We Can’t Tell Them Apart

By Adam Pagnucco.

On Saturday, your author attended a forum for the two Senate candidates and eight House candidates running in District 18.  (These are the sad things we do after football season is over!)  What did we learn?

Not a whole lot.

You see, while MoCo has plenty of demographic, cultural and economic diversity, it has little political diversity – at least among those who run for office.  Take the candidates on stage.  Yes, there are demographic differences – two are African American men and five are women.  Yes, there are differences in life and professional experience.  They include a former teacher, a former doctor, a non-profit executive, two incumbent Delegates, a Town Council Member and more.  But on issues?

Let’s see.  They all support public education.  They all want more transportation options, especially those involving transit, walking and biking.  They all want more abundant and affordable health care coverage.  They are all pro-environment.  They are all pro-immigrant.  They all oppose Trumpism.  They all pledged to run positive campaigns.  (Can you imagine if any of them did not??)  They all… well, you get the idea.

There is more political diversity in every barroom, every Thanksgiving dinner and every long line at the grocery store than at a MoCo candidate forum!

The District 18 forum at Newport Mill Middle School.  Photo by Council At-Large candidate Evan Glass.

Let’s be restrained in our expectations: no one “wins” these forums.  The candidates’ objectives are to show that they are informed and competent, that they are in line with the values of folks in the room, and that they are not banana cakes.  Upon demonstrating minimum suitability, they then meet some activists who bring up micro-issues they have never heard of while they smile pleasantly and try to avoid checking their phones.

How do candidates stand out?  There are dozens and dozens of them on the ballot – thirty in the Council At-Large race alone.  The volume of mail about to descend on the county could clear a tropical rain forest.  Is bio and life experience enough?  Will anyone ace all the endorsements (aside from the incumbents)?  Will anyone be able to outspend the others?  That may be unlikely for a race dominated by public financing, as the Council At-Large race is, in which many candidates will be raising similar amounts.  Will any candidate dare to be different when political conformity is expected and few wish to deviate from the norm?

As for issues, here are a few questions that will draw out differences between candidates.  Moderators should keep them in mind for forums so that attendees will win the struggle to stay awake.

Do you support rent control?

Should the county and/or state governments require project labor agreements on construction projects providing for union representation of all craft workers?

Should the private sector be permitted to compete with the county’s liquor monopoly?

Should master plans require infrastructure to be built as a condition of allowing new development?

Do you support tuition-free public college for everyone?

Should the county build M-83, the Upcounty highway from Montgomery Village to Clarksburg?

Should existing traffic lanes be set aside as dedicated lanes for bus rapid transit?

Should a non-partisan commission draw Congressional and legislative district lines even if it means giving more seats to Republicans?  (Just watch the incumbent state legislators squirm on this one!)

Under what circumstances should taxes be raised?

How did you serve the community before you started running for office?

Please moderators – puh-leeeeeeeze – try to draw out some differences between our candidates.  Because heaven help us, for so many of them, we can’t tell them apart.


Building Owners Make Council Endorsements

By Adam Pagnucco.

A PAC associated with the Apartment and Building Owners Association of Metropolitan Washington (AOBA) has endorsed Hans Riemer and Marilyn Balcombe for Council At-Large, Craig Rice in Council District 2 and Sidney Katz in Council District 3.  AOBA is one of a small number of business groups that endorse in county elections.  Two others are the Building Industry Association and the Realtors; the latter are known for sending out mail promoting endorsed candidates.  We reprint AOBA’s press release below.


MoCo Had Nineteen New Business Filings in 2016

By Adam Pagnucco.

Your author has been a corporate and economic researcher for almost twenty-five years.  During that time, we have encountered MANY crazy statistics.  Most of them can be thrown out in ten seconds or less as obviously flawed, generated by suspect sources or both.  But once in a while, even a crazy statistic can have merit because it comes from an unimpeachable source.  This is one of those times.

According to the State Department of Assessments and Taxation (SDAT), there were nineteen new business filings in MoCo in Fiscal Year 2016.  Not nineteen thousand or nineteen hundred.  Nineteen.

This stat came to light in connection with HB380, a bill introduced by Delegate Mark Fisher (R-Calvert) that would exempt new businesses from paying personal property taxes.  In writing the fiscal note for the bill, the General Assembly’s Department of Legislative Services (DLS) had to estimate how many new businesses are started around the state and the volume of personal property taxes they pay.  So DLS went to SDAT, which processes business filings as part of its duties.  All corporations and partnerships must register with SDAT to operate legally in the state.  SDAT reported to DLS that the state had 332 new business filings in FY16, of which nineteen were in MoCo.

SDAT’s tabulation of new business filings by county in FY16.

Could this be a fluke?  That’s a natural question to ask of any seemingly crazy stat.  Fisher introduced a similar bill two years ago (HB572) for which a fiscal note was drafted using FY15 data.  In that year, the state had 536 new business filings, of which fifty-seven were in MoCo.

SDAT’s tabulation of new business filings by county in FY15.

Let’s note that this data does not directly address jobs, the huge majority of which are created by existing businesses that expand operations.  But MoCo has been a weak job generator over the last fifteen years and in order to have existing businesses, new ones must be constantly created.  An anemic pace of business formation may eventually impact job creation.

According to the Census Bureau’s 2012 Survey of Business Owners (available through American Fact Finder), there were 118,965 firms in Montgomery County, 21,396 of which had paid employees.  Given those numbers, one might expect hundreds of firms to start up and a similar number to go dark every year due to the churn of capitalism.  But nineteen new companies in one year?  Bethesda Magazine printed a list of sixteen Bethesda-area restaurants that closed in 2016.  If only a handful of more businesses closed in the entire county, MoCo would have had net negative business formation that year.

Additionally, MoCo’s performance relative to the rest of the state was sub-par.  According to the Census Bureau, the State of Maryland had 531,953 firms in 2012, of which 101,876 had paid employees.  So MoCo had 22% of all firms in the state and 21% of the firms with paid employees.  However, MoCo had just 6% of the state’s new business filings in 2016 and 11% of new filings in 2015.  We would love to acquire historical data to see if this is a trend.

This data joins soft recent growth in employment and income as well as the $120 million budget shortfall, half of which was due to factors other than tax planning by the wealthy, as evidence that our economy is not as strong as we would like it to be to pay our county’s bills.  And because the new business filings were weak in many other local jurisdictions besides MoCo, economic growth must draw attention across the state as well.

Which candidates for office do you think can help turn this around?


Sierra Club Issues Second Round of Endorsements

By Adam Pagnucco.

The Maryland Sierra Club has issued a second round of state-level endorsements.  We have previously listed their first round of endorsements and their county-level endorsements in MoCo.  The new MoCo candidates who have been endorsed are:

District 14: Senator Craig Zucker, Delegate Pam Queen.  Delegates Anne Kaiser and Eric Luedtke were endorsed in the first round.

District 15: Delegate candidate Lily Qi.  Senator Brian Feldman and Delegates Kathleen Dumais and David Fraser-Hidalgo were endorsed in the first round.

District 16: Delegate candidate Sara Love.  Senator Susan Lee and Delegates Ariana Kelly and Marc Korman were endorsed in the first round.

District 17: Delegate candidate Julie Palakovich Carr.  Senator Cheryl Kagan and Delegates Kumar Barve and Jim Gilchrist were endorsed in the first round.

District 18: Senate candidate Jeff Waldstreicher, Delegate candidates Emily Shetty and Jared Solomon.  Delegate Al Carr was endorsed in the first round.

District 19: Senate candidate Ben Kramer, Delegate candidate Vaughn Stewart.  Delegates Bonnie Cullison and Marice Morales were endorsed in the first round.

District 20: Senator Will Smith, Delegate Jheanelle Wilkins.  Delegate David Moon was endorsed in the first round.

District 39: Senator Nancy King, Delegate candidate Lesley Lopez.  Delegates Kirill Reznik and Shane Robinson were endorsed in the first round.

Every MoCo incumbent running for reelection was endorsed.  Two Delegates running for Senate, Jeff Waldstreicher and Ben Kramer, were also endorsed.  The full statewide list can be seen here.

The big winners here are the non-incumbent House candidates looking to distance themselves from competitors, including Qi (D-15), Love (D-16), Palakovich Carr (D-17), Shetty and Solomon (D-18), Stewart (D-19) and Lopez (D-39).  Lopez is a really big winner because she gets to talk about something other than the District 39 slate controversy and she interrupts a growing slew of labor endorsements for her most viable rival, MCGEO employee Gabe Acevero.  Interestingly, the Sierra Club did not choose between the leading two District 20 open House seat contenders, Lorig Charkoudian and Darian Unger.

We are tracking prominent institutional endorsements and will post a summary list soon.


Back Door Rent Control Bill Introduced at Last Minute

By Adam Pagnucco.

In preparation for months but dropped at the last minute, a local bill now under consideration by the Montgomery County delegation may just bring rent control to the county.  The bill has received scant notice… until now.

MC 15-18 would establish standards of just cause for the eviction of tenants in Montgomery County.  The bill defines just cause as tenant behaviors including not paying rent, breaching the terms of the lease, committing illegal acts on the premises, causing substantial damage, engaging in disorderly conduct, refusing to grant access to the landlord for repairs and inspections and refusing to provide information to satisfy affordable housing agreements.  Just cause would also exist if the landlord is removing the unit from the rental market, recovering it for use by family members or performing work that requires evacuation.  There is also this definition of just cause:

A tenant refuses, after receiving notice, to execute an extension or a renewal of an expired residential lease for a term of like duration and on terms substantially similar to the terms of the prior residential lease.

In other words, a tenant may not be evicted if a lease renewal does not have terms “substantially similar” to the prior lease.  What does that mean?  If a lease contains a rental rate that increases above the prior rate by more than the rate of inflation, is it “substantially similar” or not?  The bill does not say.  It’s possible that if the bill is passed in its current form, a tenant could challenge a new lease with an above-inflation rent hike on the grounds that it is not “substantially similar” to the prior lease.  If the courts agree, MoCo would be effectively subject to rent control.

The circumstances of the bill’s introduction are troubling.  The bill was drafted on October 17.  There was plenty of time for it to be introduced before the delegation’s local bill hearing in Rockville on December 6, which was live streamed and is available for viewing on the county’s video archive.  Instead, the bill was introduced as a late file on February 2 – more than three months after it was drafted.  The hearing in Annapolis seven days later, which was not televised or recorded, had just eight witnesses because there was not enough time to hear everyone who wanted to speak.  (That’s a sharp contrast with the Rockville hearings, which frequently stretch into the wee hours.)

The upper right corner of the bill clearly shows its drafting date as October 17.

We have no position on just cause eviction, but a huge body of research shows that rent control has been a massive policy failure.  Its usage in Takoma Park has coincided with an 18% drop in the number of rental units in the city between 2000 and 2015.  Even a Vietnamese Communist Foreign Minister admitted that rent control there was a mistake, saying, “The Americans couldn’t destroy Hanoi, but we have destroyed our city by very low rents. We realized it was stupid and that we must change policy.”

Bills like this are why we have a legislative process, as lengthy and frustrating as it might be.  It’s entirely possible that this bill’s sponsors do not intend for it to enact rent control.  One of the reasons why we have public input and press scrutiny is to identify unintended consequences in legislation so that they can be remedied and not cause problems later.  When bills are withheld for months and dropped at the last minute, that process is hindered.  Moreover, the delegation needs to consider this: is it fair to ask colleagues to cast a tough vote on something as politically volatile as rent control just months before the election?  And especially under circumstances of introduction such as these?

This bill needs to be withdrawn, reworked and reconsidered next year.  Whatever is done, let’s make sure to get it right.


Laborers Union Announces MoCo Endorsements

By Adam Pagnucco.

The Mid-Atlantic region of the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA) has announced its endorsements in MoCo county-level races.  The union is supporting Marc Elrich (County Executive), Andrew Friedson (Council D1), Ben Shnider (Council D3), Nancy Navarro (Council D4), Tom Hucker (Council D5) and Hans Riemer and Chris Wilhelm (Council At-Large).

LIUNA’s announcement on Twitter.

Elrich and Shnider are starting to roll up progressive endorsements; both are supported by SEIU Local 32BJ and Casa, while Shnider has the Sierra Club and Elrich has the AFL-CIO.  Friedson looks like he is building the kind of business-labor coalition that once supported politicians like Doug Duncan.  Navarro and Hucker have no opponents – so far.

LIUNA, SEIU and UFCW Local 400 (grocery store workers) are probably the most active unions in the Washington region that include at least some private sector members.  LIUNA does not represent any MoCo county employees, but it does represent workers employed by the county’s private trash removal contractors.  LIUNA’s main objective is getting the county to use project labor agreements on its construction projects which would mandate union representation of the workers on those jobs.  While the union has not been a huge player in MoCo politics in the past, it did spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to get Cathy Pugh elected as Mayor of Baltimore in 2016.

[Disclosure: your author worked as a strategic researcher for LIUNA’s international office in 1994 and 1995.]


Top MoCo Fundraisers, January 2018

By Adam Pagnucco.

Recently, we have run several reports on fundraising through January 2018.  This post combines all of our data and presents the top 20 fundraisers in MoCo so far.  Note that we break out self-financing and report totals raised for the cycle, not just totals since the last report.  And… here they are!

A few random thoughts.

1.  It’s natural to expect Brian Frosh and Peter Franchot to be the leaders since they both hold statewide offices.  Of the county-level candidates, Council Member Roger Berliner, who is running for Executive, is number one.

2.  The numbers for Senator Rich Madaleno (D-18), who is running for Governor, are misleading since he will be applying for public matching funds.  Madaleno has said that he anticipates receiving about $975,000 from the state.

3.  Delegate Jeff Waldstreicher (D-18), who is running for Senate, is the leading fundraiser among all of MoCo’s state legislators.  He will need that money against his self-funding rival, Dana Beyer.

4.  County Executive candidate David Blair, gubernatorial candidate Krish Vignarajah, Council District 1 candidate Andrew Friedson and Council At-Large candidate Bill Conway are first-time candidates.  It’s a significant achievement for first-timers to make a list of this kind although it’s somewhat tempered by the self-financing of Blair and Vignarajah.

5.  Delegate Marc Korman (D-16) is the only first-term elected official on this list.  That’s a big deal and a sign of good things to come.

6.  Council Member Marc Elrich, who is running for Executive, has never been on a top fundraising list in his life.  He is now, and that’s thanks to public financing.

7.  Lieutenant Governor candidate Susan Turnbull raised more money in a month and a half of campaigning than half the people on this list did in the entire cycle, a staggering feat.

8.  Governor Larry Hogan has raised more money this cycle ($11.5 million) than everyone on this list combined.

Note: an earlier version of this post mistakenly omitted Turnbull’s results.  We have corrected it to include her.


Team MoCo

By Adam Pagnucco.

Yesterday, we wrote about the recent history of MCPS and it was not a pretty picture.  The recession, new state laws, political conflict and the erosion of a once-strong consensus around the public schools resulted in MCPS getting lower funding increases than most of the rest of county government, especially when measured in local dollars.  But the good news here is that change is coming to MoCo with the sheer number of open seats in county elected offices.  There is a better way forward.  And today, we will plot out what that way can be.

First, let’s steal a page from the playbook of former MCPS Head Coach Jerry Weast and recognize this: nothing brings folks together like a common enemy.  The Axis powers brought together America and the Soviet Union.  The New England Patriots brought together nearly all NFL fans without ties to the Greater Boston area to root for the not-quite-as-bad Philadelphia Eagles.  And Donald Trump may just bring together the feuding members of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, who hate Trump more than they dislike each other.

The various factions of MoCo’s education family do not have a common enemy, but they do have a common challenge: dealing with Annapolis.  The state capital poses three problems for MoCo’s public schools.  First, the state has a Governor who has cut education funding before (especially state aid for MoCo) and is doing it again.  Second, while the state has improved recently, it still short changes MoCo on school construction money and the county cannot keep up with capacity needs on its own.  And third, a consultant advising the state’s Kirwan Commission on education reform has recommended massive cuts to state operating aid to MCPS.  If all three of these things proceed in a baleful direction, MCPS’s funding issues will get a lot worse and the entire county – parents, students, school employees, residents and businesses – will pay a steep price.

When you get past the details of MCPS’s recent money problems, one root cause stands out: political division in the wake of Weast’s departure.  The County Executive, the County Council, MCPS leadership, the MCPS unions and the PTAs all have different priorities and different views on MCPS funding, and they often go in different directions.  That has to stop or things won’t change.  We need a Team MoCo.  And here’s what that looks like.

County Council

The council has one job when it comes to the schools: funding them.  And since the schools are both a critical public policy priority as well as a big political priority for the voters, their funding situation must improve from the last eight years.  The council largely got this right in its FY18 budget, which gave MCPS a modest (roughly $20 million) increase over the state’s Maintenance of Effort requirement.  The policy of regular, modest per pupil local dollar increases that will – at the very least – keep pace with MCPS’s costs and needs should continue.

The council must not get involved in sensitive internal MCPS issues, especially in pressuring the system on its collective bargaining agreements.  Blowing up the union contracts in 2016 was a major mistake and caused a serious breach of trust.  Let MCPS management and the unions decide what the agreements look like in the context of their total budget.  If the council does not stay out of this, Team MoCo will crumble and the entire arrangement will fall apart.

Superintendent and Board of Education

If the council gives MCPS leadership the funding it needs, then MCPS leadership must reciprocate by giving the council what it needs: fiscal stability.  The state’s Maintenance of Effort (MOE) law, which was rewritten in 2012, sets each year’s local dollar per pupil funding as a base for future years.  Every time the base goes up, it becomes a new base and can only be lowered by a waiver from the State Board of Education.  This is a major concern for the council and was partially responsible for several years of per pupil cuts and freezes.  Given the immense implications of this for the county’s budget and AAA bond rating, the council is right to be wary of going too far above MOE.

Fortunately, § 5-202 (d) (9) of the state’s education law specifies that the State Board of Education shall grant an MOE waiver “in the amount that has been agreed on by the county and county board that is attributable to reductions in recurring costs.”  In other words, if the county falls into another big recession and it has to cut costs in the school system along with all the other agencies, it can get a waiver if the school board agrees.  This deal must be honored by MCPS: if the council extends its trust by funding them, MCPS must agree to reciprocate by helping to relieve the county of financial stress in dire circumstances.  Both sides must stick to this or relations will revert to the bad old years.

MCPS Unions and PTAs

MCEA and SEIU Local 500 are two of the most powerful players in county politics.  The PTAs do not endorse candidates, but they have listservs that include thousands of parents and therefore – at least in theory – have a big voice.  These organizations should function as the muscle of Team MoCo.  They will be getting regular funding increases and, in return, they should help the Team pressure Annapolis to get what is needed for the county.

MoCo Delegation

If Team MoCo gets its act together and strikes an equitable deal for local funding for the schools, the remaining challenges lie in Annapolis.  Rockville does not understand Annapolis.  It does not fully appreciate the obstacles faced by the delegation in pursuing county priorities: the perception of MoCo by the rest of the state as paved in gold; the competing priorities of other population centers in the state; the constraining effect of the legislature’s leadership; and the fiscal constraints of the state’s own tight budget.  Given those hurdles, it’s a heavy lift for the delegation to bring back Big Bacon to MoCo.  But it can be done: witness the Baltimore City delegation’s victory in getting the state to pump a billion dollars into the city’s school construction program.  The city legislators are not smarter than MoCo’s legislators (although they are more parochial).  A big reason for their win was that the entire city stuck together, from the Mayor to the City Council to the city legislators to the folks back home who wanted the money.  Team Baltimore got a billion dollars.  We need a Team MoCo to do something similar.

The role of the county leadership and its constituent groups is to set a mark for the delegation and do everything possible to help them stay organized and succeed.  This is not easy; the other jurisdictions and the presiding officers won’t just roll over for us.  Every member of Team MoCo has to tell our delegation with one unified voice, “We have your backs.  We know it’s a lift, but if you come through for us, we will celebrate you like the heroes you are.  You will never have to buy a drink for yourselves in Rockville ever again.  And if you don’t come through, you will not be served a drink in Rockville ever again!”  Good performance must be rewarded.  Bad performance must be met with accountability.

One more thing: the delegation has an ace card.  Senate President Mike Miller and Speaker Mike Busch are not going to run the General Assembly for much longer.  Successors to their thrones are making the rounds and lining up votes, however quietly.  The MoCo legislators should tell all of them that whoever gives the county the best deal on schools will lock up all their votes.  It’s huge leverage that should not be wasted, but it will only be used if it pays off in political terms.  Team MoCo’s job is to make sure it does pay off so the Big Bacon gets served.

County Executive

This is the most critical person in this entire endeavor.  Every team needs a Captain.  In MoCo, that has to be the Executive.  This individual is the county’s spokesperson and the one everybody else will inevitably look to for leadership.  The Executive must be a troubleshooter who works out periodic squabbles between the different members of the family, charts out a general course on budgets and state action and makes sure everyone gets the credit they deserve.  Most of all, the Executive must be a LEADER.  The lesson from the aftermath of Weast is that without central leadership, everything can fall apart.  If we pick the right Executive, that won’t happen and Team MoCo can succeed.

And so if everything works out, everyone wins.  The county gets its fair share from the state.  MCPS stakeholders get the funding they need.  MCPS employees get fair compensation and the resources they need to do their jobs.  The elected officials get to be heroes.  And the county as a whole will maintain its status as one of the best places to live on Planet Earth.

We can do it, folks.  Yes we can!  If you agree, ask the candidates how they intend to play on our team and keep it in mind for Election Day.  Team MoCo will only come together if the voters demand it.


Where Will the Apple Drop?

By Adam Pagnucco.

Many moons ago, when your author was young and blissfully new to the county, we wrote our very first blog post on the mighty Apple Ballot.  It was unimaginatively titled, “The 800 lb Gorilla of MoCo Politics.”  Then as now, the Apple was one of the most coveted endorsements in MoCo.  But my oh my, so much has changed.

Back in the Age of the Golden Apple, the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) was the centerpiece of a powerful political organization created by then-Superintendent Jerry Weast.  Weast was not a pro-union progressive by nature, but he understood that politics is a team sport and it was necessary to play it to get money.  So the Weast Machine included the education unions (MCEA, SEIU and the principals), the PTAs, the Washington Post editorial page and the school system’s internal Ministry of Propaganda.  (That was not its title, but you get the point!)  Weast traded real input in the MCPS budget for stakeholders in return for absolute loyalty in joint combat against the outside – especially the County Council.  Anyone who messed with the school system didn’t take on Weast alone – they had to go against the entire Machine.  Weast capitalized on his organization as well as productive relationships with County Executive Doug Duncan and County Council Education Committee Chair Mike Subin to get substantial and regular budget increases.  The whole system was greased by strong revenue growth and occasional tax hikes.

The District 18/Silver Spring version of the Apple Ballot from 2006.  This is the document that began your author’s career in blogging.

Those days are long gone.  Three major changes have occurred over the last ten years.

First, Weast jumped the shark – not once, but twice.  His first big sin was calling union leaders to his house to ask them to endorse Nancy Navarro in the 2008 Council District 4 special election.  That attracted criticism from multiple Council Members as inappropriate conduct by an appointed non-partisan administrator.  His second big sin was threatening to sue the county over a budget disagreement two years later.  These kinds of behavior helped convince Weast’s adversaries that he was not merely an irritant, but an actual threat, and prompted some to brand him a Rogue Superintendent.  That set the stage for the bitter budget battles to come.

Second, the county and regional economies were greatly weakened in the wake of the Great Recession.  The chart below shows growth in county revenue (excluding intergovernmental aid) over the last twenty years.  Red bars indicate years in which major tax hikes were passed.  From FY98 through FY09, a generally prosperous economy helped county revenues grow by an annual average of 6.2%.  But from FY10 through FY18, the days of the Great Recession and beyond, county revenues grew by an annual average of 3.1%.  (That does not include the recent $120 million budget shortfall.)  There is simply not as much money to go around as there used to be.  Accordingly, revitalizing the economy should be a huge policy objective for all of the county’s employee unions and everyone else who cares about funding local government.

Third, the local money that was available was not as directed to MCPS as it once was.  There are many reasons for that: the Holy War that broke out between the County Council and the school system in Weast’s final days; dissatisfaction with changes to the state’s Maintenance of Effort law; the state’s execrable decision to shift part of the teacher pension burden down to the counties, which is costing MoCo tens of millions of dollars every year and stifling funding for other priorities; and the growth of many other needs in the county’s budget.  Council Member Nancy Floreen defended the county’s record on MCPS funding and your author offered a reply.

Whatever the reasons, MCPS has not received operating fund increases commensurate with most of the rest of the government in recent years.  The chart below shows budgetary growth by major department and agency from FY10, the peak year before the Great Recession, through FY18.  The effects of the recently approved mid-year savings plan are shown at right.  Note that the time period includes the recession itself, the recovery years afterwards and the FY17 9% property tax hike which was marketed as a boost for education.  MCPS’s total funding increased by 13% over these eight years, roughly half the 25% increase for the total county government.  Non-local funding for the schools, the huge majority of which is state aid, went up by 33%.  But local funding for the schools went up by just 6% as the county spent its own money disproportionately on other activities.  Meanwhile, MCPS’s enrollment went up by 15% during this period.

The Weast Machine has been shattered.  Its demise was due to the decline of the economy, conscious policy choices by county decision makers and, ironically, because of the school system’s own leadership as well.  The key moment came in the spring of 2016, when the County Council conditioned its offer of a substantial increase in MCPS funding on a requirement that it go to reducing class size and not to increasing teacher compensation.  The Weast Machine would have resisted that condition, but the system’s leadership agreed to it.  And so the council voted unanimously to instruct the school system to shift $37 million from employee compensation to class size reduction and the school system reduced teacher raises to comply.  The legacy of this moment is that there is no longer a united front between MCPS leaders and their unions – a major loss of leverage in the school system’s dealings with county electeds.  The end result was not so great for the council either as voters, displeased by the big tax hike that year and not mollified by the compensation changes, went on to overwhelmingly approve term limits.

MCEA runs a Facebook ad against the $25 million mid-year cut to MCPS.  The union flooded a town hall meeting with the County Executive to protest it but the County Council approved the cut unanimously.

MCEA will be deciding its 2018 endorsements for county office in the weeks to come.  In the contested races for County Executive, Council At-Large and Council Districts 1 and 3, the mighty Apple Ballot could play a huge role.  Where will the Apple drop?  That depends on how MCEA answers the following two questions.

What to Do With the Incumbents?

Incumbents usually win and MCEA has endorsed the majority of them, including ones who were lukewarm on their issues, in the past.  But in this case, most of the incumbent Council Members voted for multiple very tough budgets, all of them supported reducing teacher raises as a condition of approving more MCPS funding and all of them just voted for a $25 million mid-year cut to MCPS.  Can those strikes be offset by other considerations?

How to Find Someone Better?

Let’s be fair to the incumbents: the recession, the new Maintenance of Effort law and the partial shift of teacher pension funding to the counties created very hard choices.  No matter what they did, the incumbents would have offended someone.  Would the legions of challengers now vying for the Apple’s attention really have done better?  Which ones among them understand the very real and very complicated budget issues that face policy makers?  Which ones will aggressively pursue economic revival, which is necessary for financing all county services – not just MCPS – and supporting justified raises for county employees?  Which ones have the competence to deliver and the character to fight for teachers, parents and students alike?

When those questions are answered, we will know where the Apple drops.

End Note: For those who wish to study MCPS’s funding history, we reprint the following graphic from the County Executive’s recommended FY18 budget below.


MCDCC Chair Responds

Last week, I pointed out that MCDCC has an unusually high number of members running for other offices this year, which raises potential conflict of interest concerns. In particular, running for office seems to make it difficult for MCDCC members to carry out their function to promote Democratic turnout and run the precinct organization in a neutral manner.

The post resulted in a lively online discussion involving both MCDCC members and candidates. Current MCDCC Chair Dave Kunes was kind enough to reply and send me his thoughts on these issues.


I think the maxim, “if you want something done ask a busy person,” applies here. Central committee members are unpaid volunteers with important responsibilities. While six members are seeking election to public office, many more of us are running for re-election. We all must balance our time between campaigning, official committee duties, work and family responsibilities. These demands are parallel to those of public officials who also campaign, work and raise families while continuing to hold public office. Committee members work all year doing planning, fundraising, recruiting and organizing. We currently have 348 assigned precinct volunteers and we do rely on them to provide poll coverage on Primary election day while most members are campaigning.

If there are concerns about Committee members not participating, I would advocate for more focused solutions. One proposal would be to alter the Committee’s current attendance policy that allows a member to miss up to a majority of meetings. Instead we could follow the lead of Montgomery County’s Boards and Commissions that have a much stricter attendance policy.


The MCDCC prohibits members and precinct officials from using party resources to materially benefit ANY partisan primary candidate, including themselves. However, we encourage all of our committee members, precinct officials and volunteers to participate in the primary process as individuals. We would take very seriously any complaint that a committee member has used Central Committee resources to benefit a primary candidate.

Seventh State has made a strong case for us to review and strengthen our policies on this not only for Central Committee members, but also for our club leaders, precinct officials, and staff. The Committee will discuss these issues at our membership meeting on Tuesday, February 13 starting at 7:30pm at the MCDCC office in Kensington. I’d encourage Seventh State and its readers to provide the committee feedback on any of these issues by using our contact form here: https://mcdcc.org/contact-us/.


Maryland Politics Watch

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