Barve Warns Council on Solar

By Adam Pagnucco.

Delegate Kumar Barve has sent the county council a letter saying that he is “deeply disturbed” by their actions on a zoning text amendment allowing solar panels in the agricultural reserve. He characterizes two amendments to the measure approved by the council as making solar development in the reserve “essentially impossible.” Finally, he asks the council to withdraw the amended legislation and start over for fear that other counties may try to limit solar energy too.

Let’s remember that Barve is no ordinary delegate. He is the chair of the House Environment and Transportation Committee and a long-time member of House leadership. That makes him one of the most powerful officials in Annapolis, especially on issues within the jurisdiction of his committee (like solar energy). The state government can and does preempt local governments when state officials believe such action is warranted. Let the council beware.

Barve’s letter to the council is reprinted below.

*****

February 7, 2021

Re: Functional 98% Ban of Affordable Solar Energy in Montgomery County

To the President and Members of the Montgomery County Council:

Living in Montgomery County all my life, I recognize the extraordinary work our County Council is capable of doing including your efforts now during the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, the Montgomery County Council is recognized for its tremendous past contributions in dealing with an equally dangerous threat to our livelihoods and health: global warming.

I write now because, as a state legislative leader on environmental issues, I am deeply disturbed by the Council’s recent actions impacting the development of solar energy. Specifically, the Council’s decision to restrict solar building on Class 2 soil in the Agricultural Reserve and to impose Conditional Use review to the solar Zoning Text Amendment have made the development of community solar essentially impossible.

Look to the immediate and predictably negative response of solar developers to this action – including businesses in our own county – which make clear that those restrictive conditions effectively shut down any possibility of building solar projects on open land in the Agricultural Reserve.

To fully understand the economic impact of your potential action, realize that energy generated from solar panels placed in open fields (terrestrial) are the only truly affordable source of renewable energy. In fact, a recent analysis by the firm Lazard Ltd. shows that based on price, only terrestrial-based solar panels beats the cost of fossil fuel generation. Rooftop solar can be 2 ½ to 5 times more expensive than terrestrial solar.

The other negative impact of this proposed amendment would be to significantly reduce capacity for small-scale solar projects under the Legislature’s Community Solar program. These are the projects that give low- and middle-class families affordable access to clean energy.

Further, from my statewide perspective, I am seriously concerned that should the currently amended zoning bill pass, the precedent set by our County in taking such a regressive step will have negative repercussions on clean-energy development/equity in the future, across Maryland and the region. Indeed, if a local government of Montgomery County’s stature and progressive reputation can turn its back on affordable community solar, other Maryland counties might likely follow suit.

I respectfully ask the Council to withdraw what has become a potentially harmful bill. Instead, I ask you to compromise by leveraging our progressive knowledge base and practical experience. In this way, the County can create a synergistic solution that advances clean energy, protects agriculture, creates jobs and improves our overall wellbeing. In short, the Council can provide the type of creative solution that we have come to expect from Maryland’s leading jurisdiction.

Sincerely,

Kumar Barve

Note: Along with his letter, Barve supplied the following data table from Lazard Ltd., an international asset management firm, showing that ground-based solar energy is more price competitive with nuclear and fossil energy than rooftop solar.

Share

MCEA Votes No Confidence in MCPS Reopening Plan

By Adam Pagnucco.

Minutes ago, the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) released a statement that their worksite representatives had passed a resolution expressing “a lack of confidence” in MCPS’s reopening plan. Their statement and the text of the resolution appear below.

*****

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Contact on behalf of Montgomery County Education Association:
Kiwana Hall, Communications Director
khall@mceanea.org

Montgomery County Education Association Statement on Lack of Confidence Resolution

In response to the inadequacy of the reopening plan approved by the Montgomery County Public Schools Board of Education on February 9th, elected worksite representatives of the Montgomery County Education Association have overwhelmingly passed a resolution stating a lack of confidence in the plan developed under the leadership of and recommended by the Chief of Teaching, Learning, and Schools.

MCEA’s highest level decision-making body, the Representative Assembly, held an emergency meeting on February 15th to discuss the resolution. Over one thousand members and representatives attended. The full resolution is available here.

The current MCPS plan to reopen school facilities cannot be successfully implemented – requiring more resources, more people, and more space than is available – without negatively impacting students’ learning experience.

MCEA members demand that MCPS adhere to CDC guidelines regarding the physical reopening of school buildings, implement a contact tracing and testing program, and provide all employees the opportunity to be fully vaccinated before a return to in-person instruction.

The system must also develop a building reopening plan for the adequate staffing of all instructional models, particularly those that directly serve Black and Brown students, and students impacted by poverty, without diminishing access to staff and services that supplement required direct instruction.

MCEA cannot support the current plan, which will only increase inequity in Montgomery County schools. MCEA has requested a meeting with the Board of Education to discuss the MCPS reopening plan. MCEA urges the Board of Education to take the time to meet with educators.

*****

The text of MCEA’s resolution appears below.

*****

WHEREAS the safety and health of Montgomery County Public School (MCPS) employees and students is a priority in school system operations, and

WHEREAS the global pandemic of COVID-19 has impacted Montgomery County, Maryland with more than 61,000 cases and more than 1,350 deaths, and

WHEREAS a return to in-person instruction requires human and capital resources that significantly exceed those of a pre-COVID era, and

WHEREAS a return to in-person instruction requires a sustainable instructional model, which allows for all students to receive a free and appropriate education, and

WHEREAS the MCPS Chief of Teaching, Learning and Schools is responsible for the development of a coherent and effective plan for instruction, and

WHEREAS the plan approved by the MCPS Board of Education on Tuesday, February 9, 2021, cannot be implemented with existing resources, does not adequately protect the health and safety of employees and students, and diverts resources from Black and Brown children, and children impacted by poverty, the majority of whose families have indicated through the MCPS survey a preference for remaining in distance learning.

Therefore be it RESOLVED, the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) has no confidence in the plan developed under the leadership of and recommended by the Chief of Teaching, Learning and Schools.

Be it further RESOLVED, the MCEA demands that MCPS shall provide the opportunity to all employees to be fully vaccinated prior to a return to school, and

Be it further RESOLVED, the MCEA demands that MCPS shall develop and implement a coherent contact tracing and weekly diagnostic testing program in line with CDC guidelines prior to any return to worksites, and

Be it further RESOLVED, the MCEA demands that MCPS shall transparently and robustly communicate to employees, families, and community information related to COVID-19 contraction and transmission at the classroom and worksite level, and

Be it further RESOLVED, the MCEA demands that MCPS shall adequately staff all instructional models, particularly those which directly serve Black and, Brown students, and students impacted by poverty, without diminishment of access to staff and services that supplement required direct instruction, and

Be it further RESOLVED, the MCEA calls for the BOE to adhere to all CDC guidelines regarding the physical reopening of school buildings which includes but is not limited to mitigation measures, and phased-in reopening of schools based on the zone metrics (Blue, Yellow, Orange, Red), and

Be it further RESOLVED, the MCEA calls for the BOE to adhere to CDC guidelines regarding the ventilation in worksites and environmental air quality of work sites. If any worksite does not have safe ventilation in all rooms, MCPS will install HEPA and other filters to block the spread of the Covid-19 virus. Further, MCPS shall release all test results for each worksite, office, and classroom to all stakeholders before requiring unit members to have to return to any worksites.

Share

Hucker: MoCo Will Expand its EITC

By Adam Pagnucco.

Montgomery County Council President Tom Hucker has responded to our post from yesterday asking whether the county will match the state’s expansion of its earned income tax credit (EITC). The short version of Hucker’s response: hell yeah!

Yesterday, Hucker wrote on Facebook:

“Will MoCo Match the State’s Earned Income Tax Credit?” The answer is Yes, I believe Montgomery County will expand the County EITC to provide additional, targeted relief to our suffering working families.

I’ve asked CE Marc Elrich to add these matching county funds to the FY22 budget. And I believe my colleagues will agree. This follows the good news that the MD House Democrats improved the State relief package that our MDReliefNow.com coalition had advocated for by expanding the MD EITC.

The EITC is one of the most effective, targeted anti-poverty programs available to us, and expanding it during this historic recession is highly appropriate & urgent.

Hucker has a point on this: if the county executive puts the funding to expand the EITC in his recommended budget (due next month), it’s inconceivable that the council would cut it. And Elrich was both a co-sponsor and an unwavering supporter of restoring the EITC when the council passed legislation to do that in 2013.

Thanks to Tom Hucker for his advocacy on this issue and his work for broader relief for recession-impacted Marylanders.

Share

Gino Celebrates Big Win on Pay

By Adam Pagnucco.

MCGEO President Gino Renne has sent out a blast email to his MoCo government members celebrating his new agreement on pay increases. Gino is right to celebrate because overall, both the COVID pay he negotiated and the new deal constitute a huge win for labor.

Let’s go back to May 2020. Facing a budget-ravaging pandemic, the county council voted down compensation increases contained in the collective bargaining agreements negotiated by MCGEO, the fire fighters and the police, the three unions who together represent MoCo employees. Those agreements contained $28 million in FY21 compensation increases, amounting to $38 million on an annualized basis. Labor was outraged and proceeded to picket the home of Council Member Hans Riemer, who was particularly vocal in abrogating the agreements.

But just a month before, the unions negotiated COVID pay agreements with County Executive Marc Elrich that provided far more than their abrogated contracts. The county eventually paid out more than $80 million in accordance with those agreements, greatly exceeding the $400,917 spent by Park and Planning and more than double the cost of the unions’ rejected contracts. And as the price for agreeing to let COVID pay end, Gino negotiated a 3.5% service increment, a 1.5% general wage adjustment and longevity pay which, on an annualized basis, should deliver tens of millions more for his members. Plus he can negotiate even more pay increases for FY22.

Gino and Marc Elrich in March 2017.

This was a master clinic on negotiating strategy, a colossal win for the unions and another story adding to Gino’s legend. We reprint his blast email below.

*****

From: UFCW Local 1994 MCGEO info@mcgeo.org
Subject: [External] Montgomery County Members | Breaking News – Local 1994, FOP 35, IAFF 1664 & County Executive Reach Agreement on FY 21 Compensation Package and COVID Differentials
Reply-To: info info@mcgeo.org

[Action Alert]

Breaking News – Local 1994, FOP 35, IAFF 1664 & County Executive Reach Agreement on FY 21 Compensation Package and COVID Differentials

The CARES act which provided funding for local government operations during the pandemic ended December 31, 2020. When the CARES act ended, the county became responsible for all costs, to include COVID differential pay. Since January 1, the County Council has insisted that our COVID differential pay end immediately and they planned to pass a resolution to end it this past week. The differential was bargained between Local 1994 and the County Executive for the additional risk assumed during the pandemic. The three county government unions, FOP Lodge 35, IAFF Local 1664 and Local 1994, engaged the County Executive and members of the Council to voice our concerns over their attempt to end COVID differential pay, and reminded them that increments and general wage adjustments were not funded for FY21.

After multiple meetings with the County Executive and members of the Council, we agreed to a FY21 GWA of 1.5% to begin in the last pay period of June 2021 and a service increment and longevity step to those eligible consistent with the MCGEO Collective Bargaining Agreement. The service and longevity increases will be effective April 11, 2021, for those who missed their increment or longevity step between July 1, 2020, and April 11, 2021. Members who are eligible between April 12 and June 30 will receive their FY21 increments and longevity step on the date due.

Now that the Council has assured the County Executive and the Unions that a GWA and increments will be funded before the end of the fiscal year, effective tomorrow (2/14/2021), the COVID differential pay will end. Although we know that the COVID differential was not nearly enough money to assume the risk of a deadly pandemic, it helped to make working in these conditions bearable. Understand, Montgomery County employees received the highest COVID differential pay in the DMV, if not the nation. Other local jurisdictions who provided a COVID hazard pay ended it months ago. In the event a new stimulus package includes money for a hazard pay, we will be back to the bargaining table with the executive on your behalf.

As always, your best interests and the interests of your union brothers and sisters are paramount. Take care of one another.

In Solidarity,

Gino Renne

Share

Elrich Announces End to COVID Pay

By Adam Pagnucco.

In a blast email sent to county employees on Saturday night, County Executive Marc Elrich announced an end to the county’s COVID emergency pay program. The pay program, initiated in March of last year and providing some classifications of county employees an extra $3-10 per hour, was the most generous of its kind in the region and possibly one of the most generous in the nation. To illustrate its magnitude, Park and Planning – which has about one-ninth of the employees of county government – spent $400,917 on COVID pay while the county to date has spent more than $80 million. According to Elrich, the program will be replaced with a service increment (which in the past equated to a 3.5% increase for eligible employees), a longevity increase and a 1.5% general wage adjustment, both starting in the current fiscal year. That means most county employees will be receiving 5% raises with possibly more coming in the FY22 budget.

Elrich’s blast email is reprinted below.

*****

From: MCG.Postmaster MCG.Postmaster@montgomerycountymd.gov
Sent: Saturday, February 13, 2021
To: #MCG_All <#MCG_All@montgomerycountymd.gov>
Subject: A Message from the County Executive

Dear Montgomery County Government family,

I am inspired by the outstanding work of Montgomery County employees each and every day as we navigate the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 crisis. Countless dedicated County employees have risked their personal safety to continue to deliver the services necessary for our residents in response to the pandemic. In recognition of their work, the County has provided differential pay for all eligible County employees whose jobs have required in-person work. Because of the work and commitment of so many of you, we have been able to keep the county running throughout this pandemic.

Earlier today, my leadership team reached an agreement with our three employee bargaining units to restore some of the compensation increases that were not approved by the County Council last spring as the first wave of COVID hit our community. I am pleased to inform you that the agreement calls for service increments and longevity steps to start with the April 11th pay period. For all eligible employees whose anniversary dates were earlier in the fiscal year, their increments will begin with the April 11th pay period. The increase will not be retroactive. If your anniversary date is later in the fiscal year, the increment will begin during the appropriate later pay period. In addition, a 1.5% General Wage Adjustment for all employees, including unrepresented employees, will go into effect starting with the June 20th pay period. Finally, the agreement ends the hazard pay differential beginning tomorrow, February 14th. While this is short notice for this change in current policy, this deal provides every employee with the certainty of a permanent adjustment to their salaries.

This agreement will need to be approved by the County Council before it is formally adopted, but I am confident the Councilmembers will swiftly act to approve this measured proposal. Thank you again for your commitment to the health and safety of our residents as well as your commitment to your colleagues. With this deal, we can focus our attention and resources on building a stronger, fairer, and more successful Montgomery County for all.

With gratitude for all you have done and continue to do.

Marc Elrich
Montgomery County Executive

Share

Will MoCo Match the State’s Earned Income Tax Credit?

By Adam Pagnucco.

Last week, Maryland Matters reported that the House of Delegates attached a large expansion of the state’s earned income tax credit (EITC) to Governor Larry Hogan’s pandemic relief bill. That’s good news for working class people in Maryland. It’s also complicated news for Montgomery County’s leadership.

That’s because MoCo is one of the few local jurisdictions in the nation that has a local EITC. The county’s EITC is tied to the state’s by county law. If the state’s EITC grows, so might MoCo’s.

MoCo’s EITC (called the Working Families Income Supplement) was first proposed in 1999 by then-County Executive Doug Duncan. Freshman Council Member Phil Andrews had introduced living wage legislation for county contractor employees that Duncan opposed, so Duncan came up with an alternative package including a county EITC. In the end, the county council passed both the living wage law and the EITC and both remain on the books today.

The county EITC was originally specified to provide a 100% match for the state EITC. So if a tax filer obtained a $500 credit from the state, the filer could also obtain a $500 credit from the county. That framework prevailed until the county got into budget trouble during the Great Recession. In 2010, the council passed legislation decoupling the county EITC from the state EITC and making it subject to whatever appropriation the council wanted to pass for it. By FY12, the EITC’s value had shrunk to 68.9% of the state’s credit. In 2013, Council Member Hans Riemer introduced a bill phasing in a restoration of the county EITC to 100% of the state’s EITC, which passed. (Disclosure: I was Riemer’s chief of staff at the time.)

The county code now contains the following language on setting the level of the county EITC.

Sec. 20-79. Amount of Supplement.

(a) Subject to subsection (b), the amount of the Working Families Income Supplement paid to each recipient must equal the amount of any refund the recipient receives from the State earned income credit program.

(b) The Council may approve a different amount in the annual operating budget by an affirmative vote of at least five Councilmembers.

According to Maryland Matters, the value of the state’s EITC is set to increase by a range of 28% to 45% for three years. Under current county law, the county’s EITC “must” match it unless the county council decides differently. Whether the county’s EITC rises too depends on whether the county executive remembers to put it in his recommended budget and whether the council votes to approve it.

Needless to say, this is a very big deal for MoCo’s working class residents.

Among its many virtues, the EITC is well suited to the unique circumstances of the COVID recession. Consider this recession’s quintessential victim: the payroll employee who is laid off and now works in the gig economy to make ends meet. What assistance program is best targeted to help this person? Unemployment benefits might help but they have eligibility requirements and limited duration. Assistance to the employer might help but only if the worker is rehired. Rental assistance might help but only if the worker knows to apply for it and only if the landlord wants to accept it. (Some don’t.) Language barriers and outreach issues are further complications.

In contrast, anyone who files an income tax return can claim the EITC. It applies to all earned income, not just to payroll income. No new program needs to be set up, no bureaucrats need to be hired and no federal grants need to be administered. The county already has a volunteer income tax assistance program to help low and moderate income county residents claim it. And because we are in tax season, the timing is right for the EITC to put money into the pockets of those who need it right away. According to the comptroller’s office, electronic filers can get their refunds a few days after they file returns. Compare that to the weeks and sometimes months required to process and disburse county grant applications.

There is one drawback: the EITC costs money. In FY21, the county budgeted $20 million to pay it. If MoCo matches the proposed state increase, the county might have to pay an extra $6-9 million a year for three years. That doesn’t sound like much in a nearly $6 billion county budget, but the county does have revenue pressures and a new whopping $100 million a year liability in COVID emergency pay.

Tough times require tough choices. Workers who have seen their incomes plummet during the pandemic know that better than anyone. Expanding the EITC is one of the best ways to target assistance to them in their time of need. Will MoCo leaders make the tough budget choices to help them?

Share

Once Again, Who’s the Boss?

By Adam Pagnucco.

Back in December, I wrote a column titled “Who’s the Boss?” in which I noted an extremely unusual event. It concerned MC 4-21, a local bill by Delegate Vaughn Stewart that enables – but does not mandate – the county to transfer administration of speed cameras from the police department to the transportation department. County Executive Marc Elrich and the county council support the bill. As elected officials, they get to set the positions of the county government on legislation and other important matters. County employees are then charged with implementing the policies decided by elected officials. That’s how government is supposed to work.

But that’s not how it worked in December, as representatives of the police department argued against the bill in a hearing before the county’s state legislators in open defiance of the executive, who the voters elected to be their boss. Multiple state legislators told me they had not witnessed something like that before. In the wake of my writing the column, I thought that the executive or his top lieutenants would crack heads and establish some discipline.

I thought wrong. Yesterday, it happened again. When the same bill (now listed as HB 564) was heard by the House Environment and Transportation Committee, once again an MCPD officer testified against it. The officer was Thomas Didone, who had also argued against it in December. Didone told the committee that he was appearing “as a Montgomery County resident and a traffic safety advocate for the International Association of Chiefs of Police Highway Safety Committee.” However, Didone is a lot more than that – he is an Assistant Chief and head of the police department’s Field Services Bureau. He is also a political appointee of the county executive, having been confirmed by the council in April, 2020. Political appointees serve at the pleasure of the executive.

Didone, bottom left, prepares to testify against a bill the county executive supports.

Didone absolutely trashed the bill, telling the committee, “Simply stated, this is bad policy based on emotions and not facts. Bad policy is bad and should not be considered.” Didone proceeded to tell the committee about how county police administer traffic cameras, demonstrating that he is no mere county resident.

Set aside the merits or lack thereof of the bill. What happened here was AMAZING. A political appointee of the county executive’s appeared in front of a House of Delegates committee and testified against a bill supported by the executive not once but TWICE. Ike Leggett would never have tolerated it. Doug Duncan would have… well, there are things too gruesome to be printed on a family-friendly blog like Seventh State!

Council Members Andrew Friedson and Hans Riemer picked up on this, writing a letter to Elrich asking him to get control of his staff. It’s true that Elrich has problems with the police department that have been exacerbated by his task force on reimagining the police. It’s also frankly irrelevant. Senior county managers don’t work for themselves. They work to implement policies established by elected officials who are accountable to voters. Elrich needs to assert his authority as the elected leader of the executive branch. If he does not, there will be chaos in Rockville.

The letter from Friedson and Riemer is reprinted below.

*****

February 12, 2021

County Executive Marc Elrich
101 Monroe Street, 2nd Floor
Rockville, MD 20850

County Executive Elrich,

The County Executive and Council have voiced their support for House Bill 564, local enabling legislation that would allow the County to move administration of the automated traffic enforcement program from Montgomery County Police to the Department of Transportation. In light of the County’s official position, you can understand the surprise and confusion created by the leader of the automated traffic enforcement program testifying in firm opposition to House Bill 564 on December 17 before the County Delegation’s Land Use Committee and on February 11 before the House Environment and Transportation Committee.

In his testimony, Assistant Chief Tom Didone said that moving the automated traffic enforcement program is “bad policy” and that the sponsoring legislators and those in County government who support it have done so “based on emotion and not fact.” His allegation is incorrect and appeared to create confusion about the County government’s true position among members of the Committee considering the bill – and understandably so.

Put aside for the moment that we continue to support the policy that House Bill 564 would enable on policy grounds. We believe moving the administration of automated traffic enforcement to the Department of Transportation is a more effective approach to reaching our Vision Zero goal by decreasing the speeding that leads to and causes deaths and severe injuries on our roadways. We also believe, consistent with the recommendations from your Reimagining Public Safety Task Force, that relying more on automated traffic enforcement will support our shared efforts to reduce bias in traffic enforcement. We welcome continued dialogue on the merit of this concept and look forward to exploring criticism of the policy, including by those with direct knowledge of the administration of the program.

We will be unable to have that discussion in any serious way if the concept is not allowed in State law. Unfortunately, the member of the Executive Branch staffed with leading the automated traffic enforcement program is advocating and lobbying against our ability to have that full public debate, despite our support.

This appears to have made approval of the enabling state legislation more difficult and such activity threatens to undercut the formal support from County elected leadership for any enabling bills before the General Assembly that impact our County. As County Executive, surely you do not want Executive Branch staff contradicting your own position. We ask that you work with members of the Executive Branch to get their expertise, their insight, and their concerns about any proposed policy in a manner that is more appropriate and respectful of our responsibility to represent the public and the standard procedures the County uses to weigh in on State legislation.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

Andrew Friedson
Councilmember, District 1

Hans Riemer
Councilmember, At-Large

CC: Richard Madaleno, Chief Administrative Officer
Melanie Wenger, Director, Office of Intergovernmental Relations
Marcus Jones, Chief, Montgomery County Police
Tom Didone, Assistant Chief, Montgomery County Police
Chris Conklin, Director, Department of Transportation
Delegate Marc Korman, Chair, Montgomery County Delegation
Delegate Kumar Barve, Chair, House Environment and Transportation Committee
Delegate Vaughn Stewart

Share

County Health Officer: It’s Not Fair That We’re a Punching Bag

By Adam Pagnucco.

In the wake of mass confusion, rampant rumors and frustration about vaccine availability, MoCo Health Officer Travis Gayles defended the county’s vaccine performance at a media briefing today. In evaluating what Gayles had to say, let’s remember a few salient points: there is a nationwide shortage of vaccines; the state allocates vaccines it receives from the federal government between county health departments, hospitals, pharmacies and other vaccinating entities; Montgomery County did not receive doses commensurate with its population as of late January; the counties do not have enough supplies to vaccinate everyone covered by the state’s current phases; and MoCo’s state legislators are demanding that the state do a better job. Neither Gayles nor anyone else in county government has control over these factors. Additionally, Gayles has been targeted by racist and homophobic attacks.

That said, Gayles is clearly fed up with the criticism directed at the county. Below is an excerpt from his remarks to the press.

*****

The other thing that I want to comment on, that I will say, that I will take a moment of personal privilege and professional privilege to address a couple of concerns. As a health officer, we have – and as a public health official – we have absorbed a lot of criticism, to put it mildly, in terms of our jobs and what we’re trying to execute and do. The health departments, particularly here in Maryland, have made great strides in terms of ensuring that our residents have access to timely information, when we find it out, as well as from all levels of the pandemic response from testing opportunities to now when we talk about vaccination, in helping provide guidance to our elected officials in terms of making other decisions related to business, to schools, etcetera. We’ve come under a lot of fire and we are a convenient punching bag, if you will, when things don’t go well.

But that’s not fair to us, and it’s not fair to the thousands of first-line responders who are part of health departments, who are working in our communities to stand up and make sure that our residents are safe. Now we have provided as much guidance to the state as we can, particularly as it relates to vaccine-related issues. We still do not find out our allotments until late. It’s Thursday afternoon and I can’t tell you how many doses that the health department in Montgomery County or any other venue in Montgomery County will receive for doses next week. That limits our ability to be able to consistently stand up clinics and provide timely information to you as our residents.

So we recognize your frustration because we share a lot of that frustration. We do know that the governor is having a press conference in about an hour and a half. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you what those comments will be as unfortunately often-times health officers are not included in those conversations. So what I’m saying is we recognize your frustration as our residents and we’re doing everything we can to get information in a timely manner so that we can put it together in a comprehensive, cohesive manner to deliver you the services that you deserve as our residents of our jurisdiction. So while we continue to advocate on your behalf, we do hope that you remain patient with us as we continue to work with the resources that we have in order to put out a product that is worthy of being accepted and meets the needs of you as our residents.

Share

Brandy’s Bonkers Bucks

By Adam Pagnucco.

Last weekend, returning county council candidate Brandy Brooks announced her new campaign for an at-large seat and she is out FAST from the gate. Why do I say that?

Because she is on an incredible pace to qualify for matching funds in the county’s public financing program.

MoCo candidates who opt into the county’s public financing program don’t get public matching funds right away. They need to meet a threshold of contributions from in-county residents which depends on the office for which they are running. According to Sec. 16-21 of the county code, council at-large candidates must collect at least 250 contributions from in-county residents totaling at least $20,000 before they are eligible to collect matching funds.

Now check this out. Brooks’s fundraising site went live on Saturday, February 6. Here is what it looks like as of 11:30 AM on Wednesday, February 10.

Yeah, you saw it: $19,161 from 211 donations. I hear a supermajority of those contributions have come from in-county residents. I’m sure we will hear more about that soon enough.

Now you might be tempted to say that $19,161 is not a lot of money. But this is public financing, in which public money amplifies individual contributions through matching funds. In MoCo’s system, for a council candidate, the maximum individual contribution allowed is $250. (It was $150 last time.) The first $50 is matched 4 to 1, the second $50 is matched 3 to 1 and the third $50 is matched 2 to 1. So a $250 contribution from an in-county resident is matched by $450 in public funds, thereby earning $700 for the receiving candidate.

In the prior cycle, candidates who qualified received an immediate large infusion of public funds after remitting their paperwork to the State Board of Elections. Initial distributions of matching funds totaled $86,136 for at-large incumbent Hans Riemer, $100,746 for Bill Conway, $73,814 for Hoan Dang, $116,061 for Evan Glass, $96,864 for Will Jawando and $88,979 for Gabe Albornoz. Other candidates who qualified received $70,000 or more in their first distribution with more public money coming in later.

Now here was the catch last time: it took a long time for candidates to reach their qualifying thresholds. Brooks, for example, received her first batch of public funds roughly eleven months after she established her account. In this cycle, she looks to be getting close to qualifying in LESS THAN A WEEK.

That’s bonkers, folks. Totally banana cakes!

Brooks is building a large team of progressives. This list is just going to grow.

So what does this mean? Brooks won’t get any public money right away. The county doesn’t start paying matching funds until a year before the primary, which occurs on June 28, 2022. So Brooks has to wait a while to get the big bucks. But when she does apply, she will probably get an infusion of at least $100,000 and she can apply for more matching funds as she gets more in-county contributions. The cap for matching funds receivable by council at-large candidates is $250,000 for the primary and another $250,000 for the general election. Even after a candidate hits the matching fund cap, that candidate can still collect as many individual contributions of up to $250 each as he or she can get.

Does this mean that Brooks is a shoo-in for election? Well, let’s consider the field in which she is running. Incumbent Hans Riemer can’t run again due to term limits, thereby creating one open seat. Incumbents Evan Glass and Gabe Albornoz used public financing last time and still have their donor lists. If they enroll in public financing again, they should have little problem raising money from their existing lists and qualifying for matching funds. Their status as incumbents should bring in new money too. Incumbent Will Jawando was the leading council fundraiser in public financing last time, but he has opted for the traditional system this time around. That said, Jawando has been a strong fundraiser in his prior campaigns, whatever the system, and there is little reason to believe that has changed now that he’s an incumbent.

So all of that probably places Brooks on a close-to-even financial footing with the incumbents. That’s a good thing for any challenger. And if any other candidates get into the at-large race and use public financing without prior experience in the system, they could take a while to get matching funds while Brooks and the incumbents are rolling in money. If you’re on Team Brandy, there is nothing but goodness in this scenario.

I said it once and I’ll say it again. Don’t underestimate Brandy Brooks.

*****

[An aside: to whichever county officials are responsible for this, you need to update your website materials and the online county code to reflect changes to public financing made by Bill 31-20. Otherwise you will have a helluva mess as candidates try to comply with the system believing that the old provisions still apply.]

Share

MoCo Turnout 2020: Party Splits

By Adam Pagnucco.

Eighty percent of MoCo voters turned out in the 2020 general election, about average for a presidential year. In splicing the data, I did not find large variations in turnout rate by geography. The highest turnout was in Leisure World (85%) and the lowest was in Glenmont/Norbeck (73%). But there was significant variation in party turnout by area, demonstrating one of MoCo’s least appreciated characteristics: its political heterogeneity.

MoCo is thought of as a blue county, and at first glance, it is. All of the county’s partisan elected officials have been Democrats since 2006 and Democratic candidates for statewide office and president have won here for decades. But there are big political differences between parts of the county. For example, while Takoma Park is one of the most progressive areas in the United States, Republicans are competitive in Damascus.

The charts below show the percentage of MoCo voters who were Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated or third party voters in the 2020 general election. The source of the data is the State Board of Elections. (See here for my methodology and definitions.) This information shows the differences in party participation by area.

Democrats

Democrats comprised 70% or more of the voters in the Democratic Crescent (the areas inside and near the Beltway), Downtown Silver Spring, Takoma Park and most of east county. Crescent voters play out-sized roles in Democratic primaries and were key to depressing Governor Larry Hogan’s MoCo vote percentage in 2018. Democrats were less dominant in upcounty and fell short of a majority of voters in Dickerson, Poolesville and Damascus.

Republicans

Republicans were just 15% of actual voters countywide. But they accounted for a quarter or more of voters in some parts of upcounty and were a third or more in Dickerson, Poolesville and Damascus. While the GOP has some pockets of influence here, they are in long-term decline in MoCo as I will discuss in a future post.

Unaffiliated/Third Party

Of the 156,702 eligible MoCo voters who were not Democrats or Republicans, 147,417 (94%) of them were unaffiliated. Unaffiliated and third party voters together accounted for 21% of actual voters, more than the Republicans. It’s probably not a coincidence that North Potomac, Clarksburg and Potomac had the highest percentages of these voters as those areas have concentrations of Asian residents. Many Asian voters don’t choose party affiliation and they tend to be politically diverse. It remains to be seen how the Trump presidency will affect their party choices in registration and voting over the long term.

One effect Trump did have was to stimulate a surge in voting among MoCo Democrats, as we will explore in a future post. There was also a lot of partisan activity around the four county ballot questions last year which gave the Democratic Party a lot of influence over their chances of success. That may not always be the case in the future, and if it’s not, Republicans and unaffiliated voters can still play a role in coming general elections.

Share

Maryland Politics Watch

Visit Us On FacebookVisit Us On TwitterCheck Our Feed