Takes a Long Time

By Adam Pagnucco.

Former Council Member Phil Andrews’s public financing system is in use for the first time during this election cycle.  It has already changed MoCo’s political landscape, with 33 county candidates – a majority of those running – so far enrolled.  It’s a bit early to say exactly how it will impact specific races, but two facts about the system are starting to become clear.

It’s cumbersome to use.  And candidates who use it need a long time to raise money.

We have already written about the burdensome administrative aspects of the system, especially in demonstrating residency of contributors.  (The system only provides matching public funds for in-county individual contributions of up to $150 each.)  An additional difficulty is meeting the thresholds for triggering eligibility for matching funds.  In order to collect matching funds, Executive candidates must receive contributions from 500 in-county residents totaling at least $40,000; at-large council candidates must receive contributions from 250 in-county residents totaling at least $20,000; and district council candidates must receive contributions from 125 in-county residents totaling at least $10,000.

So far, just seven of 33 participating candidates have reached the thresholds for public matching funds.  Council District 1 candidate Reggie Oldak was the fastest to qualify, hitting the threshold in 112 days.  But Oldak is a district candidate, meaning that her threshold is the lowest, and her district is the county’s wealthiest with the greatest concentration of political contributors.  At-large council candidate Hoan Dang hit his threshold in 148 days, barely beating out Bill Conway (155 days).  Council Members Marc Elrich and George Leventhal, who are running for Executive, needed more than 200 days each to qualify despite having large donor bases going back many years.

Then there are the other 26 candidates who have not yet qualified.  Six of them have been running for more than 200 days.  (District 4 incumbent Nancy Navarro will only be eligible to receive matching public funds if she gets an opponent.)  Eleven more have been running for at least 100 days.  Many of the non-qualifiers have been working hard for months.  It’s just tough to meet the thresholds.

Why is it taking so long to get matching funds?  One reason is that Andrews, the system’s architect, did not design the system to be easy.  He explicitly intended that public dollars only go to candidates who were viable in the sense that they had actual grass-roots support.  Another reason is the nature of fundraising itself.  Candidates who raise money turn to families and close friends first; past contributors next (if they have run before); then extended networks of professional connections, acquaintances and supporters’ networks; and finally complete strangers.  As each network gets further away from the candidate, the marginal difficulty of raising dollars increases.  In a public financing context, the first fifty contributions are easier than the next fifty, which in turn are easier than the fifty after that.  The last few contributions to reach the threshold are the hardest to get.

At-large candidate Danielle Meitiv has been working to hit the threshold with a video on Facebook.

Similar observations can be made about traditional fundraising with this exception: the private system has no single trigger that activates a stream of cash all at once.  The candidates in public financing will be weeded into two groups: the ones who get matching funds and the ones who don’t.  The latter group will be doomed to failure.

There’s one more lesson here for candidates: don’t get into a race late and expect to raise lots of money quickly through public financing.  Even if you have a history of donors going back more than a decade like Elrich and Leventhal, the public system is not built for speed.  If you are a late starter, chances are you will need either traditional fundraising or self-financing to close the gap and have a chance to win.

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Committee for Montgomery Breakfast to Feature Candidates for Governor

Following is the press release from Committee for Montgomery.

Politics for Breakfast

Maryland Candidates for Governor to Serve Up Buffet of Answers

Media Contacts:
Adam Pagnucco
acp1629@hotmail.com
Jim Neustadt
neustadtjim@gmail.com

Bethesda – November 16, 2017 – It’s time for the Maryland 2018 Governor’s race to start cooking. On December 14th, 2017 the state’s candidates for Governor will dine and then digest many of the controversial issues of the day at the Committee for Montgomery’s (CfM) Annual Legislative Breakfast at the Bethesda North Marriott Conference Center.

Who:  Candidates for Governor
What: One-Hour Panel Discussion
When: December 14, 2017, 7am-10am
Where: Bethesda North Marriott Conference Center, 5701 Marinelli Rd, North Bethesda, MD 20852

Moderator: Josh Kurtz, Founder and Editor of Maryland Matters

Confirmed Participants:

  • Rushern Baker, Prince George’s County Executive
  • Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, Founder, Global Policy Solutions
  • Ben Jealous, Former President/CEO, NAACP
  • Kevin Kamenetz, Baltimore County Executive
  • Rich Madaleno, State Senator, Montgomery County (District 18)
  • Alec Ross, Former Senior Adviser, U.S. State Department
  • Jim Shea, Former Chair, Venable LLP
  • Krishanti Vignarajah, Former Policy Director, First Lady Michelle Obama

Invited Participant:

  • Larry Hogan, Governor

With a board made up of leaders from business, non-profit, labor, education and civic organizations, Committee for Montgomery formed more than twenty five years ago to encourage recognition that all residents of the County share common interests and needs that can be met through sound public policy. CfM works with elected officials at the State level of government to enact those policies. “This forum provides an early look at the candidates as the election is now just seven months away,” says CfM’s Chair, Marilyn Balcombe.  “This is a great opportunity to see all of the candidates in one setting.”

Josh Kurtz, the Founder and Editor of the fast growing political website, Maryland Matters, is the moderator. “The Committee for Montgomery Annual Legislative Breakfast is a powerhouse event, so it’s not surprising that the candidates for Governor want to be there, says Kurtz.  “It’s early in the campaign and they’re refining their messages, so it ought to be illuminating and fun.”

Members of the media are invited. Details regarding credentials, parking, access to candidates and other logistics will be relayed to you in the week prior to the event.

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George Leventhal: Name One Program You Would Cut

Name one program in the county budget that is not working and can be cut.  Tell us how much in annual savings that would yield.

I will work diligently with the Office of Management and Budget, and with every department, to find savings and process improvements if I am elected to lead this government. I understand the mission of every county department. I have low tolerance for redundancy. I am prepared to prioritize, and to say no to additional spending where saying no is warranted. One place we could start is by looking at how the county provides health care to its employees.

Montgomery County will spend $245 million in FY2018 on employee health coverage. In 2011, I commissioned a Task Force on Employee Wellness and Agency Consolidation, which recommended adoption of an employee wellness program. It took the Leggett administration until 2015 to get the program fully up and running. Between 2017 and 2018, health claims dropped by $3 million, although it is not clear this is statistically significant, or directly caused by participation in employee wellness programs. I am confident that continued implementation of employee wellness efforts will lead to continued reduction in utilization of health benefits, and increased savings.

The task force also recommended consolidating procurement of employee health coverage between county government, the school system and Montgomery College. The school system and the college have declined to adopt this recommendation. School employee unions feared their members might lose their more favorable benefits. However, the county’s Office of Human Resources already administers health benefits among different bargaining units, and could easily administer health benefits for school system and college employees, resulting in substantial overhead savings, and savings from group purchasing. I will continue to advocate for unified administration of health benefits among all three agencies.

Additional overhead savings, and efficiencies from volume purchasing, could also be achieved by consolidating procurement of all goods and services for county government, MCPS and Montgomery College in a single office.

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Marc Elrich: Name One Program You Would Cut

  1. Name one program in the county budget that is not working and can be cut. Tell us how much in annual savings that would yield.

While there’s no one program we could cut that would produce enough savings to fund the education, transportation, and other investments the county needs, I want to explain how I would take a different approach to how the county makes budget decisions.

Montgomery County faces enormous economic and fiscal challenges: slow job growth, federal budget cuts, an aging population, poverty and its attendant social costs, inadequate infrastructure, and rising school enrollment.  Revenue projections indicate that just maintaining current services will continue to be a challenge, not to mention dealing with the costs necessary to address some of the critical unmet needs facing us.  We have to find ways to maintain the services our residents expect while addressing challenges that can impact our quality of life.

The next County Executive will need to get as much value as possible from every tax dollar, and the only way to do that is to bring a new way of thinking to how we spend our $5 billion budget.  While that’s easier said than done, my record shows I can deliver.  During my first term on the County Council, for example, I recognized that the proposed renovation of the Circuit Courthouse had morphed into an incredibly expensive total replacement.  The project didn’t make sense.  I challenged the assumptions behind the change and I ultimately helped save the county tens of millions of dollars by demonstrating that a renovation could be done much more efficiently.

If elected, my team will move away from the county’s traditional budgeting approach, which starts with last year’s spending and adjusts it incrementally.  We won’t balance budgets with across-the-board cuts that punish good programs and protect poor performers.

Our budgets will instead be built from the ground up to achieve the outcomes residents want, such as closing the opportunity gap, reducing commute times, making housing more affordable, and improving public safety.  We will work to foster a culture of innovation, cooperation, creativity, and transparency so we can move away from a “this is how we’ve always done it” mindset into a model of continuous improvement.

What does that mean?  We will work with our employees, nonprofit partners, and our customers – both residents and businesses – to ensure that our service delivery follows best practices and meets our customers’ expectations.  We will insist on accountability and make funding decisions based on performance.  We will publish an annual report, available to everyone, showing how tax dollars were spent, the measurable progress we are making toward our outcomes, and where we need to do better.

I have no doubt that, by realigning work to reflect best practices, insisting on performance accountability, and creating a culture of teamwork, we can operate existing programs more efficiently.  Doing so will allow us to pivot existing human and capital resources to better address the challenges facing us.

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Elrich: Without Rent Control, Purple Line Will Cause “Ethnic Cleansing”

By Adam Pagnucco.

In response to a question about just cause eviction and rent control at the Progressive Neighbors County Executive forum, Council Member Marc Elrich stated that the Purple Line would cause “ethnic cleansing” without a rent control law.  Elrich said:

I support rent stabilization and I think we need to be honest with ourselves about this.  If we throw up our hands about this and say the market will determine the price of housing and the market alone will determine that, then we are going to wipe out neighborhood after neighborhood in Montgomery County.  If you did that, then if you did not put rent stabilization around the Purple Line stops, for example, then the neighborhoods around the Purple Line will not continue to exist.  They will be bought, they will be repurposed and they will go to other people.

When we did the Long Branch plan, and Park and Planning came in and said we want to rezone all the existing housing in Long Branch, I accused the Planning Board of ethnic cleansing.  And I said some people do it with the gun, you guys are doing it with the pen but the truth is those folks would be gone and they would be gone forever…

Elrich’s remarks begin at the 2:29 mark of this video taken by Ryan Miner.

Disclosure: Your author is a long-time supporter of the Purple Line and is a publicly listed supporter of Council Member Roger Berliner for Executive.

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