The Ups and Downs of Jealous’s Financial Stewardship of the NAACP

Ben Jealous likes to tout his leadership at the NAACP. Managing the State’s budget is a central responsibility of the governor. How did he handle the NAACP’s finances?

Examination of the organization’s tax returns reveals that Jealous’s leadership at the NAACP had a major impact on the organization’s finances. He increased the revenue – and expenditures – of the NAACP dramatically.

NAACP revenue rose from $24.7 million in 2008 to $43.2 million in 2012, an impressive 75% increase. However, it dropped back to $31.0 million in the last year of Jealous’s tenure before his abrupt departure after the first year of a new multiyear contract. (Jealous refused to explain the reasons for his leaving in an interview with The New Republic.) Revenue has since continued to decline, falling to $24.4 million in 2016.

Expenditures tracked revenue closely, and rose from $21.5 million in 2008 to $42.6 million in 2012 before falling back to $36.8 million in 2013. Since Jealous left the NAACP, spending has continued to fall, reaching $24.8 million in 2013.

My sense that Jealous did an amazing job at the start of expanding the organization’s revenue, and thus activities, but that it did not prove sustainable. Both revenue and expenditures dropped substantially in the last year of his leadership. Jealous did not leave the organization able to maintain even this level of revenue or expenditures, as both continued to fall.

The net impact of Jealous’s financial stewardship is overall less impressive than his ability to increase the organization’s profile. In the first four years of his leadership, the NAACP’s largest surplus was $0.6 million and its largest deficit was $1.3 million. However, the deficit jumped to $5.8 million in his final year – the largest in the 16 year period examined here.

The impact on net assets is more disturbing. After increasing the organization’s assets from $12.7 million to $17.3 million, Jealous then oversaw their fall to just $8.0 million in the final year of his leadership – a drop of 37% from his arrival and 54% from the best position under his leadership.

Assets continued to fall after Jealous left, reaching a low of $3.0 million in 2015 before rising to $3.8 million in 2018. Again, this doesn’t present a picture of an organization left on very stable footing when Jealous left.

Ironically, this progressive tribune presents a great example of how the well off have continued to do well even as the incomes of ordinary people have stagnated. Jealous’s compensation rose from $285,000 in the first full year of his tenure to $375,114 in his final year, an increase of 32%.

Share

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.

Share

Campaign Finance Reports: County Executive, June 2018

By Adam Pagnucco.

The June campaign finance reports are in and they will be the last ones available prior to the primary. Today, we’ll look at the County Executive race.  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 County Executive candidates.  The numbers for Robin Ficker presume he has qualified for public matching funds but we have not heard definitively whether he has.

It’s official: David Blair has broken Steve Silverman’s 2006 spending record of $2 million in an Executive race.  (Sorry Steve but you knew it wouldn’t last forever!)  Blair’s $3 million in spending, mostly self-financed, exceeds the $2.1 million combined total so far reported by the other candidates.

Marc Elrich has excelled in public financing and has also had the good fortune to see the second-best financed candidate (Roger Berliner) going negative in TV and mail against the best-financed candidate (Blair).  Combine that with the attack strategy of Progressive Maryland and Elrich can use his own money to promote himself and let others do the dirty work of bringing Blair down.  It couldn’t get any better for Elrich.

Speaking of the attacks on Blair, the scale of them is becoming clear.  Berliner has spent $51,048 on mail and $391,234 on TV, all of which had negative messaging about Blair.  The Progressive Maryland Liberation Alliance PAC has so far raised $100,000, most of it in union money, to oppose Blair.  The combined amount between the two – $542,282 – is likely the most money ever spent on attacking a candidate for County Executive and the race is not over.  To our knowledge, none of the other Executive candidates has been targeted by negative TV commercials or negative mail.

The other three Democratic candidates – George Leventhal, Rose Krasnow and Bill Frick – are struggling to compete with limited resources.  Leventhal has had money problems for the entire campaign but he is working his heart out.  That plus his longevity and diverse base of supporters get him into the mix but he is still a long shot to win.

Rumors have swirled for weeks about labor polling and MCGEO President Gino Renne confirmed them to Bethesda Magazine on Friday.  Renne said that Elrich and Blair were “neck and neck” in a number of polls and said, “When you combine all the different polls, it’s a good solid snapshot of what’s going on… I would say it’s statistically insignificant [between Elrich and Blair]. It’s all about who can get their voters to the polls. If the election were today, I’d have to call it a toss-up.”

We have written about Elrich’s base before: it’s a combination of anti-development activists, progressives and people living in and near Takoma Park.  But Blair is developing a base too by consolidating those who want a different direction in county government.  Frick and Krasnow have a similar message but they don’t have the money to make it stick like Blair does.  And so this election is turning into a contest between different visions of change: a move towards greater progressivism or a move away from tax hikes and towards more economic development.

Who knows which side will win?

Share

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?

Share

How to Spend More on Education and Transportation Without Raising Taxes

By Adam Pagnucco.  

It’s election season and that means it’s time for lots of promises from politicians.  And boy are they promising a lot, especially on the county’s two big issues of education and transportation.  The mailbox’s “progressive leaders” have “plans” to guarantee every child a great school, invest in transportation – especially transit – and to do all of the above without raising taxes.  Sounds great, yeah?

Time to get real, folks!

Education and transportation each have two virtues.  First, each of them generates direct economic returns.  Education spending yields a return on human capital while transportation spending yields a return on physical infrastructure.  Both are important for attracting and retaining residents and jobs.  Second, each of them is popular with voters.  For as long as anyone can remember, education and transportation have been two of the top issues in our elections – and they might possibly be THE top two.  Happily, on these two issues, good policy and good politics come together!

Paying for them is another matter.  MCPS accounts for a greater percentage of the budget than any other agency with a $2.5 billion budget in FY18.  Montgomery College received more than $300 million.  The Department of Transportation’s operating budget was $56 million.  Funding increases with meaningful impacts on these agencies need to be in the tens of millions of dollars – at least.  That kind of money far exceeds a spreadsheet rounding error.

And yet, there is a way to increase spending on MCPS, the college and transportation without massive tax hikes.  The catch is that it’s not quick or easy.

Let’s do a simple (and yes, admittedly simplistic!) exercise with the operating budget.  First, let’s identify the combined local dollar spending on MCPS, the college and the Department of Transportation (DOT).  Next, let’s segregate out intergovernmental aid, which plays an important role in the budget but is not controlled by the county government.  Then let’s segregate debt service.  Yes, over long periods of time, the county can adjust debt service.  But much of the debt service is being paid on capital projects already completed, and furthermore, a huge chunk of it goes to school construction and transportation projects.  Boosting education and transportation operating budgets by cutting their capital budgets is not the best idea in the world!  Finally, let’s subtract out local dollar education and transportation spending, intergovernmental aid and debt service from total spending and what we get is a great big category that we shall creatively name “Everything Else.”

Here’s what happens when we do that for FY11, the trough budget year of the Great Recession, and FY18, the budget that ends on June 30 of this year.

What the above data shows is that the total county budget grew by 28% over this period.  Intergovernmental aid grew by 26% and debt service rose by a whopping 58%.  (We have previously written about the county’s rapidly growing debt.)  Now let’s contrast the two remaining broad categories: the local dollars spent on MCPS, the college and DOT and everything else.  The education and transportation budgets grew by a combined 18%.  Everything else grew by 37%.

That’s right folks – spending on everything else has been growing twice as fast as local dollar spending on education and transportation operating budgets.  That’s a strange fact in a county in which education and transportation are arguably the top two political issues.

Now what would have happened if the everything else side of the budget was restrained to grow at the same rate as inflation?  The average annual growth rate of the Washington-Baltimore CPI-U since 2011 has been 1.3%, meaning that prices have grown by 9.8% over that period.  When we hold the total budget, intergovernmental aid and debt service constant and assign a growth rate of 9.8% to the everything else category, here’s what happens to local dollars available for education and transportation.  For the purposes of discussion, let’s call this Scenario 1.

In Scenario 1, $2.4 billion is available for education and transportation because of spending restraint on everything else.  That’s $383 million more than the $2 billion that was actually available in the real world FY18 budget.

Holding a big chunk of county government to the rate of inflation for seven straight years is tough medicine and very unlikely.  So let’s create a Scenario 2 in which the everything else category is restrained to twice the rate of inflation, or 19.5% growth since FY11.

In Scenario 2, $2.2 billion is available for education and transportation, $244 million more than the real world FY18 budget.

For the sake of comparison to both of these scenarios, let’s recall that the 9 percent property tax hike was supposed to raise $140 million a year.  (It probably raised a little less than that.)  So under both scenarios, the county could have avoided the giant tax hike and still had lots of money left over for more education and transportation spending.

Yes folks, we understand the radical nature of what we are proposing – namely that liberal Democrats should deliberately and strategically restrain the growth in some forms of spending to boost growth in other spending.  This is likely to be an unpopular concept in a county that has multiple jam-packed budget hearings every year with groups of all kinds requesting money.  But here’s the benefit to concentrating on education and transportation: both forms of spending are investments that generate returns for the economy.  And when those returns boost economic growth, they generate tax revenue that bolsters the entire budget.

What is necessary to pull this off?  Simply put, this requires strategy, discipline, patience and leadership.  Without those traits, given the huge number of constituencies that want their piece of the budget, it would be impossible to focus it on education and transportation.  The natural outcome of a budget process without strategy is that everything gets funded, a tax hike follows, voters tire of it and then they pass restrictive charter amendments and vote for politicians like Larry Hogan.

So what are we going to get?  Spending on everything followed by tax hikes?  Or a budget that is strategically focused on generating economic returns from education and transportation?

Folks, that depends on your decisions in the voting booth.

Share

Hearing from the Candidates on the Stormwater CIP Budget

I am pleased to present this guest post by Sylvia S. Tognetti:

This question was sent to all 60 candidates running for various slots on the County Council. These include five incumbents who were given the option to state their views but not expected to do so given that their positions are known from their public statements and their Council vote. Of the non-incumbents, 10 responded and 45 have not. If more responses are received they will be added, up until election day.

Responses, in the order received:

Dalbin Osorio

I am not in favor of the current manner in which our stormwater program is run. It is more a reactive program than what is necessary, especially as we try to combat the extreme changes in our climate. I would vote to overhaul the entire program, beginning with the hiring of one independent contractor and a partnership with the local universities that would allow for interns to be utilized as a way to create a pipeline between students and facets of county government that they may be interested in. I would mandate that this contractor work with a board appointed by the County’s leading environmentalists, to ensure that the job is done appropriately and that the contractor is not skimping on quality work just to meet costs. We are not meeting the guidelines set forward, nor are we honoring deadlines set to meet certain benchmarks, and I believe this is unacceptable. I would push to increase the capital budget so we can better be prepared for incoming storms.

Seth Grimes

Montgomery County should maintain its long-standing approach to stormwater management, but get serious about progress, perhaps especially redoubling work with owners of properties with expanses of impervious surface and ensuring that county investment lives up to our commitments.

Hans Riemer

Building and maintaining stormwater infrastructure is one of our highest environmental priorities. I was one of 5 votes to support our traditional approach to building this infrastructure, and as Council President I am working to protect our program to the fullest extent.

Ben Shnider

Sound stormwater management policy is essential for protecting our environment and safeguarding our community’s health. We must not prematurely cancel projects and rush ahead with a new approach to stormwater management that lacks clarity. The simple majority of five Councilmembers who supported the Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy & Environment (T&E) Committee’s recommendation (that retained the current stormwater management approach until all the applicable stakeholders are brought together to formulate recommendations that may enhance the program’s future performance) was more than prudent. The County Executive’s proposal, put forth as the Council was reviewing the entire budget across all County agencies, was unduly hasty. Essentially, the County Executive expected the Council to rubber-stamp his new approach to an important, inherently complicated program, at a time when neither Councilmembers, environmental stakeholders, let alone the public at-large were in a position to fully consider the implications. The T&E Committee’s recommendation, which a simple majority of Councilmembers wisely supported, allows sufficient time for careful review and collaboration among stakeholders between now and the early Fall, when the County Council may fully evaluate any recommendations that may result.

For these reasons, I believe that the County Executive’s line-item veto was unwarranted. His action, along with the refusal (to date) of my Councilmember to support the T&E Committee’s balanced approach, has only resulted in a dangerous stalemate. I hope that all Councilmembers will vote swiftly to override the County Executive’s veto and instead, unequivocally, embark upon a course that places safety, the environment and transparency first.

Meredith Wellington

Do you support the existing or a new approach to managing stormwater? My top environment priorities are reducing greenhouse gases and improving stormwater management. I support the Council’s recommendation to continue with the current program and conduct a thorough review to identify ways to improve and reduce costs for implementation. I believe the County’s current program can be greatly improved. After reviewing the CIP budget, I have concerns that Water Quality Protection Charge funds are being used in a manner for which they were not intended. I will also collect more information on the effectiveness of restoring streams before runoff from higher elevations is controlled. I would also like to review, with DEP and our State delegation, how stormwater management is measured to ‘count’ toward the MS4 permit requirements. Are we treating the most serious runoff challenges or the most accessible and cheapest? How are our streams and waterways improving after treatment? I support green street and similar “green” rather than “gray” stormwater management infrastructure, but want to be assured that systems are right sized for the square footage treated. There have been some challenges to green street installation that I would like to understand better.

In what direction do you think Montgomery County should take its stormwater program? I support continued emphasis on green stormwater management infrastructure. I think there needs to be more education and dialogue around installations so resident embrace green streets. I would like to find a way for shade trees to co-exist with and enhance engineered stormwater management. Our climate is changing, we are experiencing more heavy storms. Our stream valleys are fed by many underground springs and seeps. When building infill development, erecting additions, or other similar activities, we should adopt a “no harm” policy. For example, a new home that creates more impervious surface and installs stormwater management solutions should not negatively impact neighboring structures. Finally, I would like to see greater accountability from WSSC for both their construction work (I have seen workers hose sediment into the local creek) and consent decree compliance.

How can we best prepare for future stormwater needs? We can best prepare for future stormwater needs by reconsidering flood plain maps and identifying current flood patterns; accelerate work to add more green stormwater management to high impervious surface areas like our CBDs and parking lots; incentivize green roofs (double duty to lower carbon emission), rain gardens, tree planting, rain barrels, etc. Funding is also a challenge. The WQPC collections are significant; let’s use that money more effectively and for the purpose legislated. I think DEP has a good education and public awareness program, but it should grow. I would like to create partnerships with property owners and developers to build functioning ecosystems in dense areas as both a teaching tool and stormwater management device. I would also like to see a simpler, more aggressive Tree Montgomery program. I would like to review and strengthen legislation restricting building on steep slopes with highly erodible soils, and create greater incentives for preserving interior forests.

Tom Hucker

I have been involved in this issue for quite a while, including spending four years as the sponsor of Maryland’s HB987, the landmark 2012 statewide Maryland Stormwater Management – Watershed Protection and Restoration Program.

As the Council’s Lead Member for the Environment, I have consistently opposed the proposed new approach to manage stormwater through a very large (approximately $46 million), murky multi-year contract to a single unnamed general contractor.

Like all of us, I would like to see DEP achieving greater efficiencies in its stormwater contracting methods and exceed the goals in its new permit. But such a large, abrupt change that would realistically lock us in for several years before we even know our new state MS4 permit requirements is not the way to do it. In no other area of policy do we create a program before we know what the requirements of the program will be.

Instead, I have consistently advocated for a much smaller, pilot approach in the short term as well as restarting all of the good work that DEP has been doing. I want us to complete dozens of suspended and cancelled projects that we’ve already sunk significant taxpayer dollars into design and pre-construction planning in the short term.

Last but certainly not least, we need more oversight, transparency and accountability. It’s critical that the County establish a meaningful environmental advisory group with a variety of environmental experts like the Stormwater Partners represented on it. I’d like this group to begin convening this summer and hopefully exist for several years with the charge of advising DEP, DPS, the Council and the rest of our government on best practices and innovative ideas on stormwater management going forward. Recent events in Ellicott City show us we need to keep our stormwater efforts moving forward, not backward.

Will Jawando

I support the Council’s decision to pause the County Executive’s effort to move the storm water management program over to a private contractor. I support continuing the storm water management program as currently implemented, specifically work through the 44 delayed projects and review the 26 canceled projects. We should be committed to adhering to the county’s green infrastructure program, and meet at least 60 percent of its MS4 permit requirement using green infrastructure to manage storm water. If we have any changes to the current storm water management program, those changes should be made in full transparency, and in partnership and collaboration with stakeholders, including our environmental nonprofits, private citizens and others. Changes to streamline and improve management are acceptable, but only if they can be proven to continue to help the county meet its watershed restoration targets.

Tim Willard

We need to improve our stormwater management system. The County has been under a consent decree since January for committing numerous violations of its stormwater permit. A major part of the problem is that the County Government has raided the Water Quality Protection Charge for use in the operating budget rather than spending it on physical stormwater projects as was intended. This fund should be dedicated to its original purpose to improve our stormwater management. I oppose the effort to privatize stormwater management projects. While there are some benefits, privatization raises issues of quality control, loss of creativity in designing projects, and lack of communication with home owners near the projects. Organizations interested in stormwater management were kept in the dark while the privatization proposal was being developed which adds to the concern. Restoring funding that was meant to be used for stormwater management is a better solution than privatizing the process.

Evan Glass

I support the existing stormwater management system.

Michele Riley

I support the T&E Committee’s recommendation to move forward with existing projects now. We should not let this important work get hung up over what appears to be a difference of opinion regarding procurement process.

Gabe Albornoz

As a County, we must take actions to address our stormwater management issues so that streams remain clean and our watersheds are healthy. Healthy watersheds make for clean drinking water. We must first address the most degraded watersheds that are most at risk. I agree with our environmental community that 60% of our stormwater projects should be green infrastructure. It is vital that the work under the current State MS4 permit allows for a collaborative review of the program by the environmental community so that the most effective improvements can be made in the next permit.

Bill Conway

The Council exercised its proper authority to withhold approval of the budget for the proposal by Council Executive Leggett, which would have shifted the capital budget for stormwater projects to a single 5-year DBM contract. This proposal represented a substantial change in how the stormwater program is implemented that would be difficult to reverse and for which efficiency and cost-effectiveness are unknown. Also unknown are what the requirements will be under the next stormwater permit that this proposal was presumably intended to address. The Council decision to continue the suspended projects under the current contracting method does not mean the stormwater program cannot or should not be improved. The Council called for an open and transparent review of the program which would provide an opportunity for the County to consider different options and provide input to MDE on more cost-effective and innovative green infrastructure approaches that could be approved for crediting in the next permit cycle. This process would also allow for a more informed decision to be made when future permit obligations are known.

Share

The Most Negative TV Ad in MoCo Executive History

By Adam Pagnucco.

As chronicled by both Seventh State and the Washington Post, this is the attack ad being run by a group of unions and Casa in Action against County Executive candidate David Blair.  Unlike Roger Berliner’s ad, this one has no positive component to it.  We have consulted many of our sources who have been in MoCo politics for decades and none can recall a more negative TV ad ever run in a Montgomery County Executive campaign.

Share

Candidate Views on Leggett’s Line-Item Veto of the Stormwater CIP Budget

Today, I am pleased to present a guest post by Sylvia S. Tognetti:

In the aftermath of back to back storm events and flooding, and with 60 candidates in the primary race for various slots on the County Council, it seemed like it would be useful to find out their views on Leggett’s  line-item veto of the 5-4 majority decision by the Council pertaining to the stormwater CIP budget. ANS, on behalf also of Potomac Conservancy, Friends of Sligo Creek, Conservation Montgomery and the Montgomery Countryside Alliance, sent all of them a single question:

The County Executive issued a line-item veto of a majority Council decision on the stormwater CIP budget. In what direction do you think Montgomery County should take its stormwater program? How can we best prepare for future stormwater needs?

We received 17 responses of which three were from incumbents whose views have already been expressed through their public statements and Council vote – so their response was not expected. That leaves 41 who did not reply and are not incumbents and whose views are unknown.

A few candidates who have not responded let me know in person that, being the week before early voting, this question came at a bad time. I hear you! We would have much preferred to see this radical proposal by the Executive come before the Council with time to properly review it and consider alternatives in an open process, which is what we advocated for, and the Council called for in its majority decision. This is the situation faced now by existing Council members, and we thank those who took the time to understand and thoughtfully consider this complicated issue in this busy time. We can only wonder what those who did not respond would do if elected and presented with a radical proposal in the context of a budget decision, just before a primary election.

This is the first time a line-item veto has been used in 25 years. In its decision, the Council rejected a radical change in how stormwater projects are managed that was proposed by the County Executive. In the proposed new approach, stormwater capital projects would have been bundled and outsourced to a single contractor in a single, 5-year design-build-maintenance contract to treat stormwater runoff from 526 acres of impervious surfaces. This is intended to meet obligations under the next 5-year stormwater permit, which are not yet known, because we will not see a draft of the next permit until this Fall. Instead the Council accepted the recommendation of the Transportation & Environment Committee, to continue the 44 suspended projects – many well into the design phase and ready for construction, under the current approach, and called for an open and transparent public review of the program as a basis for improvements. Six votes are needed to override this veto and continue moving the county’s stormwater program forward.

This proposal came in addition to a $243 million cut in the 6-year stormwater CIP budget, which was accepted by the Council. This was based on an assumption that obligations under the next stormwater permit will be to retrofit only 5% of impervious surfaces that are not already treated to the Maximum Extent Practicable, instead of the 20% required under the current permit that will be completed this year. Although this percentage remains to be determined by MDE, which issues these permits, they have publicly stated it is likely to be at least 10%.

A key concern is whether the County will adhere to its new green infrastructure policy, in which it made a commitment to meet at least 60% of its MS4 permit requirement using green infrastructure to manage stormwater. The policy also committed to evaluating the costs and multiple environmental social and economic benefits of these projects, compared with single-purpose gray infrastructure as a basis for project selection.

Many of these projects would be necessary regardless of permit obligations and can reduce the costs of maintaining gray infrastructure. For example, when stormwater erodes urban streams, it erodes and batters sewer pipes, causing Sanitary Sewer Overflows (SSOs). By enabling water to infiltrate into soil, green infrastructure slows down runoff, and helps to protect gray infrastructure, as well as reduce flooding and provide many other well-known benefits associated with green spaces. As discussed at a Water Forum held last December, stormwater runoff from up-county watersheds, that enter the Potomac upstream from drinking water intakes, also increases the cost of water treatment, which is why WSSC is planning to spend $83 million on a mid-river submerged channel intake at the Potomac Water Filtration Plant, and an additional $157 million to upgrade the plant to handle the overloading of sediment. In other words, costs not paid through the Water Quality Protection Charge would just reappear on our water bills, in the form of higher costs to treat drinking water and maintain pipes.

Candidate responses can be viewed on the ANS blog. Some are more detailed than others and present some good ideas, that could be considered if there were an open and transparent review of the program and alternative approaches. Only three favor the Executive’s single contractor approach, with some modifications.

More background information on the issue can be found in this Maryland Sierra Club post, and letter to Executive Leggett from leaders of the stormwater Partners Network, representing the Potomac Conservancy, the Audubon Naturalist Society, Conservation Montgomery, Friends of Sligo Creek, the Montgomery Countryside Alliance and the Maryland Sierra Club.

Share

Maryland Politics Watch

Visit Us On FacebookVisit Us On TwitterCheck Our Feed