Category Archives: Montgomery County

Mixing It Up in District 1

District 1 Community Forum

Last night, the nine candidates for the open District 1 Council seat debated at the 4-H Center in Chevy Chase. It was a lively and substantive debate that gave the audience of over 220 a real sense of issue differences as well as a more personal sense of the candidates. Moderator Charles Duffy pressed candidates to expose issue differences to good effect.

From my vantage point, former longtime Kensington Mayor Pete Fosselman gained the most from the debate. Less known outside his bailiwick, Pete has a strongly pro-development reputation through his involvement in the Kensington sector plan. The debate revealed both real knowledge and a much more nuanced approach that was not anti-development but would buffer existing neighborhoods and place development near transit. He pointed out that the Council upzoned Westbard even though it’s not near Metro. (It would be a logical stop if the Purple Line were extended west to serve Bethesda from both directions.) Pete had a style that showed conviction but also came across as thoughtful.

Former Planning Board Member Meredith Wellington has a real well of grassroots community support. Active in the community in opposing over development that tramples on existing neighborhoods and does not provide infrastructure to support it, she touted that she is not taking developer contributions. Like Marc Elrich, she has a real ability to talk fluently about the planning process that nonetheless remains comprehensible to voters—no mean feat. Meredith’s argument against lowering standards as a solution to failing infrastructure tests—one my students would love—was devastating. Her calm, thoughtful approach strongly appealed to an audience that wants a say in the future of their community. Pumping up the strength of her delivery would further expand her appeal.

While Pete and Meredith had good nights, Del. Ana Sol Gutiérrez—normally an excellent debater—foundered. Even as Ana advertised her Chevy Chase residency for the first time in my recollection, she showed no sympathy with many community concerns. For example, she argued against new parks in Bethesda and essentially said that the Ag Reserve is Bethesda’s open space. Ana had worst moment of the debate as her effort to shift blame from state legislators to the County for insufficient school construction funds rebounded. She argued that the delegation was not organized and the County “wasn’t there” to make the case that Montgomery cannot afford to do it alone. Reggie Oldak called her “disingenuous,” as Ana left voters wondering why this Appropriations Committee member hadn’t addressed these problems after 16 years in the legislature.

Though a first-time candidate, Andrew Friedson sounded the most like a politician. On the positive side, he spoke commandingly and with confidence. Perhaps unsurprisingly for a former employee of Peter Franchot, he made the most articulate economic argument for why the County liquor monopoly needs to go. However, Andrew’s claim that he is “proud” of all of his donations in response to probing on his heavy developer support sounded unconvincing, evasive and overly smooth. While he repeatedly mentioned his business and labor “coalition,” Andrew noticeably did not highlight neighborhood or community support. At times, he seemed more comfortable with generalities than policy specifics.

Reggie Oldak highlighted her work for Planned Parenthood and the National Women’s Law Center as well as her experience as a tax attorney for the IRS. The latter might not be popular but it leaves her better prepared than most to read budgets and engage on these issues—welcome when many members of the current Council seem unaware of the tax rates their constituents pay or how the tax system operates. She had the most eloquent closing statement and said she wants to see: “less inequality among our residents throughout the county. Local governments need to invest in our priorities and protect our values. We cannot continue on this road of the haves and have nots.”

First-time candidate Dalbin Osorio made a strong impression. Talking about how he moved here for the schools—he and his wife are expecting their first child–he came across as someone who understands the community’s ambitions well and would advocate fiercely for it. Like Andrew, Pete, and Meredith, he’d get the county out of the liquor business. While not seen as a leading candidate, I hope he stays involved regardless of how the election turns out as he struck me as exactly the sort of up and coming candidate we need.

Bill Cook was the most stridently anti-development. His major contribution to the debate was challenging the Stockholm Syndrome that the community has no power and must do whatever developers propose. He attacked the role of money in politics and said it’s no coincidence that both the President and the Governor are developers and that incumbent District 1 Councilmember Roger Berliner has raised hundreds of thousands from developers.

Jim McGee argued that “the system” is currently not working for a lot of people in the county, a theme that resonated among voters in the district who feel that the Council simultaneously manages to ignore both struggling families and trample on communities. Like Ana and Bill, he opposed privatization of the DLC. He emphasized climate change and wants to see more green space in Bethesda, as do many other candidates.

Lone Republican Richard Banach is a political science major who admitted candidly and with humility that he didn’t know much about many of the issues. While he still has a lot to learn, he struck me as a shoot of hope from the Republican Party. If Robin Ficker is the past, thoughtful candidates like Banach will hopefully be the future of Montgomery County Republicans.

Thanks to the Town of Chevy Chase for organizing the Forum. I know Pat Burda among others put a lot of work into putting it together. Kudos also to the many interested voters who turned out to learn more about the candidates.


Live Tweeting Tonight’s District 1 Debate

Tonight, I plan to live tweet tonight’s tonight’s debate between the nine (!) candidates for the Montgomery County Council District 1 seat.  The debate s being held at 7pm at the 4H Center on Connecticut Ave. in Chevy Chase. You can follow along @theseventhstate.

There are nine (!) candidates for the seat:

Richard Banach (R)
Bill Cook (D)
Pete Fosselman (D)
Andrew Friedson (D)
Ana Sol Guttierez (D)
Jim McGee (D)
Reggie Oldak (D)
Dalbin Osorio (D)
Meredith Wellington (D)


Hucker Gets a Challenger

It looked for a bit that Tom Hucker (D-5), who only narrowly prevailed over Evan Glass in the open primary four years ago, was going to have an easy ride in his reelection bid. Not so. Kevin Harris has jumped into the race.

Harris and Hucker look likely to clash over development and the Route 29 BRT proposal. My impression is that normal primary divisions are a bit scrambled, as Harris is against the Route 29 BRT and wants to rein in developer influence.

Hucker’s decision to stay out of the public financing system while taking sizable contributions from development interests has already attracted attention in Bethesda Beat. Harris has chosen to stay in the public financing system.

If campaign finance resonates as an issue anywhere, you’d think it might be in this very progressive district. As the incumbent who has been in politics for years, Hucker starts out as a natural favorite but no longer has a cakewalk to a second Council term.

Kevin Harris Announcement by David Lublin on Scribd


M-83 Supporters Get a Win

By Adam Pagnucco.

Back on November 3, David Lublin wrote that the County Council had placed the planned Upcounty highway M-83 “in the freezer.”  We agree with that take with one addition: if and when M-83 comes out of that freezer, it will be ready to serve.  That’s because instead of killing the road, the resolution passed by the County Council has preserved it for a future county government to build.

To understand what has happened, one has to consider the goals and challenges of road supporters and opponents.  The supporters want to fund its construction.  That’s tough because the road will cost roughly half a billion dollars and the county is reducing its annual issues of general obligation bonds to trim future debt service.  Opponents want to remove the road from the county’s master plans.  They believed they had a chance to do that since six Council Members said they opposed M-83 during the 2014 elections.  But that has not happened.

The council’s resolution, passed on Halloween, did not implement the agendas of either side.  Its action language is worth reading word for word.

The County Council for Montgomery County, Maryland approves the following resolution:

  1. The Council supports expanded capacity on I-270, the Corridor Cities Transitway, Bus Rapid Transit on or near MD 355, and improvements on MD 355. These improvements will provide significant, immediate relief for Upcounty residents. These improvements align with our economic development strategies, providing the broadest and most diverse benefits, and minimize impervious surface, stormwater runoff, carbon emissions, and other environmental impacts.

  2. The Council directs the Montgomery County Planning Board not to assume additional road capacity from the northern extension of Midcounty Highway when calculating the land use – transportation balance in future master plans, including but not limited to the upcoming Gaithersburg East Master Plan and the Germantown Plan for Town Sector Zone. This step ensures that any new development allowed under these plans does not rely on the northern extension of Midcounty Highway, while retaining the right-of-way for this extension in these plans.

Road supporters did not like the omission of M-83 from the list of projects supported by the council.  They should have no argument with the idea of not including M-83’s capacity in calculating infrastructure needs for future development.  That could help prevent the road from filling up immediately after it’s built (if it’s built).  But the last sentence referring to “retaining the right-of-way for this extension” is a big win for supporters of M-83.

Why does this matter?  A casual perusal of land ownership maps from the State Department of Assessments and Taxation shows massive county land holdings in the vicinity of M-83’s preferred alternative.  Identifying every one of the dozens of parcels owned by the county and county-affiliated entities there would be a time-consuming research project.

A sample of county-owned land for M-83 near Watkins Mill Road and Great Seneca Creek.

Instead, we asked the county Department of Transportation’s project manager for M-83 how much of the right-of-way for the road’s preferred alternative was currently owned by the county and state.  We received this response.

Dear Mr. Pagnucco:

Thank you for your interest in the Midcounty Corridor Study (M-83) project.  Per our preliminary assessment, approximately 60% ROW for M-83 has been dedicated or reserved and another 24% is in parklands owned by the County’s Parks.

Should you have any questions, please contact me.

Best regards,

Gwo-Ruey (Greg) Hwang, P.E.

Capital Projects Manager

That’s right, folks – the county and Park and Planning together control 84% of the right-of-way for M-83 right now.

Why does this matter?  Let’s remember the history of the Intercounty Connector.  The highway had been in master plans for decades.  As of 1997, the county and state owned more than half the right-of-way for the ICC.  The following year, Governor Parris Glendening announced he was killing the project and later told the state government to sell part of its right-of-way.  But the state did not sell off all its right-of-way and in fact purchased some of it after Glendening’s announcement.  Continued state ownership of the ICC’s right-of-way made it much easier for Glendening’s successor, Governor Bob Ehrlich, to reverse his decision and begin construction.

So it may be with M-83.  The county’s holdings of right-of-way for the project may be even greater as a percentage of its acreage than the state’s holdings of the ICC were a decade before its construction.  The resolution by the council explicitly calls for “retaining the right-of-way” in the master plans, suggesting that the county’s holdings will not be sold.  And the road has not been removed from any master plans, a key goal of opponents.

M-83 supporters should have hope.  M-83 opponents should beware.  Both sides have a lot of work to do in next year’s elections.


Implications of the Minimum Wage Outcome

Bethesda Beat has the story:

The County Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to a compromise that will phase in the $15-per-hour wage over four years based on businesses’ size.

Under the compromise:

  • large businesses with more than 50 employees will be required to pay the minimum wage in 2021
  • businesses with 11 to 50 employees will have to pay the wage in 2023
  • small businesses with fewer than 11 employees will need to pay the wage in 2024.

The council also approved a measure to tie the wage to the inflation rate in 2022 to prevent the need to vote to increase the wage in the future.

Indexing’s Long-Term Impact

This last bit may be the most important. Indexing to inflation assures that Montgomery’s minimum will continue to rise. As a result, the gap between the minimum wage in Montgomery and elsewhere will continue to grow.

If demand for labor keeps the going rate below Montgomery’s minimum, especially as indexing drives it up, it will make the county less competitive in businesses that don’t need to be located here, though have less impact on many services that are hard to move. However, even these businesses, like restaurants, can choose where to open and we would likely see the result.

The impact on the County budget over the short term is unclear. Over the long term, it may force the County to ratchet up wages and cut other services more in lean budget times, since the County will no longer be able to limit COLAs for workers at the bottom and will have to fight wage compression.

Any future economic and budgetary pressures will be made more acute, as the popularity of indexing wages makes it politically perilous to remove. These potentially negative impacts, however, will occur enough in the future that the current crop of officials will not have to address any consequences of their actions.

Political Impact

The short-term politics are more interesting. It gives Marc Elrich a major victory to tout and undermines critiques of him as ineffective in marshaling his colleagues behind him. At the same time, the unanimous adoption of a compromise takes a lot of the juice out of the political issue as it was adopted unanimously.

Candidates can’t differentiate themselves when there is no difference on an issue. Incumbent Sidney Katz’s opponent, Ben Shnider,  regards this as a victory since he pressured Katz on the issue. But the Council’s action makes it very hard to campaign against Katz on this basis – a win for Katz.

The decline of the issue’s salience also benefits outsider candidates worried about the financial impact, as they are on the less popular side of the question. It may give an opening to County Executive Candidates Bill Frick and Rose Krasnow with the business community, which won’t like the outcome.

Roger Berliner will be grateful this issue is off the agenda and will tell business leaders that he did the best he did to mitigate its impact. Ultimately, however, he still voted for a policy they think is harmful, while Frick was willing to say publicly that minimum wage policy should be left to the state.

Frick will argue to business that his actions show that he is willing to take on tougher causes and they should get behind him. Krasnow is not yet formally in the race, which limits any lumps she can take but also prevents her from earning points on this issue. As the Maryland Lottery has spent much money to explain, “you have to play to win.”


On Raising the Minimum Wage, Part II

Today, 7S continues yesterday’s discussion of critical issues surrounding the proposed increase in the County’s minimum wage to $15 per hour.

Impact on Employment

Minimum wage opponents have long argued against raising the minimum wage on the grounds that it will spur businesses to hire fewer people. The intent of the policy is to help people who are struggling get out of poverty – not unemploy them – so this is a critical question.

Proponents argue correctly that past studies have shown that moderate wage increases have not had a measurably negative impact on employment relative to neighboring jurisdictions. They can also make a case that the stagnation in the minimum wage has left it lower in real terms than in earlier eras.

Moreover, a minimum wage increase can aid the economy by giving money to people who will undoubtedly spend it because of basic needs and pent up demand, and stimulate the economy.

Of course, the impact of Montgomery’s increase on our own economy depends on whether they spend it here or in neighboring jurisdictions. Do beneficiaries live here? Do they spend their money here?

The Size of the Wage

Councilmember George Leventhal, who opposed the previous wage increase, supports this one because he didn’t think the previous one caused any problem, so the County should press forward with this one. That logic remains wholly unconvincing because one could similarly argue why stop at $15. Why not $17 or $20?

The size of the minimum wage is obviously crucial. Even if the current $11.50 hasn’t caused any problems, which some might debate based on employment figures, it doesn’t mean that a $15.00 wage – a 23% hike – will not, especially if inflation remains low over the phase-in period.

Don’t forget that various social charges tied to total wages will also rise, as will the potential wage differential with neighboring jurisdictions. The proposed $15 minimum will be twice as high as the minimum wage in Virginia.

Councilmember Elrich frames his argument in favor of the wage on what is needed to get people a living wage. A living wage, unfortunately, may be divorced from the wage that has a negative impact on the economy and employment.

The graph at the top shows the difficulty of the assessment problem. If the minimum wage had continued to increase as it did in the 1950s and 1960s, it would be much higher today. But it has tended to fall or stagnate since around 1968, which makes the argument for the increase but also suggests that the higher rate would be outside our historical experience.

Broad Economic Changes

The tight labor markets of the 1990s resulted in wage increases and substantial reductions in poverty.  In contrast, the magnitude of the financial crisis left tremendous slack in the labor market and current low unemployment rates don’t reflect that there is much room for discouraged workers to enter the labor force.

At the same time, wages have stagnated during post-2000 economic recoveries, making it unclear that tighter labor markets will increase wages. The Republican focus during the 2000s on directing ever more money in tax cuts to the wealthy while cutting services only accentuated this trend – an experiment the Republicans seem intent on repeating.

As has often occurred in the past, technological innovations are destroying jobs and creating others. Right now, technology is rapidly replacing many low-end jobs, which creates downward pressure on wages despite lower unemployment. Scanners allow people to check out themselves at the supermarket. McDonald’s is now experimenting with a touchscreen order system. The Internet puts enormous pressure on in-store retail sales.

Minimum wage increases may encourage firms to move more aggressively to adopt new technologies, resulting in fewer workers. This is not necessarily bad for the economy, as it could position Montgomery to be at the cutting edge of efficiency. Higher wages may spur Montgomery businesses to become leaner and meaner faster than the competition while ensuring that employees get better compensation.

Economic Strategy

Finally, the County needs to consider how this issue fits into its broader economic approach. We have experienced low growth and stagnant employment. What can the County do to reverse these trends? How does a minimum wage increase fit into that strategy?


On Raising the Minimum Wage, Part I

The County Council is getting ready to reconsider Councilmember Marc Elrich’s bill to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour that was vetoed by County Executive Ike Leggett, who outlined changes to the bill that he would like to see. Elrich’s bill was one vote short of being able to override Leggett’s veto.

As we are heading into an election year, there is a lot of political pressure around the issue and I imagine something will emerge from the Council. Rather than focus on the politics, however, what are the questions that councilmembers and voters ought to consider?

Direct Impact on the County Budget

For all of the controversy over the effect of a wage increase on the County’s economy, it remains surprising that little thought has been given to the potential impact on the county budget. Marc Elrich argues that it shouldn’t be much:

Probably not much if any [impact] on the County’s own budget. County employees and those who contract for the County have to pay a living wage which this year is around $14.50. So any inflation would get you to $15 in two years at the most.

The PFM Study on the minimum wage was widely discredited as junk science but nonetheless outlined the argument for why a higher wage could cost the county money:

[A $15 minimum wage] would likely present a significant cost to the County both in terms of adjusting employees’ pay to reflect a higher wage floor and to avoid wage compression in relation to that floor, but also through the resulting increases in additional compensation dependent on the base rate of pay (e.g. overtime) and in the County’s pension liability for eligible employees, due to increases in base earnings.

The fiscal impact statement for the bill is rather Delphic:

This legislation, as well as this fiscal impact statement, does not address the issue of wage compression in the County. Any action taken to address this issue would have a significant fiscal impact, which would be difficult to determine at this time.

Seems like it would be good to have a healthy discussion of budgetary impact to make sure we don’t have a repeat from 12 years ago with the county government racking up wage bills that it couldn’t afford in advance of an election. Elrich makes a good case but would the County need to have a higher floor to compete with the private sector?

Should the County Leave It to the State?

Libertarians argue that there should be no minimum wage because individuals should have the right to make contracts at any mutually agreeable wage. Assuming that this ship said long ago in Montgomery County, the question still remains if it wise for the County to enact its own rate substantially different from the state and double that of Virginia.

Del. Bill Frick, a candidate for county executive, has argued we should have a higher minimum wage but it should be done by the State:

Minimum wage policy, however, is more effective as a state policy than as a local one.  Maryland has a Department of Labor, with the statutory power and duty to enforce minimum wage and other employment laws. Montgomery County does not. Just as zoning and land use decisions belong at the County level instead of the state, I believe employment regulation is better in the hands of the state . . .

Additionally, statewide action eliminates risk of losing business to either Howard or Prince George’s Counties, though not DC or Virginia. At-Large County Council Candidate Seth Grimes argues that the county needs to act because the state hasn’t:

The self-sufficiency standard varies widely across Maryland, [so] legislators outside high-cost counties including Montgomery might see a higher minimum as less of a priority than we in Montgomery do. Montgomery County especially needs a higher minimum, but statewide action has failed. Yet Mr. Frick would let a specious search for “more effective” policy hold us back from needed local action.

Still, the county has spent much time focused on areas outside of its core services and regulated in areas, such as pesticides, where it has little enforcement capacity. Frick raises the broader question of whether the County Council spends too much time on issues that should be legislated on in other arenas rather than the nuts and bolts of county government.

Tomorrow morning, 7S continues with a discussion of the impact of minimum wage increases on employment in Part II.


Council Places M-83 in the Freezer

By a 7-2 vote with Nancy Floreen (D-At Large) and Craig Rice (D-2) opposed, the Montgomery County Council approved a resolution sponsored by Councilmember Hans Riemer (D-At Large) telling the Planning Board to ignore that the controversial M-83 road in making future plans.

The controversy pits Upcounty residents against smart growth and environmental opponents of new roads. Many Upcounty residents in communities like Clarksburg would love to see the long promised alternative route to their communities built in order to alleviate excruciating traffic. Environmentalists and smart growthers think that new roads promote the use of cars and sprawl.

Compromise or Just Spin?

The resolution is being presented by Riemer as a compromise because it keeps M-83 in the Master Plan but tells the Planning Board to act as if it will never be built. Nancy Floreen outlined the politics of spin surrounding this resolution in explaining her “no” vote:

There is nothing in here that says we are going to build M-83. So that is a win for the environmentalist, I guess. And, there is nothing in here that says we are going to build M-83, which is a win for the UpCounty.  I suppose, I should be happy about this because we leave M-83 on the master plan for the future, which is a good thing. But, because we are doing something that is designed to fuel public perception one way or the other, I think it is just plain irresponsible. It is a gratuitous slap in the face to the people who relied on the master plan. And for the people who are opposed to it, it continues the argument ad infinitum.

Indeed, the resolution in amenable to being messaged in a variety of ways to different audiences. Environmentalists and smart growthers can be told it all but kills the road for the time being. M-83 supporters will be told that it’s still in the Master Plan and that the anti-road people aren’t happy for this reason.

Road Opponents Carried the Day But this Street Fight Continues

Riemer, an M-83 opponent, is deeply misguided to the extent he believes that the sop of maintaining M-83 in the Master Plan will appease road supporters. They’re not fooled. The “it’s a compromise” argument only annoys because it comes across as disingenuous to people who wanted this road built yesterday.

Marilyn Balcombe, President and CEO of the Gaithersburg-Germantown Chamber of Commerce, is campaigning for at at-large seat on the County Council and making this an issue:

[T]o invoke the Paris Climate Agreement for any project that someone may disagree with is a very slippery slope. . . . Does this proposed resolution mean that we are never building any more roads in the County?

Not a bad substantive policy question in this election year.

Politically, the impact of this issue remains unclear. It’s a great way to rally Upcounty residents who want the road. But how many vote in the key Democratic primary?

Environmentalists are indeed are unhappy that the county didn’t just kill the road outright. Another county council can take the road out of the freezer and thaw it out. They have a lot of support Downcounty but it’s more diffuse pro-environmentalism rather than opposition to this particular project. Can they rally people beyond the small set of usual suspects to oppose the road?

A more likely strategy is that environmental and smart growth groups endorse against pro-M-83 candidates but mention other more compelling issues or general concerns about climate change in their messaging to voters.

Time to Get Off the Pot

While Riemer presents the resolution as a compromise that leaves all unhappy, another way to see this decision is that they decided not to decide. Often, waiting is a good decision. In the case, however, it has the strong whiff of kicking the can down the road to no purpose as the major fact we can expect to change is that traffic will get worse.

The “solution” that our elected officials voted for is really no solution at all. If councilmembers are against the road for whatever reason–the environment, smart growth, the lack of funds–they should just tell the people by killing it. Similarly, supporters should demand a resolution that actively prepares for it and be ready to explain how they will fund it.


Luedtke Proposes Alcohol Sales Reform

There are two major components to frustration with Montgomery County’s alcohol laws: (1) the distribution monopoly by the Department of Liquor Control (DLC), and (2) the limitations on where consumers can buy alcohol. Del. Eric Luedtke’s (D-14) bills would address the latter (see press release below).

In a nutshell, one bill would allow supermarkets to get around the current limits that make it impossible for them to sell all types of alcohol at multiple locations by allowing them to open stores within their stores operated by the DLC.

I suspect supermarkets will be chary of giving up sales space when they cannot control the sales experience and have to negotiate over which products are sold. My bet is that they would much prefer to be able to sell just beer and wine within their own stores. Hopefully, the bill can be amended towards that end.

However, MCGEO, the DLC union, will likely resist any effort to move away from the absolute DLC control model. Though supermarket employees are unionized, it is a different union, and MCGEO won’t want to lose the opportunity to expand its muscle–and ability to protect the hated distribution monopoly.

The second bill loosens certain restrictions on DLC stores and Sunday alcohol sales. My bet is that non-DLC stores that sell beer and wine will fight allowing DLC stores to sell soft drinks and cold beer and wine. They’ll be outraged that they still have to deal with DLC’s distribution monopoly yet see the DLC encroaching on a valuable share of their business.

Bottom Line: If some major kinks can be worked out, especially the need for a DLC-operated store within a store, consumers will regard this as a major step forward. But the bills do nothing to address the hated distribution monopoly that jacks up prices and drives restaurant business out of the county.

Here is Del. Luedtke’s press release:

Delegate Eric Luedtke Seeks to Make Montgomery Alcohol Laws More Consumer Friendly

Bills include provisions that will eliminate outdated blue laws, expand choices for retail alcohol consumers

Montgomery County, MD, October 30, 2017Delegate Eric Luedtke (D-Burtonsville) announced plans today to introduce two bills aimed at making Montgomery County alcohol laws more consumer friendly. One of the bills, MC 16-18, will allow for separate beer, wine, and liquor dispensaries to be located inside grocery stores. This store-within-a-store model has been used successfully in other states. Under this model, large grocery stores will be eligible to have a separate store located within them selling alcohol, similar to coffee shops or bank branches located in many grocery stores now.

The second bill, MC 4-18, titled “The Montgomery County Alcohol Modernization Act of 2018,” will overhaul a number of outdated laws that limit consumer options and place unnecessary limits on businesses. Among its many provisions, this bill will allow county liquor stores to sell cold beer and wine, soft drinks, and growlers. The bill also eliminates some of the last remaining blue laws in Montgomery County, such as laws that prevent some alcohol licensees from serving alcohol as early on Sundays as they do on other days of the week.

Delegate Luedtke stated about this effort, “Our debates about alcohol laws in Montgomery County have too often ignored consumers. The most common complaint I hear from residents about our alcohol laws is a lack of beer and wine in grocery stores. It’s time we focused more on consumer needs and fixed some of these outdated laws.”

Both pieces of legislation will be filed as local bills, and there will be public hearings held on them before the Montgomery County Delegation in December.


Delegate Eric Luedtke represents District 14 in Montgomery County, which includes Brookeville, Burtonsville, Damascus, Olney and parts of Silver Spring. Delegate Luedtke is chair of the Education Subcommittee on the House Ways and Means Committee.



More on MoCo’s Mighty Seven Zip Codes

Readers raised very good questions on our Facebook page about median as opposed to mean income after reading Adam Pagnucco’s conversation sparking post on Montgomery’s most and least affluent zip codes.

As the above table shows, they were right to suspect that wealthy households skew average income higher than the median, especially in the seven high-income zip codes where the median is 71% of the mean as opposed to 79% in low-income zip codes. The difference in median income levels between the high and low income zip codes is also one-third smaller than for the mean.

Middle-class has always been very elastically defined in America. Keeping that in mind, it nevertheless remains accurate to say that the data project a picture of a largely middle-class jurisdiction. The data lower for income zip codes–called lower and not low for good reason here–paint a portrait of areas that are mainly lower-middle to middle class.

The high-income zip codes are predominantly upper-middle class with good chunks of more middle class and more affluent people–and some very affluent people who drive up the mean income. The median income statistics show the danger in relying solely on mean income as an indicator of how people live. While unquestionably home to an unusual number of very well-off to extremely wealthy people, upper-middle class better describes the income of most households in this expensive area.

The poverty statistics provide a good indicator of people who struggle greatly. One should assume their share is higher since many people who live above the poverty level also have real difficulties making basic ends meet. These show that a significant minority in the lower-income zip codes are poor, despite their clear middle-class character. Poverty is as minimal as just about anywhere in America in the higher-income zip codes.

In short, while there are real and large differences between these groups of zip codes, which after all were selected by Adam precisely to highlight these real differences, Montgomery County is dominated by varying types of middle-class people even in these areas. Adam mentioned rightly that people are aware of the differences. I’d add that they are also aware of the basic similarities. This matters a lot because middle-class values and problems provide a common reference point, even though the higher-income zip codes obviously have more resources to meet challenges and people are aware of these differences.

As a result, our politics tends to be oriented around a common set of goals and problems related to the quality of education, safe neighborhoods, transportation and so forth that resonate to broad majorities just about everywhere in Montgomery. Without negating resource differences or suggesting neglect of the real problems faced by poor Montgomery-ites, this is a good thing because it makes bridging geographic-income divides much easier.

Doubters might consider the greater gaps in outlook faced by jurisdictions like the District of Colombia, Prince George’s and Baltimore City—let alone the extremes of New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles—that possess greater concentrations of neighborhoods of concentrated poverty as well as wealthy neighborhoods.