Busting Three Metro Myths

The six graphs – one for each Maryland branch of the Metro – in today’s post reveal the ridership figures for all Maryland Metro stops from 2005 through 2016. They’re not encouraging either for the health of the system or cherished myths around it.

Transit Always Heralds Urbanism

“If you build it, they will come.” Usually not. In Maryland, only three stops have become high traffic urban nodes: Bethesda, Silver Spring and Friendship Heights – the latter is shared with the District. The other 24 stops have not witnessed remotely this level of impressive urban development or Metro ridership. Outside the urban three, the highest ridership occurs mainly at end-of-the-line commuter stops, such as Shady Grove, Greenbelt and New Carrolton.

Transit advocates and developers are both very attached to this myth. The former because they believe fervently in transit. Developers like it because they are permitted to build far more when transit is built, which allows them to make a lot more money even if nobody ever rides it. Proximity to transit also raises the value of their property at somebody else’s expense.

The uncomfortable truth is that no nodes similar to Bethesda or Silver Spring – or Ballston or Rosslyn – have emerged in Prince George’s County. Leaving aside the terminus stops, ridership is not very high and certainly not growing. And the terminus stops have seen more precipitous declines than in Montgomery – 34% at New Carrollton, 21% at Greenbelt, and 20% at Branch Avenue.

Thriving Urbanism Heralds More Transit Riders

Not necessarily. Bethesda, Friendship Heights and Silver Spring have continued to grow yet ridership has declined. In 2016, all three served many fewer riders than at their peak – 15% in Bethesda, 17% in Silver Spring, and 20% in Friendship Heights.

Transit is a positive for these areas but it’s only one factor among many. It’s not that smart growth or new urbanism is totally off base. The focus on transit may lead to overestimation of its importance to successful development. Density and the mixture of residential and commercial looks more crucial to their continued success. It’s why places like the Kentlands thrive even though they’re nowhere near Metro.

There is little sign that less intense development around Metro stations other than the big three has increased ridership either. Throughout the Maryland portion of the system, ridership has tended to stay flat or decline. Remember that this has occurred despite population increases in both Prince George’s and Montgomery.

Declining Ridership is Temporary

Two major excuses are given for Metro’s declining ridership: the financial crisis and Metro’s “temporary” maintenance backlog. At this point, the former explains little as the recession is over and the population is now higher, so Metro should have more riders. The latter is belied by the similar decline in Metro’s bus ridership. Moreover, SafeTrack will not bring the system back to tip-top condition but simply prevent its complete collapse, as General Manager Paul Wiedefeld has been at pains to point out.

The wheel of technological change is driving changes in transportation patterns fast. Increasing numbers of jobs can be done via telecommuting. Competition from services like Uber and Lyft are remaking the taxi industry and attracting many new riders. Every price increase in Metro or its parking lots only makes them more competitive – and the price of both is likely to head up.

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Doug Duncan Endorses Andrew Friedson in District 1

Former Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan has endorsed Council District 1 candidate Andrew Friedson.  Following is Friedson’s press release.

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Friedson Endorsed by County Executive Doug Duncan

Three-Term Exec. Calls Friedson “Forward-Focused Leader with a Proven Track Record”

Bethesda, Md. – Former Three-Term County Executive Douglas M. Duncan announced his endorsement of Andrew Friedson in the highly competitive Montgomery County Council, District One race.

“Andrew Friedson is a change-maker and a problem solver, a homegrown leader who knows how to bring together the public and private sectors to actually get things done,” Duncan said. “When our community’s growing needs continue to exceed our revenues, and as Montgomery County families are being squeezed with rising living and childcare costs and stagnant wages, we need someone with Andrew’s experience effectively holding government agencies accountable, scrutinizing public spending, and helping grow small business jobs. In rapidly changing times, we need new leaders, with new perspectives, and new ideas on the County Council. Andrew Friedson is that forward-focused leader with a proven track record, and I am thrilled to endorse him for Montgomery County Council in District One.”

Following the endorsement, Mr. Duncan and his wife Barbara are hosting a birthday fundraiser on January 9th in Bethesda to support Friedson’s campaign, along with Comptroller Peter Franchot, Senators Brian Feldman and Craig Zucker, former Congressman C. Thomas McMillen, and former Maryland Democratic Party Chair, Susan Turnbull, in addition to a large host committee of well-known community leaders. Along with the endorsement of the former County Executive, Friedson’s campaign has been noted for its fast start and impressive following on social media since he formally filed for the seat on October 5.

A lifelong Montgomery County resident and University of Maryland graduate, Friedson attended Wayside, Hoover and Churchill public schools. He spent the past six years as Senior Policy Advisor, Deputy Chief of Staff and Division Director for the Comptroller of Maryland where he focused on making government more effective, efficient and responsive, and previously oversaw a complete restructuring of Maryland’s $6 billion 529 college savings program. Friedson currently serves as Chair of the Montgomery County Collaboration Council for Children, Youth and Families, recently served on Maryland’s Small Business Development Financing Authority, and was a driving force behind a new state program which launched this fall to provide financial security and independence for Marylanders with disabilities.

Duncan currently serves as President and CEO of Leadership Greater Washington. In addition to his decorated 12-year tenure as Montgomery County’s top elected official, he also co-founded a continuous advisory services firm for state and local governments, was Vice President for Administrative Affairs at the University of Maryland College Park, was a National Account Manager for AT&T, and served as Mayor of Rockville.

For details on Andrew Friedson’s January 9th Birthday Bash, please visit http://ow.ly/k17t30h6GLW. For more information on the Friedson campaign, please visit andrewfriedson.com or http://www.facebook.com/andrewfriedson.

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Contact:

Johanna Berkson

johanna@andrewfriedson.com

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Maryland Delegate Questions Criticism of Roy Moore

By Adam Pagnucco.

In a Facebook post in the wake of Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore’s defeat, a Maryland GOP Delegate is questioning those who have criticized Moore’s history with teenage girls and the actions of other sexual harassers.  That history was key to Moore’s loss.

Republican Delegate Jason Buckel (R-1B), who represents Allegany County, wrote on Facebook:

I’ve not said a word about the Alabama Senate election or the swirling world of accusations, admissions, rumors and varying degrees of bad behavior by men– from the clearly criminal to the truly appalling to the unambiguous acts of poor taste to the fairly innocuous and easily overblown. I think that trying to litigate in the court of public opinion what did or did not happen 20, 30, 40 or more years ago in momentary, fleeting encounters or relationships and then view those allegations through the light of modern prism, as opposed to the conventions and norms of the time in which they occurred, is fraught with danger, although clearly rape, physical sexual assault, and pervasive, consistent, degrading sexual harassment have never been and never could be acceptable under any circumstances at any time by anyone.

Buckel went on to praise the policies of the Trump administration while bashing Steve Bannon, Moore and other GOP candidates.

In a comment later on his post, Buckel said, “But who knows – While girls Roy Moore stopped by a mall to say hi to 40 years ago are national figures, 99.9% of Americans have no idea who Doug Jones is and chances are his senatorial career will be exceedingly brief.”

Let’s review the allegations against Moore.  His first accuser, Leigh Corfman, described how he sexually assaulted her when he was 32 and she was 14.  Another woman, Beverly Young Nelson, said Moore locked her in a car and tried to force her into oral sex when she was 16.  Six of the eight women who came forward were under the age of 18 at the time that Moore pursued them.  These incidents were not in keeping with the “conventions and norms of the time” as the girls and their families were disturbed by Moore’s actions and he was banned from stalking girls at the Gadsden Mall.

Right now, there is a national debate going on about differing degrees of sexual misconduct and what levels of punishment are appropriate.  That debate will be playing out for a while before it is settled – IF it’s settled.  But the allegations about Moore’s behavior with teenage girls are far outside the boundaries of any gray areas, past or present.  He was not “saying hi” as Buckel stated above.  Elected officials who appear to make excuses for the likes of Moore should beware the voters next November.

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Enviro Early Endorsements for General Assembly

By Adam Pagnucco.

Yesterday, the Maryland League of Conservation Voters (LCV) released its early endorsements for General Assembly.  We present them along with the early endorsements recently issued by the Maryland Sierra Club below.

First, let’s look at early endorsements for the Senate.

All early endorsees for Senate are Democratic incumbents with two exceptions: LCV-backed Delegates Ben Kramer (D-19) and Pam Beidle (D-32), who should have little problem winning their party nominations for open seats.  In general, the Sierra Club has endorsed fewer candidates so far.  Both organizations took passes on several contested Senate races.  They notably declined to support Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee Chair Joan Carter Conway (D-43), who is being challenged by Delegate Mary Washington.  However, both of them did support Senator Shirley Nathan-Pulliam (D-44), who is being challenged by SEIU leader Aletheia McCaskill.

Now let’s look at the House.

Again, all the early endorsees are Democratic incumbents and the Sierra Club supported fewer of them.  Many of the incumbents who have not yet been endorsed are appointees who have not served for three full sessions, like Montgomery County Delegates Pam Queen (D-14) and Jheanelle Wilkins (D-20) and Baltimore City Delegate Robbyn Lewis (D-46).

Let’s remember that both of these organizations will be issuing more endorsements in the future.  Several incumbents who don’t appear on these lists now could be endorsed in the next few months.  Open seat candidates will also earn support.  And the endorsement decisions in the contested Senate races, especially in the City of Baltimore, will be very interesting.  We will be watching!

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It’s Time for Accountable, Engaged and Strong Leadership

By Hoan Dang, Candidate for Montgomery County Council (At-Large).

Life was not easy for me when I came to this country. I was only eight years old when I fled the Vietnam War with my family.  Our journey to America began with living in refugee camps, and then in a crammed two-bedroom apartment with 18 other family members.  But my parents worked hard to save up, and eventually settled in Bethesda.  At first, I thought anywhere was better than what I had previously experienced. But it soon became clear that Montgomery County was a special place.

What Montgomery County had to offer us was priceless. The county had families like the Kreckes and the Gustafsons, our neighbors who did not hesitate to welcome us and help us adapt to our new life in America. The county had a strong public education system because I had MCPS teachers who invested in my future even though English wasn’t my first language. The county also had unparalleled opportunities for me to volunteer in my community. In the spring of 1979, I joined the Boy Scouts of America, and eventually, I became an Eagle Scout, which was when I first felt empowered to give back to the community that had given so much to me and my family.  These experiences, which had a profound impact on my life, embody the progressive values of Montgomery County.

Since leading my first community service project, I have worked hard to uplift our county’s diverse communities for the past 35 years. My public service brought me to work with many others who had stories similar to mine.  As former President and Board Chair of the Association of Vietnamese Americans (AVA), I led efforts to resettle over 25,000 refugees and immigrants who needed to secure housing, obtain jobs, prepare for U.S. citizenship tests, and apply for services from government agencies. As a product of our great education system myself, I believe in the importance of investing in students, which is why I have served on the board of the George B. Thomas, Sr. Learning Academy for the past 16 years. During my tenure, the Academy’s flagship Saturday school program has academically uplifted over 3,000 students annually at 12 different locations across Montgomery County.

Now, I’m running at-large because I want to ensure that our county remains a safe and welcoming community, with better opportunities for all residents. Montgomery County is a great place to live and work, but we are also facing challenges that demand innovative solutions in local government. The county’s population has almost doubled in the past 40 years, leading to overcrowded schools, horrible traffic congestion, and higher taxes for our residents. With the real threat of shrinking resources from the federal government and a slow-growing economy right here at home, we need a leader on the County Council who has a vision for a better Montgomery County.

My vision for our county is a safe and welcoming community, with a booming economy, excellent schools and a fast transportation system, where residents are empowered to better their lives and the lives of others. To achieve this vision, as your next County Councilmember At-Large, I will focus on three main priorities: jobs, education and transportation – which I refer to as “J-E-T”.

Jobs

We must collaborate with small businesses to ensure they receive the critical services, information, and guidance needed to help them grow and create well-paying jobs here in Montgomery County. Job creation is stagnant in our county with projections of just 1% annual growth over the next decade. To stimulate growth, we must change how our county works with business owners to promote entrepreneurship and create well-paying jobs. We can start by changing how our county departments engage with businesses for inquiries, permits and regulatory compliance. Over 70 percent of Montgomery County businesses ranked their interaction with county government as either “average” or “poor” in a recent survey conducted by the County Executive’s Economic Advisory Group. Montgomery County should be a leader in improving interactions with business by making procedures less complex and easier to understand, so that businesses can grow and employ more people. I support many of the regulations the county has in place to protect the environment, workers and our communities, but we can also improve these regulations to better engage the business community.

We must also do a better job at promoting our county as an ideal place to do business. Here in Montgomery County, we enjoy a high quality of life, great public schools and excellent public amenities. We also have one of the educated and most diverse workforces with a high number of workers who hold college degrees, many of whom speak a second language. All of these attributes are attractive to prospective companies and crucial for our county to succeed in a 21st century economy. We have a great story to tell about Montgomery County, but we need to do a better job of telling it.

Education

Our children need to be prepared for the 21st century workforce. This starts by addressing the overcrowding in schools across the county, by leasing and re-purposing unused commercial space for schools, early childhood education programs, and distance learning.  Several jurisdictions across the country (not to mention the world) have already begun using this model, including Fairfax County in Virginia, which recently completed the conversion of a vacant office building into Bailey’s Upper Elementary School. With an office vacancy rate of over 14 percent in the County, I believe there is great potential for an adaptive reuse of these spaces.

Additionally, we need to make universal pre-k a reality in Montgomery County. Publicly funded pre-k is available to only 25 percent of all 4-year-old children who live in the County. Trends have shown pre-k education has enormous positive impacts on children, especially for those who come from multi-lingual households.

Finally, we need to bring more vocational programs to MCPS to give students more exposure to different career paths such as medical science, construction, and auto repair. Vocational careers are just as vital as careers that require a four-year college degree to our local economy and communities.

Transportation

We need to reduce traffic congestion and increase transportation options by taking a comprehensive and holistic approach to our transportation infrastructure. We need to invest in all transportation modes including trains, buses, roads, bike lanes, sidewalks and everything in-between, including promoting remote work options.

We must also support and invest in transportation models that fit the needs of the individual community. The transportation needs in Clarksburg are not the same as the needs in Bethesda, which is why we must consider all available options to reduce traffic congestion. Studies have shown that every dollar spent on infrastructure boosts the economy by two dollars because such investments encourage more businesses to invest and stimulate economic development.  One of the most basic responsibilities of government is to ensure people get from point A to point B quickly and safely. I will make it a priority to fulfill that responsibility to residents across the county.

For the past decades, Montgomery County has been served well by a progressive and forward-looking County Council. However, many residents still face intractable and difficult problems, which require new perspectives and approaches in local government to address those problems.  I am committed to bring strong, engaged, and accountable leadership to the County Council and work with our communities as an equal partner for change. That’s the kind of leadership I want to bring as your next Montgomery County Councilmember, At-Large, and why I respectfully ask for your support and your vote on June 26, 2018.

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Is MoCo’s Budget in Trouble?

By Adam Pagnucco.

Montgomery County’s $120 million budget shortfall has set off political fireworks this election season, including attacks from Delegate Bill Frick (D-16), who is running for Executive, and Republicans who question how taxes could be going up while revenues are going down.  County Council incumbents pooh-pooh it, insisting that the budget decline is unremarkable and the economy is strong.  County Executive spokesman Patrick Lacefield, who once predicted that any loss of the county’s $30 million in liquor profits would cause a big property tax hike, now says that the $120 million shortfall is “pretty small” at just 2.2 percent of the county’s budget.

What is going on here?  Is MoCo’s budget in trouble?

First, the incumbents are right to point out that mid-year corrections, including budget savings plans, are not uncommon.  Between FY08 and FY11, the County Council approved five mid-year cut packages ranging from $30 million to $70 million each due to the Great Recession.  In FY16, the council approved a $54 million savings plan associated with the U.S. Supreme Court’s Wynne decision and disappointing income tax receipts in the prior year.  While mid-year cuts happen occasionally, it’s important to note that their history indicates that they are often – but not always – produced by looming economic problems.

So what’s causing this one?  No one is totally sure yet, but there seems to be two phenomena at work.

Declining Income Tax Payments from the Wealthy

In Maryland, the state collects income taxes on behalf of local governments and remits them in periodic distributions.  Part of MoCo’s problem originated in its November income tax distribution from the state, which includes extension filers who tend to be disproportionately very wealthy.  It’s difficult to forecast income tax payments from wealthy people because their dependence on capital gains and business income can be volatile.  The chart below from the state’s Bureau of Revenue Estimates contrasts the annual change in average federal adjusted gross income between all MoCo taxpayers (pink bars) and the top 100 MoCo taxpayers (blue line).  Income change for all taxpayers usually varies by single digits each year while income for the super-wealthy almost always varies by double digits.  This creates serious forecasting challenges for the county government since the super-wealthy have a material impact on its budget.

One relevant fact is that the November distribution may be down by 29% in MoCo but, according to the state, it is also down by 30% in Howard County and 26% in Baltimore County.  One thing these three jurisdictions have in common is that they all have substantial concentrations of very wealthy people.  That suggests that some of MoCo’s problem is not specific to the county but rather to variations in the incomes of the super rich.

Why is this happening?  One explanation lies in capital gains income.  Council analyst Jacob Sesker writes:

To a large degree, that volatility is the result of the year-to-year variations in the capital gains income of a small number of County residents. Illustrating this point, part of the projected FY18 decline in income tax revenue can be traced to a sharp drop in the capital gains of the County’s top 50 taxpayers, who realized gains in tax year 2016 that were 50% of the gains realized in tax year 2015, resulting in $21 million less in County income tax revenue (Revenue Administration Division of the Maryland Comptroller). Staff’s review of tax return data published by the Comptroller indicates that roughly 1.8% of Montgomery County returns report income of $500,000 or greater. On average, these returns explain more than half of any year-to-year increases in income tax revenue, and explain more than 100% of any year-to-year declines in income tax revenue.

Another factor could be the tax bills being considered by Congress, which contain numerous large cuts for wealthy individuals and corporations.  The super wealthy could be deferring capital gains and business pass-through income to next year when they would be subject to significantly lower rates.  If true, that would mean less income tax revenue this year but perhaps more next year when the deferred income is reported.  That’s just a theory but it can’t be ruled out.

Broader Economic Weakness

There are other facts that can’t be explained by the tax planning of the super wealthy.  First, FY17 (the year of the 9% property tax hike) closed out with $25 million less than expected.  Second, the county is writing down $206 million over the next six years in property taxes, energy taxes, transfer taxes, recordation taxes, telephone taxes and hotel taxes in addition to a $212 million income tax writedown.  The energy tax revision alone is $100 million over six years.  The reason for that is unclear, but it’s worth remembering that since commercial energy users pay roughly double the tax rates of residential users, some assumptions regarding employer energy use may be operative here.  It seems unlikely that a “strong economy” would produce such broad, multi-tax writedowns of the kind just put forth by the county.

What’s the bottom line?  Over the years, we have learned that under most circumstances, economic trends usually matter more than singular events.  One good year should not cause irrational exuberance and one bad tax distribution should not cause panic.  Whether the recent shortfall turns out to be meaningful or not, MoCo’s serious budgetary challenges are long term in nature.  They relate to decade-plus trends of lagging growth in employment and income, repeated funding of ongoing spending with one-time revenue sources and the county’s recent passage of large tax hikes and expensive employment laws at the same time, a unique combination among Washington-area jurisdictions.  That is on top of any targeting of Maryland and general economic insanity by Congress.  The big question is not about one tax distribution from the state but whether a combination of all these long-term factors will catch up with MoCo in a really bad way in the next couple years.

That’s a question for the next Executive and County Council.

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Budget Cuts and Hunger in Montgomery County

Today, Seventh State is pleased to present a guest post by Manna Food Center CEO Jackie DeCarlo. Manna is a nonprofit dedicated to ending hunger in Montgomery County through food distribution, education and advocacy.

The holiday season is upon us, which means hunger relief organizations all over Maryland are welcoming an uptick in volunteerism and donations. While the individuals who organize food drives, pick up and deliver food, and volunteer at food pantries are critical to addressing hunger in our communities, their efforts will be undermined if threats to our social safety net currently working their way through Congress come to fruition.

Specifically, the federal tax plan headed for passage—and cuts to vital programs like the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Programs (SNAP) that will likely accompany the price tag for that plan—will cause more Marylanders to tumble further into the kind of poverty that comes with inevitable hunger.

Even though Maryland is the wealthiest state in the nation, one in eight households struggles against hunger and programs like SNAP improve the lives of those neighbors on a daily basis. In Montgomery County, one of the richest counties in our state, one in three of our schoolchildren is food insecure, and there are large pockets where high unemployment and poverty rates prevail. Every day at Manna Food Center, we see the value of SNAP and other social safety net mainstays such as housing assistance programs and low-income tax credits.

A case in point is Sasha, a woman Manna has had the honor to serve. Sasha immigrated to the United States ten years ago, married and had a child, then was forced to leave an abusive husband. She didn’t have a job and found it hard to provide for her children, but the food she received from Manna helped her make it through an incredibly difficult time in her life, and eventually stand on her own.

There are countless stories like Sasha’s, which is why it so upsetting to see the budget Congress is debating on the heels of untested approaches to tax “reform.” Cuts being considered would likely cause millions of Americans to tumble further into the kind of poverty that comes with inevitable hunger. Regardless of political affiliation, there seems to be agreement that more responsibility is falling to local governments and local businesses.

Already in Montgomery County, our local government is trying to do its part to address hunger and poverty. This year, elected leaders worked with the food assistance community to develop a five-year strategy to reduce the number of food insecure neighbors by 22 percent. The plan aims to address the root causes of poverty and economic disparities through programs such as workforce training and youth skills building that ensure no one is left out of our county’s rapid development and growing prosperity.

The council also recently passed, and the County Executive signed, legislation securing a $15 minimum wage, a great step toward giving people financial autonomy – and one Governor Hogan should emulate so all of the state’s low-wage workers can enjoy a boost in earning. Even with those positive measures, however, the reality is that the minimum wage increase won’t be enough to raise people out of poverty, and none of our local government’s commendable plans amount to a silver bullet that will end hunger.

Therefore, the commitment of the local business community will also be required. Food businesses, in particular, can play an important role in alleviating hunger throughout Maryland. Through Manna’s Community Food Rescue network, Montgomery County farms, grocers, food service companies and restaurants donate unsold and surplus food that gets matched through an app and delivered by volunteers to food assistance organizations. In its first two years, the CFR network has recovered more than 2.3 million pounds of food—the equivalent of 1.9 million meals. As more businesses recognize the importance of getting food to people who need it, instead of to the landfill, the potential impact of food recovery programs here and across the state is tremendous.

Even with these positive local steps, ending hunger and poverty will be impossible without strong federal programs like SNAP, which helps ensure low-income families have enough to eat. SNAP benefits equal about $1.40 per person per meal, and if the budget passes with proposed SNAP reductions, food assistance organizations won’t be able to fill the gap.

While we have many reasons to be grateful this holiday season, I am concerned about what we stand to lose. The commitment of volunteers and donors who do their part to end hunger in communities nationwide must be matched by the commitment of businesses and, especially, policymakers at all levels of government. Rather than watching idly as a tax plan that does significant harm to those in greatest need gets passed, our local and state leaders should emphatically convey to Congress and the administration that their recklessness is unacceptable, and they will fight for the preservation of our social safety net.

Jackie DeCarlo is the CEO of Manna Food Center, a nonprofit dedicated to ending hunger in Montgomery County through food distribution, education and advocacy.

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Gabe Albornoz Qualifies for Matching Funds

The following is a press release from Gabe Albornoz’s campaign for an at-large seat on the Montgomery County Council:

Press Release:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Gabe Albornoz Reaches Matching Funds Threshold for At-Large County Council Race

Kensington, MD – Gabe Albornoz, a Democratic candidate for an At-Large seat on the Montgomery County Council, announced that he had received over $20,000 and 250 contributions from Montgomery County residents. Albornoz’s campaign will be qualified to receive matching funds from the Montgomery County Public Campaign Financing Program upon certification by the Maryland State Board of Elections.

“I’m humbled and honored to receive this support. The Campaign Finance Program is working and has ensured that Montgomery County residents set the tone of our politics. I’m pleased that our campaign is playing a role in democratizing our county’s politics to give more power to people,” Albornoz said.

“I am very pleased to hear that Gabe has achieved this important milestone in his campaign. He has earned a reputation for strong leadership, collaboration and commitment to public service, which is why I’m happy to endorse his campaign,” said Councilmember Nancy Navarro.

At-Large candidates for County Council must receive at least 250 qualifying contributions, totaling at least $20,000, in order to qualify for a public financing, according to a law previously passed by the Council. Only contributions of up to $150 per election cycle from Montgomery County residents qualify for matching funds. Candidates in the program cannot accept any contributions from special interest groups, businesses, political action committees, unions, or political parties. Participating candidates are eligible to receive up to $250,000 in matching funds during the primary and general election campaigns.

“We are grateful to Gabe’s many supporters and their confidence in him to represent them as a member of the County Council. Gabe’s message of optimism for Montgomery County has been enthusiastically received,” said Campaign Chairman Chuck Short.

Albornoz is a lifelong Montgomery County resident and a past Chairman of the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee. He is the current Director of the Montgomery County Recreation Department. He was appointed to that role by County Executive Ike Leggett in January 2007.

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Lost in Potomac: Stuart Rothenberg Eviscerates the Trone Campaign

National Political Pundit Stuart Rothenberg wrote a devastating account of his meeting David Trone:

Maryland Democrat David Trone, who is running for Congress in the 6th Congressional District, came to my Potomac community to talk about his candidacy – and he brought plenty of wine for residents to sample while they chatted with neighbors before turning their attention to the candidate. . . .

What made all the politicking odd is that my community is not in the 6th District but rather in the 8th, currently represented by Democrat Jamie Raskin, who beat Trone in the Democratic primary last year. In other words, Trone touted his credentials, talked about his views and supplied wine to a roomful of people who could not vote for him next year.

Oops.

But it gets even worse:

[My] second question involved my doubts that he is suited to being a lowly freshman who would have little influence. I noted his self-funding and his previous race, as well as the fact that he had flirted with running for county executive before deciding on a second race for Congress. I also noted that his earlier comments about leadership, about the county government and about his experiences in the private sector suggested he would be more effective in an executive position.

Trone seemed to dislike the question. He turned away from me and addressed others in the audience, insisting that his wealth was an asset not a liability, emphasizing that he would be politically independent, and promising that he could bring change. He was passionate, certainly, but he didn’t address my concerns about his temperament, district-shopping and suitability for a legislative office.

Trone took another question but suddenly had to run. He never stressed his Democratic label, instead embracing the “no labels” movement in response to a question and talking about his pro-business bent.

Running as the “no labels” candidate in a Democratic primary gives the impression that he thinks he has it sewn up. No voter likes being taken for granted or having his questions given the “talk to the hand” treatment–something you would think someone who runs a business with excellent customer service would know.

Rothenberg concluded his analysis with some sage advice for Trone:

His odds will improve if he campaigns among voters who actually live in the district where he is running.

I’d be glad I owned a liquor store after reading this piece.

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Moon Country Club Bill Could Generate $10 Million for MoCo

By Adam Pagnucco.

A local bill introduced by Delegate David Moon (D-20) that would end property tax breaks for country clubs would eventually generate $10 million a year for Montgomery County Government according to General Assembly analysts.  That’s welcome news for the county, especially considering its current budgetary difficulties.

Under current state law, the State Department of Assessments and Taxation (SDAT) is allowed to strike agreements with country clubs having golf courses to cap the assessed value of their land.  To be eligible for such agreements, the clubs must have at least 100 members who pay dues averaging $50 or more annually for each member; restrict use of their facilities primarily to members, families, and guests; have at least 50 acres of land; and have a golf course with at least 9 holes and a clubhouse.  In practice, the agreements limit assessed land values to $1,000 an acre.  In return for the assessed rate, a club with an SDAT agreement must agree not to sell its land for subdivision and to not discriminate on race, color, creed, sex or national origin.  If a club with an agreement does sell its land for subdivision, it must pay back taxes equivalent to what it would have been paying without an agreement.

Not long ago, your author asked SDAT for all of its agreements with country clubs in Montgomery County.  SDAT sent us ten of them but we later learned that there are actually fifteen of them in the county.  One of them was signed in 1980 and three more were signed in 1981; all four of these are fifty year agreements.  Two more were transferred from prior owners.  One agreement, for the Lakewood Country Club in Rockville, was signed in 2017.  In tax year 2016, when the agreement was not effective, the club’s 175 acres had an assessed land value of $1.94 million.  Once the agreement takes effect, the club’s assessed land value will be $175,000 – a 91% reduction.

Moon’s local bill would abolish such agreements with country clubs in Montgomery County as of their expiration or June 30, 2029, whichever date is earlier.  Because Maryland’s state constitution requires uniform rules for the assessment of land, Moon’s bill takes the form of a constitutional amendment carving out MoCo country clubs and golf courses from that requirement.  The amendment would have to be approved by voters.  We understand that Moon may also introduce a statewide bill to deal with SDAT agreements everywhere.

The fiscal note on Moon’s bill indicates that MoCo country clubs with SDAT agreements have a combined 3,000 acres currently assessed at $3 million.  In the absence of the agreements, the fiscal note estimates that the club’s assessed land value would be $983.3 million.  So once the agreements are all gone by Fiscal Year 2030, the fiscal note estimates that the state would collect an additional $1 million a year in property taxes from the clubs and the county would get an additional $10 million annually.

That’s right, folks – if the country clubs simply pay property taxes at the same rate the rest of us do, the Montgomery County Government would get an extra $10 million a year.

Delegate Moon’s country club bill is the biggest no-brainer of all time.  There is no justification for the richest of the very rich to get a property tax break that no one else does.  And if they are required to pay the same as everybody else, the county government would get a nice revenue bump to help it deal with our significant and increasing needs.

We hope every single MoCo Senator and Delegate will join David Moon and support his bill.

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