Category Archives: Hans Riemer

Smart Growth or Corporate Welfare? Part One

By Adam Pagnucco.

For many years, MoCo has focused its land use and economic development policies on transit-oriented development. Since 2006, the county has adopted eight master plans centered on Metro stations, another four centered on Purple Line stations and one more centered on Corridor Cities Transitway stations. Another plan is in the works for Downtown Silver Spring.

The capstone for the Metro-based plans is development on top of the Metro stations themselves, which requires joint development agreements with WMATA. Placing the highest density on Metro stations, along with nearby parcels, enables the county to balance growth, transportation and environmental priorities in its march towards the future. For fifteen years, that’s what we have been told.

Now we are told that this approach won’t work without taxpayer subsidies.

The problem is that most, if not all, development on top of Metro stations is not proceeding. And that is because of economics. In order to be economically viable, Metro development projects must charge rents or condo prices sufficient to not only cover construction costs, financing and investor returns but also the unique costs associated with Metro station sites. The economics are particularly difficult with high rise projects, which have higher material and construction costs than wood-frame projects. And so the county council has proposed Bill 29-20, which would eliminate property taxes on Metro station development projects for 15 years and replace them with undefined payments in lieu of taxes to be set later.

In justifying the bill’s purpose, consider these remarks by Council Members Hans Riemer and Andrew Friedson, the lead sponsors of the bill, and Planning Board Chairman Casey Anderson at the council’s first work session.


Riemer
I want to say that this is a smart growth proposal. This is about making development feasible where decades of inactivity has demonstrated it is not feasible. If you look at Montgomery County and our Metro stations, you will almost universally see empty space on top of the Metro stations and despite efforts by WMATA over many years to support development at those stations, to solicit development on their property, there is very little that has happened. And there is very little that has happened recently, in the last ten years or so. Very little high rise, especially, and because of a shift in the market, I think which is driven by regional economic shifts and global economic shifts that have made the cost of high rise construction prohibitive except in the most high rent communities…

I think very broadly speaking, we have sought to channel all of our development, almost all of it, through a smart growth framework. We want to get housing that is high rise. We want to discourage sprawl. But the problem is we have not – the market isn’t producing the high rise that we have zoned for, that we want. And so the end result is we’re not getting much development. We’re not getting very much housing. We’re not even getting much commercial development.

Friedson
The idea that we’re forgoing revenue and that has a direct cost, that we’re leaving money on the table, we’re not leaving money on the table – the table doesn’t exist currently. That is the issue. There is no development, there is no investment. At best, the table is going somewhere else. It’s been shipped to another region of the country. It’s been shipped to another county. The whole point here is to create the opportunity. You know, the idea that we would be serious about transit-oriented development, that we would be serious about meeting our significant housing targets to address the housing crisis that we currently face but wouldn’t be willing to do anything about it is troubling. And we need a game changer. We need something to change the economic development path that we’re on, we need something to change the housing path that we’re on, that currently does not work. And I will say our housing situation, that is our version of a wall in Montgomery County. What we do with housing is a decision that we make on whether or not we want new residents here or not. That’s the local government version of whether we put up a literal or proverbial wall to say who can and who can’t live here, who we want and who we don’t want here.

Anderson
Will the development happen anyway? And I think the market is not just speaking, it’s screaming that the answer is no. Because you don’t have to take any particular real estate developer’s word for it, you can see what’s happening in the real world. It’s not just in Montgomery County, you can look at what market rents are at every Metro station in the region and you’ll see that there’s a few, particularly in Northern Virginia and in Bethesda, where rents can justify new high-rise construction there. Everywhere else, the answer is no, and that’s not just true of Grosvenor, or for that matter Forest Glen, as you mentioned, it’s also true of White Flint.


In considering these remarks, let’s remember who is saying them. It’s not County Executive Marc Elrich, who voted against numerous transit-oriented development master plans when he was on the council. It’s Casey Anderson, who has served on the Planning Board for nine years and chaired it for six; Hans Riemer, who has served on the council for ten years and is the current chair of its planning committee; and Andrew Friedson, who has emerged as the council’s principal champion of economic development during his first term in office. These are not development critics as Elrich has been. Anderson in particular, and Riemer to a lesser extent, are two of the architects of the county’s Metro-oriented land use policy and they are saying that it has failed.

They are also saying that the only way to rescue it is through what may ultimately become the biggest application of corporate tax breaks in the county’s history.

Are they right? We’ll discuss it in Part Two.

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MCGEO Protests at Riemer’s House

By Adam Pagnucco.

Angry at the county council’s rejection of its revised collective bargaining agreement, MCGEO – the largest county employee union outside MCPS – protested at Council Member Hans Riemer’s house today.

Every council member except Tom Hucker and Will Jawando voted to reject the agreements, so why did the union target Riemer alone? MCGEO’s spokeswoman told WJLA-7, “Hans was the most vehement against the contract. He really led the charge.” MCGEO is also upset at Riemer for voting to reject both its original contract (which provided a peak raise of 9.4%) and its revised contract last year. Council Member Andrew Friedson was the only other council member to vote against both of those agreements along with Riemer.

MCGEO doesn’t like Hans Riemer.

This isn’t just about the contracts. Riemer’s repeated strong criticisms of County Executive Marc Elrich have led many to believe that Riemer is considering a challenge to Elrich in the next election. Riemer is in his third term on the council and term limits prevent him from running again for his current seat. None of this is lost on MCGEO, which claimed credit for Elrich’s election. By targeting Riemer, MCGEO accomplishes two objectives – defending its contract and punishing a potential rival to Elrich. Given MCGEO’s long history of tough tactics against politicians who vote against its contracts, this is likely just the opening move of a larger campaign against Riemer.

The union has published more than 30 photos of its protest at Riemer’s home. Some of them show Riemer’s house itself. I won’t be reposting actual images of the house, but here are a few of the protestors.

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MoCo’s Most Influential, Part Three

By Adam Pagnucco.

Part One of this series laid out the rules and methodology for how we determined MoCo’s most influential people. These lists were developed by adding together the nominations of 85 people who are themselves extremely knowledgeable and influential. Let’s see what they had to say!

9. Council Member Hans Riemer (At-Large) – 21 votes

Source: Executive candidate in waiting often speaks for the Council.

Source: Hans is definitely going after Marc Elrich, and has been for a long time. So he has been making bold plays and making change.

Source: ADUs, 5G, solar farms – it is what we are talking about. Also gearing up for run for CE means he is putting himself out there.

AP: So far, the leader of the resistance to County Executive Marc Elrich, especially on the issue of housing. He is taking fire from Elrich supporters and that might have given him pause in the past. But the 2020 version of Riemer has a harder edge than the guy I worked for years ago, and if he really does take on Elrich, he is going to need it.

8. State Senator Brian Feldman (D-15) – 23 votes

Source: A go-to sponsor on so many important measures.

Source: Quietly extremely effective.

Source: Strongest MoCo Senate voice we have.

AP: Smart, pragmatic, respected and has seen a lot in nearly two decades in office. We could use another couple dozen like him, but if all we get is one Brian Feldman, we’ll take him.

7. U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen – 25 votes

Source: Able to quickly translate his House expertise in politics and policy to the Senate.

Source: Best Senator ever.

AP: CVH has been arguably MoCo’s most popular politician for nearly two decades. He may be in the U.S. Senate now but he can still tap into his old Downcounty base whenever he wants support for whatever he does in the future.

6. Comptroller Peter Franchot – 28 votes

Source: Wields a lot of power from the perch of the Board of Public Works.

Source: Perhaps the most adept politician in the state outside the Governor himself. He’s smartly begun cultivating support outside of his typical base of centrist whites, but his gubernatorial bid might nevertheless be reliant on enough room in his ideological lane.

Source: Love him or hate him, he has a big impact on Maryland with his Board of Public Works vote and bromance with the Governor.

AP: What politician can serve more than 30 years in office and still run as an outsider? Peter Franchot, that’s who! Franchot has built his brand on fiscal conservatism, fighting “the machine,” and crusading for underdogs on issues ranging from school air conditioners to expanding craft beer. His crack team, led by master strategist Len Foxwell, is the best in Annapolis.

5. State Senator Will Smith (D-20) – 31 votes

Source: It’s wonderful to have the Senate Judicial Proceedings gavel in progressive hands.

Source: Most visible sign of Annapolis’s ideological and demographic shifts, though perhaps won’t be in the Senate much longer.

Source: If the Governor is telling you to resign, you’re probably doing something right.

Source: No political star has risen faster.

AP: Think about how incredible this trajectory is. Will Smith gets elected to the House in 2014. He is appointed to the Senate in 2016. He becomes Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee this year. After getting blasted by Governor Larry Hogan over crime legislation, he gets a package of crime bills passed including some of the governor’s priorities just a couple weeks later. Now he is ranked as one of the most influential elected officials in Montgomery County and folks are talking about him as a potential statewide candidate. Few elected officials anywhere rise this fast.

Coming next: our earth-shattering Final Four!

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Riemer Proposes Liquor Monopoly Payment Holiday

By Adam Pagnucco.

In a letter to County Executive Marc Elrich, Council Member Hans Riemer has proposed that liquor licensees be allowed to defer payments owed to the county’s Alcohol Beverage Services (ABS). Specifically, Riemer wrote, “I am writing to request that ABS allow restaurant licensees to defer payments or make partial payments on all products purchased from ABS for the next 12 months.” Riemer notes the extreme financial losses being experienced by licensees and suggests that the county “explore options that could allow the County to smooth the revenue impact of this proposal over a longer period of time.”

We reprint Riemer’s letter below. We intend to print the executive’s response when we receive it.

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Is This Moving Into the 21st Century?

By Adam Pagnucco.

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich has announced that he is “focused on building a 21st century economy that will help the County maintain its leadership position in the State, while being more competitive in the Washington D.C. metropolitan region.”  And how will that be done?

By marketing the county’s 1930s-era soviet liquor monopoly, of course!

The county’s Alcohol Beverage Services (ABS), formerly known as the Department of Liquor Control, has a monopoly on wholesale distribution of alcohol from which only small, local craft breweries and distilleries are exempt.  Through its county liquor stores, ABS also has a monopoly on off-premises retail sales of spirits.  This structure has been in place since the end of prohibition.

The original purpose of the liquor monopoly was to “control certain obnoxious practices” and “keep the county an attractive place to live.”  Now, however, the purpose of the monopoly is to make money.  During the current fiscal year, ABS is projected to contribute $28 million to the general fund and an additional $9 million to pay off county debt service.  Despite its overall profitability, ABS is under heavy pressure to make even more money for four primary reasons.

First, the county projected a $100 million revenue shortfall back in December.  It’s unknown whether that number will change when the executive’s recommended budget is released next month, but if there is a shortfall of close to that amount, that’s a problem.

Second, the county has been raiding its retiree health care fund to balance its budget in recent years.  A statement by Wall Street credit agency Moody’s warned the county to stop doing that.  If the county takes heed, how will it replace that money?

Third, the county council clearly has no appetite for tax increases at the moment.

Fourth, Council Member Hans Riemer recently revealed that the county liquor stores as a group are actually losing money, not making it.  That prompted an explosive reaction from ABS Director Bob Dorfman amid questions about whether the stores should continue operations.

An excerpt from an email by the county executive calling for a 21st Century economy and simultaneously promoting the liquor monopoly.

ABS has now proposed a solution for increasing the stores’ profitability: it wants to rebrand them.  In a council session on February 20, the council reviewed a letter from the county attorney asking for permission to hire outside counsel specializing in trademarks to secure a new name.  The county’s chief administrative officer told the council that the specific name being considered is “Cork and Barrel,” which a simple Google search confirms is widely used around the country (including in Maryland).  The initial outlay to the trademark attorney is expected to be less than $6,000.  But if ABS does go through with a name change, there will be many additional expenses for logo design and changes to facilities and equipment.  Last summer, when water and sewer utility WSSC proposed a name change, the projected expenses totaled $850,000.  Council Member Evan Glass raised the experience of WSSC and said, “If a government monopoly or a quasi-government monopoly needs a marketing and outreach strategy then there is a problem.”

Three council members – Riemer, Glass and Andrew Friedson – voted against the appointment of counsel.  Friedson and Glass have gone on record in opposition to the liquor monopoly.  Riemer thinks it is time for the county to close its retail liquor stores.  The rest of the council voted in favor of hiring outside counsel.

The county council has almost no power to control the liquor monopoly under state law.  But the General Assembly does and its vision for the monopoly is very different from the Elrich administration’s.  In 2017, the General Assembly passed a state law enabling the monopoly to contract with private stores to allow them to sell spirits.  (Right now, only county liquor stores may sell hard alcohol – a crucial advantage for the county.)  But ABS has ignored the law’s intent and has so far refused to allow private retail sales of spirits.  Its rationale is understandable: without its retail spirits monopoly, its stores might never be profitable.  No dissenting votes were cast in Annapolis against the law that the monopoly now flouts.  Will MoCo’s state legislators hold it accountable?

As for the name change and marketing expenses, consider this.  State law requires private beer and wine stores to purchase products from the county liquor monopoly’s wholesale operation.  Their payments will now be used to rebrand and market the county liquor stores that are in direct competition with them.  In essence, they will be required to pay for the county’s attempt to raid their market share and take away their business.

How is this a legitimate function of government?

How can Montgomery County do this and claim that it is business friendly??

MoCo faces a choice.  It can move into the 21st Century and allow competition.  Or it can have a 1930s-era soviet liquor monopoly.

It can’t do both.

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Affordable Housing Spat: Who’s Right?

By Adam Pagnucco.

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

Who is right?

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

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

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

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

Here is Riemer’s response.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Riemer Takes on Elrich

By Adam Pagnucco.

Council Member Hans Riemer has used Facebook to weigh in on his colleague, Marc Elrich, who is running for Executive.  Riemer and Elrich have cooperated on numerous progressive priorities like Elrich’s $15 minimum wage bill, Riemer’s bill to restore the county’s earned income tax credit, protecting Ten Mile Creek and instituting paid leave, but the two have occasionally disagreed on land use issues.  Other than Nancy Floreen, who has endorsed Rose Krasnow, the other incumbent Council Members who aren’t running for Executive themselves have been quiet on the Executive race.  We reprint Riemer’s Facebook post below.  (Disclosure: your author was Riemer’s Chief of Staff from 2010 through 2014.)

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Campaign Finance Reports: Council At-Large, June 2018

By Adam Pagnucco.

Let’s look at the June campaign finance reports for the Council At-Large candidates, the last ones available prior to the primary.  A note on methodology.  First, we calculate total raised and total spent across the entire cycle and not just over the course of one report period.  Second, we separate self-funding from funds raised from others.  Self-funding includes money from spouses.  Third, for publicly financed candidates, we include public matching fund distributions that have been requested but not deposited in raised money and in the column entitled “Cash Balance With Requested Public Contributions.”  That gives you a better idea of the true financial position of publicly financed campaigns.

Below is our fundraising summary for the Council At-Large candidates.  We are including only those who have qualified for matching funds in the public financing system or have raised at least $100,000 in traditional financing.  With a field this deep and talented, candidates who have not met either of these thresholds will struggle to compete.

Four candidates are bunched at the top: incumbent Hans Riemer and Will Jawando, Evan Glass and Bill Conway.  Two more – Hoan Dang and Gabe Albornoz – have raised enough money to compare with past candidates who have won.  Then there is MCPS teacher Chris Wilhelm, who is working as hard as anyone and has an entire side of the Apple Ballot to himself.  That has to be worth the equivalent of an extra mailer or two.  Finally, school board member Jill Ortman-Fouse is not a money leader, having entered the race very late, but she does have a base of loyalists who could be very useful in working the polls on Election Day.  Overall, our view is that Riemer will be reelected, Jawando and Glass are in good positions and one – maybe two – of the others named above will likely also be elected.

Here’s a question for the readers: why are the female candidates not raising more money?  Danielle Meitiv (who ranks 10th on the chart above), Marilyn Balcombe (11th), Brandy Brooks (12th) and Ortman-Fouse (14th) are all good candidates running in an electorate that is 60% female.  Not only do their totals lag the above men – they also lag the amounts raised by Beth Daly (2014), Becky Wagner (2010), Duchy Trachtenberg (2006 and 2010) and of course four-term incumbent Nancy Floreen.  Public financing was supposed to equalize the influence of small contributors, including women, with corporate interests that are overwhelmingly male dominated.  And yet the nine top fundraisers are men.

Let’s remember that the best-financed candidates don’t always win.  Exhibit A is the chronically underfunded Marc Elrich, who finished first in the last two at-large races and could be the next County Executive.  The at-large race also has produced surprises in the past, including the defeats of incumbents Blair Ewing (2002), Mike Subin (2006) and Trachtenberg (2010).  As soon as your author thinks he has the at-large race figured out – BAM! – something different happens!

This is probably the best at-large field in MoCo history.  It’s sad that only four of them will win.  But so it is.  On to Election Night.

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The Wilhelm Ballot

By Adam Pagnucco.

Here is something we haven’t seen before: a mid-term year Apple Ballot with one candidate occupying one side of it and a list of others on the other side.  This Apple, still in wrapping, is customized in favor of Council At-Large candidate Chris Wilhelm.

Here is another one spotlighting District 16 House candidate Samir Paul.

The Apple we were given at the Wheaton early voting site was not like these.  It had county candidates on one side and state candidates on the other, a typical format used in the past.

Wilhelm and Paul are MCPS teachers.  We totally get why MCEA would like to elect its own members to office, although that has not always been their top priority.  For example, the union endorsed County Council District 5 incumbent Derick Berlage over MCPS teacher Marc Elrich in 1998.  In Elrich’s 2002 and 2006 races, he did appear on the Apple but we don’t recall him getting an entire side of it to himself.

The races involving Paul and Wilhelm are very different.  In District 16, the two incumbent Delegates – Ariana Kelly and Marc Korman – are endorsed by MCEA and a lock for reelection.  Paul is in a tight contest with fellow new candidate Sara Love for the open seat being vacated by Delegate Bill Frick.  He needs every edge he can get.

The Council At-Large race, on the other hand, is extremely competitive and unpredictable.  MCEA has endorsed incumbent Hans Riemer, Brandy Brooks and Will Jawando in addition to Wilhelm.  Riemer seems likely to be reelected but that’s about all that can be safely predicted in this race.  What will Riemer, Brooks and Jawando think of the Wilhelm Ballot?

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