Tag Archives: Hans Riemer

Snowzilla Communication Breakdown

Thanks to Adam Pagnucco for this guest post:

Snowzilla has turned out to be a historic storm. Every local jurisdiction from the City of Baltimore to Northern Virginia has struggled to recover from it, and Montgomery County is no exception. While MoCo residents complain about the pace of snow removal, with and without justification, there is no evidence that the county has performed worse than comparable jurisdictions. But one area in which it has fallen short is communicating with its residents.

Most residents have one question on their minds: when can I escape from my neighborhood? Let’s be fair: during a mega-event like Snowzilla, that’s a really hard question to answer. The county is coordinating a large fleet of employees and contractors, as well as working with other agencies like the state, Metro, Park and Planning and MCPS. A great deal of the equipment being used is not GPS-enabled. The most honest answer is also the least satisfactory: we don’t know.

The county chose to rely on its snow removal map to deal with resident questions. The county’s Department of Transportation repeatedly directed residents to the map on Twitter.

MCDOT map tweet 1-23 MCDOT map tweet 1-25The problem is that the map wasn’t showing any useful information. Below is an image of the map as of Tuesday, January 26. The map shows that every county street in Glenmont, Wheaton and unincorporated Kensington was “in progress.” It showed similar information all over the county. That’s physically impossible. The county doesn’t have enough equipment to be everywhere at once and residents know that.

Snowmap 1-26-2016Faced with a non-functioning map, residents overwhelmed MC 311. Some called only to hear a recording. Even if they got through, no answers were available. Again, the county simply didn’t know when individual neighborhoods would be cleared, even though they claimed the map would say so.

Meanwhile, municipalities appeared to be doing a better job. Consider the Facebook posts of Gaithersburg Mayor Jud Ashman. On Saturday, January 23, the Mayor reported that all city streets had received a first pass. He then reported that all streets would receive a second pass the following morning. This is a period during which county plows had not reached neighborhood streets at all. Residents of unincorporated areas, for which the county has responsibility, have friends in municipalities and were aware of their performance. This only increased their frustrations.

Jud first pass Jud second passCouncil Member Hans Riemer (my former employer) nailed it in a post on Facebook. Noting his work on securing funding for an upgraded snow map and planning for pedestrian mobility during snow storms, he wrote: “Better communications technology would save our residents a lot of anxiety during snow events, and enable them to more adequately plan for their work and family lives. If technology answered more questions, it would also take pressure off of our 311 call center, which has been completely overwhelmed by the volume of calls they’ve received during this storm.” And he’s absolutely right.

Hans snowSnowzilla was a gigantic storm and public employees across the region deserve tremendous credit for their recovery efforts. But MoCo had a communication breakdown that made a stressful event worse. Here’s hoping that Council Member Riemer and his colleagues can help the county prepare to do better next time.

MoCo Consumers Flee from the Department of Liquor Control

Today, I am pleased to present a guest post from Adam Pagnucco:

Last week, Montgomery County Council Member Hans Riemer wrote a guest blog on the reasons why county residents opposed the county’s alcohol system in a recent poll by Comptroller Peter Franchot. Council Member Riemer wrote:

While the poll does show the general dissatisfaction with the alcohol regime our residents endure, it unfortunately does not specify which parts of the regime are the culprit, state or local. In my many conversations with residents, I find that the primary complaint relates to the state of Maryland’s unfortunate ban on the sale of beer and wine in grocery stores.

This is important because if the council’s plan is enacted, the county liquor stores survive and actually increase in number in order to increase consumer options and pay for reform. We need them. Considering that, I would ask how important is it to residents to replace county liquor stores with private ones? While I am sure that there is some support for that, it is not clear to me that it is a very high priority for the community. I don’t hear a lot of complaints that we have county stores. Mostly just that there aren’t enough of them. What about you?

In fact, there is overwhelming evidence that MoCo consumers are fleeing the county’s alcohol monopoly and it has nothing to do with the availability of alcohol in grocery stores. Consider the following.

  1. Sales of alcohol are low in MoCo.

Data from Gallup and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services link alcohol consumption to income and education. In other words, as income and education levels rise, alcohol consumption tends to rise too. Since MoCo is one of Maryland’s highest-income and best-educated jurisdictions, the county should be one of its leaders in alcohol consumption. However, that is not reflected in per capita sales data collected by the Comptroller’s office. In terms of per capita sales deliveries to retail licensees inside each county, MoCo ranks 13th of 24 jurisdictions in wine, tied for 23rd in spirits and dead last (by far) in beer. Among the counties out-ranking MoCo in per capita wine sales are Calvert, Carroll, Cecil, Garrett, Harford and Kent, all mostly rural jurisdictions with far less disposable income than MoCo. Does anyone believe that MoCo residents drink less wine than people in Western Maryland? Grocery stores cannot explain this discrepancy because the huge majority of counties in Maryland have restrictions on grocery store sales of alcohol. As Comptroller Peter Franchot has said, MoCo residents simply cross the border to buy liquor.

  1. MoCo residents flee the county to go to Total Wine.

Total Wine, which is headquartered in MoCo and owned by MoCo residents, is one of the nation’s largest alcohol retailers and is famous for its big stores, huge selection and low prices. The company refuses to open a store in MoCo because the county’s alcohol monopoly “doesn’t favor the free market.” But Total Wine has plenty of MoCo residents among its customers. The company estimates that over 20% of its McLean store sales and nearly 25% of its Laurel store sales are accounted for by MoCo customers. David Lublin’s price comparison explains why: Total Wine blows away county liquor stores on both price and selection. Other jurisdictions gain at our expense.

  1. The Department of Liquor Control’s own consultant found major problems in its operations.

A consultant hired by the Department of Liquor Control (DLC) found a host of problems in county liquor stores. Here are three from the consultant’s 2014 report.

Lack of administrative flexibility – Unlike most County functions, DLC operates in a wholesale/retail sales environment. In many instances, it lacks the flexibility and ability to respond quickly, which is necessary for it to best serve its customers and do so profitably. This lack of control over key decisions also manifests itself in other identified weaknesses.

Staffing – The DLC often lacks the ability to apply normal staffing techniques found in private retail. For example, there are generally two peak seasons for liquor retail operations: the Winter Holiday season and Summer Fourth of July season. Most DLC stores would, for comparison purposes, be similar to an independent liquor retail store (as opposed to a ‘Big Box’ chain store or grocery store). In these establishments, it would be likely that rather than adding permanent full-time staff to handle these peak seasons, the business would hire temporary staff. However, because of County collective bargaining agreements, they generally do not have this flexibility, which either leads to staffing shortages (which can negatively impact sales) or a working environment for existing staff that hampers morale and productivity.

Older stores/locations/rental contracts – In several instances, stores are in obvious need of basic repairs or refurbishment – including scarred floors and counters, old racks, lighting and entrances. Given that the DLC leases all of its locations, in many instances it has little leverage to demand improvements prior to the end of the lease.

Lack of flexibility, staff shortages and sub-standard stores. Is this what MoCo consumers deserve?

  1. D.C. liquor stores camp out at our border.

The graphic below shows seven liquor stores in D.C. within four blocks of the MoCo border. If MoCo consumers were happy with the county’s alcohol system, why would this be happening?

DC liquor stores

  1. The only county liquor store with true competition is losing money and will close.

Most county liquor stores are insulated from competition because they are the only suppliers of spirits in their vicinity. The one exception is the store in Friendship Heights, which is adjacent to the D.C. border. Since the surrounding area is affluent and wealthy people often buy up-scale beverages, one would expect this store to be a strong money maker. But the store lost $278,431 in 2013 – the only county liquor store that lost money – and will soon close. It’s not a coincidence that D.C.’s Paul’s Wine and Spirits is just three blocks away. The county’s decision to close this store is an admission that its stores can’t compete with the private sector. And if that’s the case, why should they be protected by a state-ordered monopoly?

MoCo’s alcohol monopoly and its accompanying fleet of county liquor stores are unacceptable to county consumers and that was clear long before this blog released the Comptroller’s poll results on the subject. So what is the county doing about that? Why, it’s opening more county liquor stores. That’s like promising Kirk Cousins more playing time with every interception he throws.

Look folks. Our system’s premise is that MoCo residents are children, inferior to our fellows in the rest of the region, and that we must be controlled by the heavy hand of government for our own good. Well, guess what? We’re not children and we know what we want: the same freedom of choice that everyone else in the region has. We don’t want excuses. We don’t want tweaks. We don’t want vague promises of improvement.

We want to End the Monopoly.

Hans Riemer Responds on Opposition to the County Alcohol Monopoly

Today, I am pleased to present a guest post by Montgomery County Councilmember Hans Riemer (D-At Large), author of the proposed changes to the County liquor laws. (You can read a counterpoint in a previous post by Adam Pagnucco.)

I was very interested to see the results from the survey question commissioned by Comptroller Franchot. I expected to see that residents of Montgomery County are deeply dissatisfied with the alcohol regulations they endure under the county and state. That is why I led the effort to raise these issues and end the DLC’s wholesale monopoly as chair of the Council Ad Hoc Committee on Liquor Control.

I strongly believe our county alcohol regime holds back the vibrancy of our restaurant and nightlife economy and negatively impacts the choices residents get in stores. Our state regime, which denies the convenience of shopping for beer and wine at grocery stores or other large chain retailers, is also badly out of touch with our residents.

While the poll does show the general dissatisfaction with the alcohol regime our residents endure, it unfortunately does not specify which parts of the regime are the culprit, state or local. In my many conversations with residents, I find that the primary complaint relates to the state of Maryland’s unfortunate ban on the sale of beer and wine in grocery stores.

This is important because of the council’s plan is enacted, the county liquor stores survive and actually increase in number in order to increase consumer options and pay for reform. We need them. Considering that, I would ask how important is it to residents to replace county liquor stores with private ones? While I am sure that there is some support for that, it is not clear to me that it is a very high priority for the community. I don’t hear a lot of complaints that we have county stores. Mostly just that there aren’t enough of them. What about you?

Most importantly we don’t know from this poll how much support would exist for getting rid of county stores if it means having less funds available for schools, police, parks, and the like. Because the warehouse would have to move to the capital budget if the DLC were eliminated, the plan would also affect school construction and other capital needs.

After six months of council work sessions with stakeholders, and detailed survey work with stores and restaurants, the Council proposal focuses on something we know factually to be true.  We can come up with an efficient and effective distribution regime by allowing the private sector to deliver craft beer and fine wine. This ends the monopoly by giving the private sector 25,000 boutique brands to distribute, while the county retains only the 4,500 big brands.

The statewide policies of course can only be addressed at that level.

In conclusion, this one poll question does not tell us all very much about the complicated decisions that together our county and state must make. So we will need to use our best judgment.

My belief is that if the county can accomplish what it has proposed and if the state can reform the statewide policies that need to be addressed, the combination — a huge change from the status quo — will bring our residents what they want and deserve.

You can read more about our proposal here, which was unanimously supported by my Council colleagues, and the County Executive, as well as restaurants, stores and the county employee union. It will be before our county delegation for their consideration this coming session.

Five Myths About MoCo’s Department of Liquor Control

Today, I am pleased to present a guest blog by Adam Pagnucco.

Few issues in county government have received more attention over the past two years than the operations of its Department of Liquor Control (DLC). In most parts of the United States, the alcohol industry has been divided into three tiers since the end of Prohibition: producers, distributors and retailers. DLC, which is a county department but derives its authority from state law, inserts itself into this structure as an extra middle-man between distributors and retailers. Instead of being able to sell directly to Montgomery County-based retailers, distributors must sell their products to DLC which in turn sells them to stores and restaurants. DLC then charges an extra mark-up which, after paying for its cost of operations, is returned to the county’s general fund as revenue. DLC also has a complete wholesale and retail monopoly on hard alcohol and sells it through county stores.

A sure way to increase costs, delays and inefficiencies in any distribution system is to add more middle-men, especially ones who do not add value to compensate for their fees. DLC is no exception and has been the subject of complaints for years. But mounting problems, growing press interest and the emergence of the agency as a political issue in last year’s election have brought DLC to the forefront of public attention.

It’s time for a hard look at the myth and reality of DLC.

Myth 1. The county needs DLC’s net income to function.

In Fiscal Year 2016, DLC is expected to transfer $24.5 million in net income to the county’s general fund. That amount represents 0.48% of the county’s total $5.1 billion in projected revenues.

The county regularly adapts to revenue shortfalls of much larger amounts. Its six-year fiscal plans contain revenue estimates that vary up and down by tens of millions of dollars before actual revenues are recorded. The council just approved a $54 million reduction in its recently passed operating budget. The Silver Spring Transit Center is $50 million over budget (and counting). Between Fiscal Years 2013 and 2015, the council reduced energy tax revenues by a cumulative $31 million per year. And in 2010, the council approved a $191 million reduction from the prior year’s tax-supported budget. None of these adjustments were painless, but the county got through them and the world did not end.

The county government can survive without DLC’s money. It simply chooses to collect it because it can.

Myth 2. DLC’s monopoly is needed for public safety.

Last year, Council Member Craig Rice claimed that “county control of liquor sales promotes safety, particularly when it comes to sales to those who are under age 21.” The DLC does indeed vigorously regulate alcohol licensees. It has an eleven-person Licensure, Regulation, and Education program that conducts 400 minor consumption compliance checks annually and trained more than 1,300 licensees in safe alcohol service last year. Additionally, the county’s Board of License Commissioners issues liquor licenses and can revoke and suspend them for violators. But these functions are separate from the county’s role as an alcohol merchant and do not depend on a sales monopoly to be effective. In fact, there is no evidence that the county’s monopoly itself contributes one way or the other to regulatory efficacy. In Washington State, which gave up its alcohol sales monopoly in 2012, both DUI arrests and drunk driving collisions actually FELL a year later.

Myth 3. Without DLC, high paying union jobs will be lost.

This claim is frequently made by MCGEO (Municipal and County Government Employees Organization), the union which represents more than 300 DLC employees along with many other rank-and-file workers in county government. The union has a responsibility to protect its members and generally does an excellent job of it, so its position is understandable. But if DLC’s operations are eventually eclipsed by the private sector, there is no guarantee that union employment will suffer a net loss. That is because many private wholesalers are organized by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, another union noted for its aggressive defense of its members. MCGEO may prefer that wholesale alcohol employees pay dues to its treasury rather than the coffers of the Teamsters, but that is not a public policy concern that warrants large-scale extractions from county residents.

Myth 4. DLC is getting better.

George Griffin, the long-time Director of DLC, is a happy warrior and tireless defender of his agency. In 2005, Griffin was elected President of the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association (NABCA), a group of public alcohol organizations. He told NABCA of his efforts to continually improve DLC’s operations, including its new Enterprise Resource Planning program to increase efficiency and its installation of security cameras in warehouses. Griffin said, “POS (point of sale), inventory control, accounting, the warehouse, licensee ordering, buyers: they’ll all be tied together… from the retail stores, which will have running inventories, to our drivers, who will be equipped with handhelds.”

Years later, subsequent investigations revealed DLC to be anything but a model of efficiency. This past February, the county’s Inspector General found that DLC employees used “informal, handwritten notes” to track inventory, resulting in “significant decreases in the recorded quantities of warehouse inventories in FY2013 and FY2014.” NBC4 discovered DLC employees drinking and driving on the job and skimming cases of beer to sell on the black market. Restaurant owners have gone on the record with searing complaints about DLC’s service, with one even calling the agency an “evil empire.” Even Gino Renne, leader of the union that represents DLC’s employees and one of its biggest defenders, concedes, “This department needs to be more nimble.”

Myth 5. The County Council has called for “historic reform” at DLC.

On July 28, the County Council passed a resolution calling for a procedural change concerning some of DLC’s sales. The resolution is not binding but may be the basis for a future state-level bill, which is required to affect DLC. County Council Member Hans Riemer called the resolution “historic” in a mass email. But is it really?

The resolution addresses “special orders,” or products that are requested by DLC customers that are not part of its regular stock. These products are often specialty wines or craft beers that have not yet developed wide distribution in the county. Restauranteurs have complained for many years that DLC special orders are subject to long delays, big markups and substantial shortages, particularly when compared to the service offered by private wholesalers. The council’s resolution would allow customers to bypass DLC and deal directly with the private sector when requesting these items.

That sounds great except when considering the actual details of the resolution itself. Among other things, the resolution authorizes the county to establish a fee to “replace DLC estimated revenue lost by allowing the sale of special order beer and wines by private wholesalers.” That’s right, DLC would earn money on alcohol it does not even deliver. Multiple distributors testified at the council’s hearing on this resolution that the size of the fee, along with the additional cost of direct delivery to customers, might deter them from participating in this program. In other words, there would be no effective change.

DLC’s fee for doing nothing is reminiscent of Pepco’s “bill stabilization adjustment,” under which the utility was allowed to charge customers for power it did not deliver during outages. Many people condemned Pepco’s ability to charge for a service it did not provide. But Pepco is not part of county government. Perhaps that explains why what is unacceptable for Pepco is apparently acceptable for DLC.

The biggest myth of all is that DLC can be reformed from within by a series of small tweaks like this one. The idea resembles former Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s concept of “perestroika,” under which his communist government was expected to reform itself. The Soviet Union ultimately collapsed. But with its powerful protectors, DLC goes ever on.

CD8 is Wide Open

Today, I am pleased to present a guest post from Adam Pagnucco:

Long-time District 8 Congressman Chris Van Hollen is now running for the U.S. Senate. Who will succeed him? No one knows because this race is wide open. That’s right, wide open.

Announced or potential candidates include At-Large Councilmembers Nancy Floreen and Hans Riemer, District 20 State Senator Jamie Raskin, District 17 Delegate Kumar Barve, District 16 Delegate Ariana Kelly, former District 5 County Council Member Valerie Ervin, former District 20 Delegate candidate Will Jawando and former WJLA anchor and current Marriott executive Kathleen Matthews. All except Matthews have campaign records. None have run campaigns that approach anything close to the scale of a congressional race.

Consider the following data.

CD8 Comparison

Campaign Spending

In the CD8 2002 primary, Chris Van Hollen spent $1.1 million and won. Mark Shriver spent $2.6 million and lost. None of the prospective candidates in the current CD8 have demonstrated that kind of monetary capacity. Raskin, Riemer and Floreen spent between 200k and 300k on their competitive races. Barve came close to that level in 2014. Ervin has never spent more than 100k in a campaign. All of these candidates would need to dramatically increase their fundraising activity and it’s hard to see that any one has a significant advantage over the others. Matthews, who may be able to draw on self-financing, national Dem money and corporate money, may be an exception.

Size of Electorate

It’s tricky to forecast the size of the CD8 Dem primary electorate because the district was changed radically in 2012 and it does not have a recent experience of primary competition. Van Hollen faced no-names in both the 2012 and 2014 primary and general elections. In the 2002 primary, when the district was almost entirely in MoCo, 86,000 Dems voted. That was a high turnout year for Dems in terms of gubernatorial elections, but 2016 is a presidential year and many more Dems could turn out. In 2012, a presidential year, just 39,000 Dems voted in the primary, as Van Hollen clobbered an opponent without a federal account and there was no meaningful competition in the Presidential and U.S. Senate races. A combination of competition in the U.S. Senate and CD8 races, plus support for Hillary Clinton, could drive turnout in the 2016 CD8 Dem primary north of 100,000.

Among the possible candidates in the CD8 primary, only Nancy Floreen and Hans Riemer have experience running in an electorate that large. State legislative races tend to draw out 7,000-16,000 Democratic primary voters. But Floreen and Riemer don’t necessarily have an advantage because their races are fundamentally different from congressional contests (more below).

Multiple-Vote vs One-Vote Races

A congressional race has one similarity to a State Senate race: voters only get to vote for one candidate. In House of Delegates races (at least in MoCo), voters can vote for up to three candidates. In Council At-Large races, they can vote for up to four. These are very different dynamics.

In a multiple-vote race, a candidate can be no one’s first choice, but can be the second or third choice of a lot of people and still win. Such a candidate would do poorly in a one-vote race like Congress. Even though Floreen and Riemer have won countywide, many of their voters are not voting for them. In 2010, 113,653 MoCo Democrats voted in the primary. Riemer received 40,493 votes (36%) and Floreen received 39,500 (35%). In 2014, 91,046 MoCo Democrats voted in the primary, which was notably less competitive than it was in 2010. Riemer received 49,932 votes (55%) and Floreen received 52,924 votes (58%). The number of voters who would rate either Riemer or Floreen as their first choice would be FAR fewer and would be closer to the total of one of the State Senators.

For what it’s worth, Floreen finished first in 32 of the 138 CD8 precincts located in Montgomery County in 2014. Riemer finished first in 11. At-Large Council Member Marc Elrich, who finished first in 90 CD8 precincts, has shown no interest in a Congressional race.

Delegates have similar problems. Barve and Kelly finished first in their respective House races, but the number of their voters who would have picked them as a first choice is unknowable short of a contemporaneous poll.

District Overlap

State legislators do not enter this race on equal footing. District boundaries and voting patterns give some an advantage over others. Delegate Ariana Kelly benefits from the fact that her district has more actual primary voters in CD8 than any other MoCo state legislative district. In terms of cards cast on 2014 primary election day by residents of CD8, Kelly’s District 16 led with 14,114, followed by District 18 (12, 072), District 20, home of Senator Jamie Raskin and Will Jawando (9,331), District 19 (6,948), District 17, home of Delegate Kumar Barve (4,929), District 14 (3,302) and District 15 (442). Barve is handicapped by the fact that 42% of voters in his district reside in CD6, not CD8.

Women

Fifty-nine percent of MoCo Democrats are women. That figure applies to registered Dems, voting Dems and “super-Dems,” or Dems who always vote. This is not necessarily a prohibitive advantage for female candidates. But if one or two strong women face off against a male-dominated field, it’s possible that this factor could act as something like a tiebreaker. A savvy female candidate might point out that with U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski’s retirement and Rep. Donna Edwards’ entry into the Senate race, the state could be facing the very real prospect of an all-male congressional delegation.

Presidential Year vs. Gubernatorial Year Turnout

Presidential year Democratic primaries tend to attract higher turnout than gubernatorial year Dem primaries. Below are stats on how many MoCo Dems voted in the primary over the last six elections (both presidential and gubernatorial). With the glaring exception of 2012, when there was little or no competition in the presidential, U.S. Senate and CD8 races, presidential year turnouts tend to be higher. That means in a presidential year CD8 race, there will be tens of thousands of Democratic voters who have not voted in gubernatorial races and do not know their state senators, delegates or councilmembers. Communicating with these people will be a significant challenge for any candidate. Also, anywhere from a sixth to a fifth of the CD8 primary electorate will be residents of Carroll and Frederick Counties.

MoCo Turnout Dem Primary

Bottom Line

There are no favorites in this field. No candidate has proven that he or she can raise the money for a congressional campaign. The at-large County Council candidates run across a big geography but not in one-vote races. State legislators have small districts (at least compared to CD8) and delegates run in multiple-vote elections. Tens of thousands of non-gubernatorial and non-MoCo voters will have no idea who any of the candidates are and they will need some attention.

Wide open, folks. This contest is wide open.

The Giant Purple Credit Card, Part III: Is Pro-Purple Anti-Transit?

Opportunity Costs

The choice to spend vast sums of money on one project requires foregoing other choices. The tangled finances for the Purple and Red Lines (see also here) render it especially obvious. When the fares from Baltimore’s public transit system are needed as a backstop in case Purple Line fares are lower than hoped, the use of the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) for non-Purple purposes is obviously going to be quite limited.

The plans to move ahead also with Baltimore’s Red Line should further assure that the TTF is tied up for literally decades. Indeed, the two projects have been closely tied together in order to build political support. It is hard to imagine moving ahead with one project without the other, as legislators in one metro area are unlikely to want to fund an incredibly expensive project in the other unless their constituents share in the benefits.

Existing Transit Needs

Montgomery and Prince George’s County already have an extensive public transit system. Both are integrated into WMATA’s Metro and Metrobus system. Each operates its own bus system: RideOn and TheBus. Both are also tied into the MARC system.

All parts of the system have suffered from cutbacks and need investment in infrastructure. Metro, the lungs of Washington’s transit system, remains in particularly dire need of money to maintain and to upgrade its infrastructure. Placing so many chips on the Purple Line will constrain the ability of the State to aid Metro–Montgomery and Prince George’s cannot expect to get all of Maryland’s transportation funding.

Less widely heralded in Montgomery in the face of perennial Metro problems–endless single tracking, escalators that don’t work, overly crowded trains at rush hour despite stagnating ridership–have been the cutbacks to MARC and Ride-On. Oddly, we reduced transit service designed to connect to the Purple Line even as we move forward with building it.

Foregoing Other Transit Opportunities

Some key supporters of the Purple Line recognize these implicit tradeoffs even if they don’t advertise them. In the at-large County Council debate in Chevy Chase, new Council President George Leventhal derided Councilmember Hans Riemer’s support for additional Ride-On service. He and other Purple Line supporters have also expressed great skepticism about the proposed countywide bus-Rapid Transit System (RTS).

The irony here is that for the cost of building the Purple Line, we could build a RTS that would serve all parts of the County. Indeed, a Purple Line incorporated into an RTS would accomplish most of the goal at far less cost than the proposed light-rail system even according to MTA’s own analysis (see also here).

Purple Line supporters like to accuse opponents of being anti-transit–it’s a good simple communication meme that boils down a complex decision to good versus bad. Except that wanting to spend transportation dollars wisely and get the most for our tax dollars is pro-transit. Opposition to expanding bus service and continued negativity regarding an RTS that could serve the whole county sure doesn’t sound pro-transit.

The Bottom Line

We shouldn’t starve our existing transit system and forego future opportunities in order to build the Purple Line and the Red Line. Ironically, we could build cheaper RTS versions of both that would save the State billions–not chump change–and allow for additional transit and road improvements that would truly aid economic development and the ability of all Marylanders to reach jobs far more broadly. Now that’s smart growth.

Dyer Attacks Riemer

The world has truly gone upside down.

Republican Robert Dyer is attacking incumbent Councilmember Hans Riemer (D-At Large) for being too close to fat cats on Wall Street and K Street–a Romney clone.

When I saw Robert Dyer in the pre-primary debate, I was pleasantly surprised by his problem-solving demeanor (came across in person better than on video) but this is a veritable negative ad cliché. Still, I doubt Hans Riemer is best pleased by this attack on his efforts to project an image as a practical, positive reformer.

 

Changes to MoCo’s Public Financing Law

Many thanks to Common Cause Executive Director Jennifer Bevan-Dangel for letting me know about the major changes made to the public financing bill by the full County Council before its passage. You can find a description of the bill here.

The major change was the repeal of Hans Riemer’s amendment that passed in committee, which allowed donations made outside the County to be matched by public funds. Instead, recipients of public funds can receive donations from outside the County up to the $150 limit but they will not be matched.

Bevan-Dangel also explained: “The bill was amended to allow candidates to declare their intent to be publicly funded and start raising donations at the beginning of the four year election cycle, instead of waiting to the last year of the cycle. (This is critical because otherwise candidates would have had an incentive to raise funds into those old, non-public funded accounts in the ‘off’ years.)” This amendment was sponsored by Hans Riemer.

A motion to add expenditure limits to the bill died for lack of a second. Due to the potential for self-funded candidates to spend enormous amounts, this was probably a good decision by the Council. It is impossible to limit expenditures by people who opt out of the public financing system, as the Supreme Court declared them equivalent to constitutionally protected free speech in Buckley v. Valeo (1976)

Outgoing Councilmember Phil Andrews must be enormously pleased with the unanimous passage of the bill he sponsored. Common Cause Maryland should also take great satisfaction in the passage of this bill, though I notice that they have been very careful to share credit with other members of the Fair Elections Maryland Coalition, such as Progressive Maryland, that worked for the bill.

 

Riemer Proposes Change to Public Financing Bill

In the public financing of elections, as in much legislation, the devil is in the details. And the legislation proposed by outgoing Councilmember Phil Andrews has a lot of details, so it can be hard to keep up.

During the Government Operations Committee’s review of the proposal, Montgomery County Councilmember Hans Riemer sponsored an amendment that altered the public financing bill  in a crucial way.

The original bill allowed only donations made within Montgomery  to be matched by public funds. Hans’s amendment eliminated that limitation so that donations made anywhere in the U.S. would be matched by County funds as outlined in the law.

Councilmembers Hans Riemer and Nancy Navarro voted for the amendment, and Councilmember Cherri Branson voted no. Of course, the full Council can reconsider the issue when it takes up the bill.

The argument against the change is that it makes it easier for individuals who don’t live in Montgomery County to influence the outcome of our elections. The amendment also aids the many MoCo residents who have good DC networks but fewer County ties. It further augments the power of interests within the County who have the ability to gather checks from people elsewhere.

For the other side of the argument, I asked Hans to explain why he sponsored the amendment:

I’m a strong supporter of publicly-funded elections and I am confident that this system will help revolutionize Montgomery County politics.  As I supported the bill at committee last week, I proposed several amendments to strengthen it and make it more attractive to potential candidates.

[One] amendment removes the requirement that donors be county residents, because I support a limited amount of fundraising from outside of the county. I believe the most important goal of this bill is to give candidates a viable alternative to raising large donations from corporations and special interest PACs.

In Montgomery County, we are part of a large metropolitan area where many people grew up somewhere else, and many residents work outside of the County. As any first time political candidate can attest, a lot of initial fundraising comes from family, friends, colleagues–the people that know you best and support you because they believe you will be a great public servant.  Removing this base of support from the matching system risks making public financing a nonviable option for some candidates, and they will either opt-out or not be able to run a competitive campaign.

At the same time, my proposal retains the provision that only in-county donations count towards the qualifying thresholds. This will ensure that no candidate can base their campaign on out-of-county supporters.  In order to qualify, a candidate will have to have a huge base of support in the county, because the thresholds are appropriately high.

As is no secret, Hans is originally from California and has benefited from financial contributions from outside the County so cynics might say he knows of what he speaks. However, he makes good points here. Moreover, Councilmember Riemer is now announcing a proposed new change to the legislation that would limit the impact of the committee amendment:

I also plan to propose limiting the amount of money that can be matched for out-of-county donors, to 10% of the total — the current law in the Connecticut public finance system, a model that advocates have pointed to as an example on many points.

I think these measures make the system more attractive to potential candidates, and thus strengthen the system.  The goal is to give candidates a good alternative to raising large checks from wealthy individuals, corporations, and PACs.

As I alluded in my original post on the bill, a balance is important to strike. On the one hand, goals include preventing any one interest or individual, particularly from outside the area, from gaining too much influence. But in order for the bill to work, the incentives to opt into the system need to be strong enough to dissuade candidates from just raising money on their own under the current arrangements.

As John outlined the other day, making hard for people to raise money can serve as a strong disincentive to opt in–not to mention result in the unintended consequence of increasing call time. No one wants candidates to spend even more time raising money rather than meeting with voters.

On the smart decision front, the County has already indexed the limits to inflation. This choice will help avoid the problem with the original Federal Election Campaign Act of 1974, which set fixed limits that inflated away before the were raised in 2002.

One major remaining flaw with the bill is that it fails to address the problem of self-funding candidates who can afford to drop hundreds of thousands of their own money on the race and avoid the system. There are solutions, such as substantially raising the match, so that candidates in the system find it easier to participate. The Council should address this problem when it takes up the bill.

MCGEO Paves the Way for Alcohol Reform

[UPDATE at the end of this post.]

During his campaign for the Democratic nomination in Montgomery County District 5, Evan Glass pushed hard for liberalization of Montgomery’s antiquated monopoly on the sale of alcohol in the County. Despite his narrow defeat, the next four years presents the best opportunity for reform in ages.

MCGEO, the union that represents the employees at County owned liquor stores, bet disastrously on the wrong candidates in the recent Democratic primary. The attempt by MCGEO under the leadership of Gino Renne to flex its muscle and become the leading force among unions and possibly in County politics backfired and earned the union far more enemies than friends.

Montgomery County Council
Let’s look first at County Council races. In District 1, MCGEO endorsed Duchy Trachtenberg’s bid to return to the Council in a challenge to incumbent Roger Berliner. Duchy even hired MCGEO’s former executive director as her campaign manager. Trachtenberg lost with 21% of the vote. MCGEO didn’t just lose; it looked puny and ineffectual.

The big race in District 3 went no better for MCGEO, Gaithersburg Mayor Sid Katz defeated their choice of Ryan Spiegel, who won less than one-quarter of the vote. In Districts 2 and 4, MCGEO did not endorse either incumbent in the primary even though they were unopposed. No relationships built there.

Tom Hucker, who was expected to win by more, limped home to the District 5 nomination in his battle against newcomer Evan Glass. While MCGEO should have a friend in Hucker, his narrow victory hardly impresses and its not clear yet how much weight this new member of the Council will carry with his colleagues.

In the at-large races, MCGEO supported incumbent Marc Elrich so a bright spot for them there. However, they also supported Beth Daly, the most serious challenger to the other incumbents, who all won reelection. No real reason for Nancy Floreen, George Leventhal, or Hans Riemer to prioritize MCGEO’s interests. And Hans has already expressed public interest in alcohol reform.

General Assembly
MCGEO played it safer in the General Assembly but surely has teed off the three incumbents whose opponents it supported in District 18. It gave $1000 to Sen. Rich Madaleno’s opponent. Madaleno won despite being heavily outspent by his self-funding opponent who dumped over $300K in the attempt. Unfortunately for MCGEO, he is already one of the more influential insiders on the Budget and Taxation Committee.

While MCGEO supported Jeff Waldstreicher, it also gave $1000 to Natali Fani-Gonzalez, which certainly cannot especially please incumbents Al Carr and Ana Sol Gutierrez. The two incumbents romped home easily with Fani-Gonzalez placing sixth out of seven candidates.

The Results
MCGEO spent a lot of money and political capital in an effort to look strong but made its weakness apparent. Its ill-conceived campaign to plant friends on the Council and instill respect of its power has left it vulnerable. Montgomery officials can move ahead with alcohol reform. They know they have nothing to fear.

UPDATE: MCGEO made another terrible investment in the District 17 Senate race. They donated $6000 to Del. Lou Simmons, another heavy self-funder. Despite having a clear financial advantage, Lou lost the nomination to former Del. Cheryl Kagan by 9 points.