Tag Archives: Montgomery County

Marc Elrich: “I Prefer to Put Jobs in Frederick”

By Adam Pagnucco.

Yesterday, Greater Greater Washington (GGW) wrote a long essay about Council Member Marc Elrich, who is running for Executive.  GGW has many disagreements with Elrich about smart growth and housing and mostly concentrated on those issues.  But the essay contained this quote from an interview with Elrich.

Broadly, Elrich isn’t convinced Montgomery County needs to add many new homes or residents, or jobs. Many people with jobs in Bethesda or DC are now living in Frederick County and other outlying areas and driving through Montgomery to get to work. We asked Elrich what he’d do for these folks, and his answer was, “I prefer to put jobs in Frederick.” He’d encourage the growth of both households and jobs to happen there, and in Prince George’s County, and elsewhere.

Elrich has disputed quotes before and we will see if he disputes this one.  But if the quote is accurate… well.

The chart below uses data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to compare growth in total employment in Frederick and MoCo from 2001 through 2016.

Frederick’s job creation record is clearly better than MoCo’s in both absolute and relative terms.

Now let’s use BLS data to compare growth in establishment counts in the two counties.

Frederick beats MoCo in growth rate and, over the last decade, in net new establishment count too.

Let’s bear in mind the relative size of the two counties.  Frederick has about a quarter of MoCo’s population.  Yet, Frederick has created a larger absolute number of jobs over the last fifteen years than MoCo and had a net gain since 2006 while MoCo had a net loss.  In terms of establishments, Frederick created more than double what MoCo did over the last decade despite being much smaller.

Now let’s recall the research we did three weeks ago on taxpayer migration.  MoCo is often compared to Fairfax, but the truth is that we have lost more taxpayer income to Frederick than to Fairfax over the last decade.

Between 2006 and 2016, MoCo had a net outmigration of $582 million in real adjusted gross income to Frederick.

The greatest losses to Frederick occurred during MoCo’s home price boom of 2002 through 2007.  MoCo home prices are rising again so let’s connect the economic dots.  Suppose we cut off housing construction in the ways Elrich described to Greater Greater Washington.  Unless there is a recession – which would bring a different set of problems – a housing shutdown in MoCo would cause more home price and rent hikes, exacerbating our already oppressive cost of living and pushing some folks into Frederick.  Once in Frederick, some of those people would start businesses, hire people and create more economic activity there.  That’s great for Frederick and it’s part of the explanation for the growth they have seen in the last fifteen years.  But what exactly does that do for us?

Look, folks – with surging needs in schools, transportation and everything else and with maxed out county debt, we have a lot of bills to pay.  There are two ways to do it.  Option one is to grow our commercial tax base and create jobs, thereby generating more tax revenue.  Option two is more big tax hikes which will further strain the cost of living.

If we have a County Executive who is fighting to put jobs in Frederick and NOT in MoCo, which option do you think our county will pick?

Disclosure: the author supports Roger Berliner for Executive.


MoCo’s Mighty Seven Zip Codes

By Adam Pagnucco.

For a long time, Montgomery County has been thought of as a wealthy jurisdiction.  It has long appeared in lists of the nation’s richest counties (although it is about to drop out of the top twenty).  Politicians elsewhere in Maryland view it as a gold mine, with Senate President Mike Miller famously saying, “It’s like Never Neverland for other legislators of the state.”  The county is regularly shorted by state wealth formulas which disproportionately distribute state aid, especially for public schools, to other parts of Maryland.

But most of Montgomery County is not particularly rich.  Its wealth is concentrated in seven zip codes which skew its mean household income upward and make the county as a whole appear richer than it really is.

All residents of MoCo understand that there are huge differences between areas in the county even though many outsiders do not.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county’s mean household income was $133,543 over the 2011-2015 period, just barely squeaking past Howard County ($132,751) for tops in the state.  But that conceals big variations.  MoCo has nine zip codes in which mean household incomes were under $100,000.  The combined mean household income of these areas ($92,668) is roughly equal to the mean household income of Prince George’s County ($90,268).

MoCo has seven zip codes in which mean household incomes were over $200,000 in the 2011-2015 period.  These zip codes, mostly located northwest of D.C., account for 14% of the county’s households and 25% of its household income.  If these zip codes were regarded as a separate jurisdiction, their combined mean household income would be $238,917.  The combined mean household income of the rest of Montgomery County is $116,618 – about half the income of the Mighty Seven.

How do the mean incomes of the Mighty Seven and the rest of the county compare to the rest of the region?  We show the mean household incomes of those two parts of the county along with the other large jurisdictions in the region below.  The Mighty Seven as a group are easily at the top although we suspect that extracts of the wealthiest parts of Loudoun, Fairfax, Howard and D.C. would also be in that range.  As for the rest of the county, its income is average compared to the rest of the region.

That’s right, folks – with the exception of its wealthiest zip codes, MoCo is a middle-income jurisdiction by the (admittedly high) standards of the Washington region.

This reality has interesting implications for policy makers and candidates.  The issue of equity between different parts of Montgomery County is getting traction as a political issue in the upcoming election.  But in terms of who pays the county government’s bills, there is no question that county revenues are hugely dependent on a limited number of wealthy neighborhoods, especially in the absence of robust economic growth.  If those residents decide that they can get a better deal by living somewhere else, that would be a huge threat to the county’s tax base.

As for the state level, there’s a tendency to look at differing incomes and wealth BETWEEN counties but not INSIDE counties.  That’s how state wealth formulas work – they compare counties to each other but not local areas to each other.  How many state policy makers have understood prior to reading this blog post that there is a large part of Montgomery County that is economically comparable to Prince George’s?  It’s time for a serious examination of how to direct state aid to local areas in need regardless of which county borders they happen to occupy.


Where Are We Going?

By Adam Pagnucco.

Your author has written over a thousand posts over the last decade about state and local politics.  Some of those posts were tough.  Some called out elected officials by name and others took strong positions on issues that were unpopular with some.  But none of them provoked a more negative reaction from the political establishment in Rockville than our three recent posts on the history of MCPS funding.

Those posts did not contain ad hominem attacks.  They relied on budget data to make a point: the county restricted local funding for public schools for seven straight years and relied on state aid to fund the school system until property taxes were raised last year.  We then recommended that the school system get small, steady per pupil increases to deal with their needs financed by restraint in the rest of the budget.  This was not enjoyed by the officialdom in Rockville.  Terms were used like “misleading,” “distortions,” and “over the top.”  But in the end, the response from Council Member Nancy Floreen wound up confirming, not refuting, much of what we wrote.  There is no real disagreement over the facts of the matter; the budget data tells the same story no matter how it is read.  There is only disagreement over how those facts are characterized.

All of this provokes a thought.  Everyone reading this post has suffered a huge defeat at some point in their lives.  What does one do?  Well, after regaining consciousness and asking, “What the hell happened?” many people try to reconstruct what led to the defeat and assess the various factors that contributed to it, including self-inflicted wounds.  Then a resolution is made to avoid repeating those mistakes in the future.  Sure, we often mess up again.  But sometimes we learn and improve.

For the Rockville political establishment, the 40-point passage of term limits was that moment of huge defeat.  It was the biggest voter revolt since two consecutive County Councils were thrown out in the 1960s.  Where is the self-reflection and soul searching in the wake of that moment?  We’d like to see someone in government say, “Here’s what we learned from term limits.  Here’s what will be different going forward.”  Anyone who does that would deserve great respect.

Your author speaks regularly to candidates who knock on doors.  There is considerable diversity in the views of the voters.  Development is one issue provoking different opinions.  “We need more jobs.”  “We are overdeveloped.”  “We need more affordable housing which is why we need to stop all this building!”  (Yes folks, that was an actual quote from a MoCo voter!)  But there is also a bit of unease.  “My kid’s school is crowded.”  “I pay more in taxes but I’m not getting more in return.”  “I’m having problems affording the cost of living here and I’m worried that my kids won’t be able to afford to live here.”  “The county doesn’t listen to me.”  These are not tea partiers or Trump supporters; these are Democrats who regularly vote.  This isn’t hatred of incumbents.  But lots of folks are asking the same question.  Where are we going?

The interest groups in the county are asking the same thing.  None of them feels content.  The business community, the labor folks, the PTAs, the Realtors, the civic community and the rest of them are all uneasy and some are downright unhappy.  They have more in common than they believe.  What happens when they start talking to each other?

The 2018 election will not be a normal event.  It occurs in the context of a stagnant economy, a school system in desperate need, a tight budget, abject failures in the White House and Capitol Hill and voter rejection of the status quo.  We haven’t seen anything like this in decades.  The good news is that the candidate field is outstanding.  Some of the incumbents have tremendous experience and substantial achievements in their records.  All of them who were in office in 2010 can claim credit for saving the county from complete fiscal disaster.  The non-incumbents are smart, energetic, diverse and gifted in life experience.  Many of them would make great elected officials.

But we need something more.  We need to ask: where are we going?  And where should we be going?  To do that, we have to honestly assess where we’ve been – even if it means breaking a few eggs – and then figure out how to move forward.  It’s not easy.  As the incumbents will tell you, the constraints are real.  Do you want to give more money to the public schools?  Fine – then understand the state’s maintenance of effort law and be prepared to raise taxes or control spending elsewhere in the budget.  Do you want to improve the economy?  Fine – then avoid increasing the difficulty of doing business in the county, especially when it comes to employer costs and predictability.  Do you want to increase incomes?  Fine – that involves a discussion of rebuilding the working and middle classes through encouraging collective bargaining.  Do you want to increase funding for school construction?  Fine – then you need to find new revenue or be prepared to restrain the rest of the capital budget.  Do you want to help immigrants and people of color?  Fine – then be attentive to the needs of small businesses, which in this county are dominated by owners who are immigrants and people of color.  Do you want to close the achievement gap?  Fine – get ready for some difficult discussions about housing policy.  We could go on and on.

These discussions are necessary for us to move forward.  They must be honest.  They must be driven by data, not ideology.  And they must not spare political sacred cows.  Because if we don’t figure out where we are going, we will wind up in one place.

Nowhere.  Nowhere at all.


Elrich Slams Berliner on Minimum Wage

The following is by Councilmember Marc Elrich (D-At Large):

Earlier this week, the Council’s HHS committee voted 2-1 (Berliner and Rice vs Leventhal) to delay the full implementation of the minimum wage by two years for BOTH large and small businesses. (My bill cosponsored by 4 of my colleagues would raise the minimum wage 2020 for businesses with more than 25 employees and 2022 for those under 25.) While everyone acknowledges that there will be some impact on some small businesses, yet again no evidence was presented that demonstrated that it would be a significant impact.  While there are numerous studies, the meta-analysis of those studies show slight to no impacts on employment.[1] Statements should be supported by data or analysis.  The absence of data is part of what made the PFM study so bad, because their original massive job loss assertions, and even their second lower revised figure, did not reflect the data from anywhere (as this blog and others have documented[2]).  On the other side of the scale, studies clearly show the devastating impacts of poverty on children and families. I taught for 17 years at a high poverty school, and I saw up close the impact of poverty on students.

We have an opportunity to move toward a decent standard of living for these workers who have been working hard at low wages. Councilmember Berliner’s amendment to delay large businesses by two years to 2022 puts us two years behind Target’s stated nationwide plan. That is particularly inappropriate given that our county is one of the wealthiest in the entire country.

Councilmember Berliner argued for the delay using Minneapolis as the model and said that Montgomery County should use the same timing as they had. Using Minneapolis’ implementation schedule as a model would assume that it is a comparable jurisdiction. But it is not. Below I compare the living wage in the two jurisdictions. There are some big differences.

This table compares the living wage NEEDED TODAY in each jurisdiction.

Living Wage Minneapolis Montgomery County
Single adult $11.36 $15.80
1 adult 1 child $24.68 $29.82
1 adult 2 children $31.04 $34.87
2 adults 2 children $16.85* $18.72*

*This number is per adult in the two-adult family
(Source: Living Wage Calculator, MIT)

In every case, more than $15 an hour is needed TODAY in Montgomery County, but the cost difference between living here versus Minneapolis is the equivalent of $4 an hour, or $2 an hour if 2 adults are working.

However, the most important factor in cost of living differences is housing. Housing costs are what drives the cost of living and necessitate a particular wage. Here is a comparison of housing costs:

Jurisdiction 1br  yr/mo 2br  yr/mo 3br  yr/mo
Minneapolis $7824/ 652 $12635/1075 $17967/1497
Montgomery $15684/1307 $19476/1645 $25728/2144
Difference – or how much higher it is MoCo $7860/655 $6841/570 $7761/646

(Source: Living Wage Calculator, MIT)

A MoCo resident would need between $570-655/month more than a Minneapolis resident to pay the difference in housing costs. For all other expenses combined, Montgomery County is a few hundred dollars per year more costly to live in than Minneapolis, but annual housing costs are between $6841 and $7860 higher for Montgomery County. To suggest that a wage in Minneapolis, or a schedule for raising wages, should be replicated in Montgomery County ignores the enormous cost difference between the two jurisdictions which leaves our working poor deeply mired in poverty. We are simply prolonging an untenable situation for tens of thousands of families.

Finally, there is one last incorrect assumption in delaying the implementation date, and that is that Minneapolis is noticeably more gentle to small business. It’s been said that the proposed rate of increase is too fast. However, the facts show a different story.

Here is the pace of increase in the two jurisdictions:

Jurisdiction Small business increase # of years Cost/year Large business


# of years Cost/year
Minneapolis $7.25 7 $1.03 $5.50 5 $1.10
Montgomery County $3.50 5 $.70 $3.50 3 $1.16

In other words, the impact in Minneapolis on small businesses is greater in terms of total increase than Montgomery County ($7.25 vs $3.50) and greater as a per-year expense ($1.03 vs .70) For large businesses, the difference in total increase in Minneapolis is also greater than MoCo ($5.50 vs $3.50) but is slightly less per year ($1.10 vs $1.16).

So for small businesses, if the issue is pace, then the Minneapolis schedule is worse for their small business than what I’ve proposed, and for large businesses our target is 2020, no different than what Target has committed to nationally for 2020.

In short, Minneapolis is so different regarding affordability for its citizens that the impact of raising the minimum wage, and the urgency for raising the minimum wage, is simply not the same. Our residents are far more rent burdened and have far less disposable income. And if you’re worried about small employers, our steps are smaller, only 2/3 of the average annual increases that Minneapolis is implementing.

For one last comparison, I looked at Flagstaff, Arizona, which is also raising its minimum wage to $15.  Their living costs are slightly higher than Minneapolis but still much lower than Montgomery County.  And housing costs in particular are slightly higher than in Minneapolis, but about $6,000 a year lower than those costs in Montgomery County.  Yet they are raising their minimum wage for all businesses from $8.05 in November 2016, to $11.00 in January 2018, and then up to $15 an hour in January 2021.  So they are increasing by $7 per hour over just 5 years – a rate of increase that exceeds anything proposed in Montgomery County.

The minimum wage needs to reflect the costs that people have to bear in order to sustain themselves.  Prolonging the implementation simply erodes the value of the wage.  Frankly, in a perfect world we’d be close to $15 today and then let it rise with inflation.  Even my bill, with 2020 and 2022 implementation dates will mean that when $15 is reached it will be worth less than $15 today, and I wish we could do better, but the proposed delay just makes things worse and is completely divorced from the reality that low-income families face.

[1] http://jaredbernsteinblog.com/the-minimum-wage-increase-and-the-cbos-job-loss-estimate/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+JaredBernstein+%28Jared+Bernstein%29 and https://www.hendrix.edu/news/news.aspx?id=64671

[2] http://www.epi.org/blog/the-montgomery-county-minimum-wage-impact-study-is-absurd-junk-science/


MoCo’s Two Electorates, Part Three

By Adam Pagnucco.

Part Two presented a host of demographic data comparing Democrats who voted in all three of the 2006, 2010 and 2014 primaries (“Super Dems”) to voters from all parties who voted in both of the 2008 and 2012 general elections (“Super Generals.”)  Let’s compare the two groups more concisely below.

In summary, when compared to Super Dems, Super Generals are more likely to:

  1. Be age 29 or younger.
  2. Be ages 30-39.
  3. Live in Clarksburg.
  4. Live in Damascus.
  5. Live in Germantown.
  6. Live in Council District 2.
  7. Live in Legislative District 39.
  8. Live in precincts that are 25% or more Asian.
  9. Live in Legislative District 15.
  10. Live in Montgomery Village.

When compared to Super Dems, Super Generals are less likely to:

  1. Be ages 70-79.
  2. Be age 80 or older.
  3. Live in Takoma Park.
  4. Live in Chevy Chase.
  5. Be ages 60-69.
  6. Live in Legislative District 20.
  7. Live in Bethesda.
  8. Live in Kensington.
  9. Live in Legislative District 18.
  10. Live in Council District 5.

The above items are ranked in order of likelihood.  So for example, the biggest difference between the two electorates is in age, but that is far from the only difference.

Super Dems are mostly from Downcounty, tend to be seniors or close to it, have a lot of voting history and may be majority liberal.  They elect MoCo’s county officials and state lawmakers, who tend to be responsive to them.  Super Generals are geographically diverse, younger in age, have less voting history and are much more diverse ideologically.  Liberals probably do not account for a majority of Super Generals.  It is the Super Generals, not the Super Dems, who decide charter amendments and ballot questions, including this year’s amendment on term limits.

Two more facts are relevant to Super Generals.

First, on the last three major county ballot questions, the general electorate voted in favor of stricter limits on property tax hikes, against the ambulance fee and against broad collective bargaining rights for the police union.  These were arguably the less progressive positions on all three questions.  If these questions were submitted only to Democratic primary voters, they may all have had different outcomes.

Second, a Washington Post poll in September found that MoCo voters from all parties together gave Governor Larry Hogan a 66% job approval rating.  This was not significantly different from the Governor’s statewide approval rating of 71%.  It’s hard to imagine a majority progressive electorate approving of an anti-tax GOP Governor to that extent, but this is further evidence that liberals may not in fact be a majority of MoCo voters.

Term limits is the issue of the day and will be decided soon enough.  But a broader question looms.  Given the differences between MoCo’s Two Electorates, what happens when elected officials cater to one of them at the heavy expense of the other?  The recent large property tax hike, which was spread all across county government, was aimed at the priorities of liberal Democratic voters.  It also became the core of the push for term limits which is aimed at the general electorate.  This suggests a need for balance and restraint by those running the government.  Because if one of the two electorates feels unheeded, either one has the tools to strike back – either by unseating incumbents or by shackling them with more ballot questions and charter amendments.


MoCo’s Two Electorates, Part Two

By Adam Pagnucco.

In Part One, we began contrasting MoCo’s Two Electorates: namely, the Democratic primary voters who pick our elected officials, and the general election voters who decide charter amendments and ballot questions.  Today we present new data on the two electorates from the voter file.

We have integrated the January 2015 voter file available from the county’s Board of Elections with a variety of U.S. Census demographic data to analyze two groups of MoCo voters.  The first group, whom we call “Super Dems,” are those Democrats who voted in all three of the county’s 2006, 2010 and 2014 primaries.  The second group, whom we call “Super Generals,” are those voters from all parties who voted in both the 2008 and 2012 presidential general elections.  We would have also included 2004 voters if we could have, but the voter file doesn’t go back that far.  Presidential general election voters are relevant to this year, which is also a presidential year in which term limits are on the ballot.

Let’s look at a few demographics for Super Dems and Super Generals.

Party Affiliation


Super Dems are, of course, 100% Democrats.  Super Generals are 60% Democratic, 21% Republican and 18% others (most unaffiliated voters).  This matches the distribution of general election votes referenced in Part One.



Both groups are majority female, with women being a slightly higher share of Super Dems.



Super Dems skew towards seniors, with an average age of 64.  Super Generals are much more diverse on this measure, with an average age of 55.  While 19% of Super Generals are below age 40, only 3% of Super Dems are.  And while 63% of Super Dems are age 60 or older, only 39% of Super Generals are.  This means that while young voters are a meaningful voting bloc in general elections, they generally are not in MoCo Democratic primaries.  The difference in average date of voter registration in the county further emphasizes the deeper roots Super Dems have in MoCo than Super Generals.

Average Household Income


This is not a significant differentiator between the two groups, although this data masks real differences in residence geography.

Residence Type


This is also not a significant differentiator.  Both groups overwhelmingly live in single family homes and a big majority of them are probably home owners.

Location of Residence


Super Dems are more likely to live in Downcounty locations like Takoma Park, Chevy Chase, Bethesda, Kensington and Silver Spring while Super Generals are more spread out, including in Upcounty communities like Clarksburg, Damascus, Germantown and Montgomery Village.  This has ideological implications.  In this year’s Congressional District 8 primary, the very progressive Jamie Raskin ran up his biggest margins inside and near the Beltway, while the more moderate David Trone did best in northern areas.

District of Residence


Once again, the geographic split between the two groups is obvious.  Fifty-four percent of Super Dems can be found in the two liberal strongholds of Council Districts 1 and 5, while Super Generals are more geographically balanced.  This may help explain why three of four At-Large Council Members come from Takoma Park.

Precinct Demographics


Race and ethnicity are not available from voter registration data, but we can examine those factors for the precincts in which voters live.  By this measure, Super Generals appear to be slightly more diverse than Super Dems.  This suggests a need for more outreach to people of color by the Democratic Party, which should be their natural home.

We will conclude in Part Three.


MoCo’s Two Electorates, Part One

By Adam Pagnucco.

Montgomery County voters are some of the most progressive people in the nation.  They elect only Democrats, and almost all very liberal ones.  They celebrate diversity and respect civil rights.  They support a large, active government that passes liberal laws, provides excellent schools and generous social services and has extensive environmental programs.  Perhaps most importantly, they are willing to pay the taxes that support all of this.

Is the above a true statement?  Yes.  And maybe no.  It all depends on which electorate you’re talking about.  Montgomery County has two of them.

The first electorate is comprised of those Democrats who vote in the closed primaries for County Executive, County Council and members of the General Assembly.  Many of these are liberals who vote for candidates with similar views.  Indeed, there is an old aphorism that it’s nearly impossible to run too far to the left in MoCo elections.  Most elected officials here regard these voters as their political base and tend to be highly responsive to them.

But there is a second electorate: those residents who vote in general elections.  These voters come from all political parties and have significant ideological diversity.  For the most part, they tend not to reject the nominees of the Democratic Party for local and state office.  (The last Republican elected officials here were defeated ten years ago.)  But they can and do weigh in on charter amendments and ballot questions, and they do not always behave in accordance with the county’s progressive reputation.

This blog series examines the differences between these two electorates on the eve of the general election, when a landmark ballot question on term limits will be decided.  Of the two electorates, only one – the general election voters – will decide whether term limits will pass.

First, we examine the party composition of the two electorates.  The Democratic primary voters are of course 100% Democrats since Maryland uses closed primaries.  The general election voters are roughly 60% Democratic, slightly more than 20% Republican and slightly less than 20% unaffiliated or members of other parties.


Are liberals a majority of the general electorate?  That’s hard to say, but a little math can help.  If just a fifth of the Democrats, who comprise 60% of general election voters, are not liberals, then a majority of the general electorate would probably not be liberal.  (There are a handful of Green Party members in MoCo, but not enough to change the basic math here.)  So while a majority of Democratic primary voters may be liberal, it’s difficult to apply that characterization to the entire electorate.

Another factor that can be easily seen from the data above is the relative size of the electorates.  There are about three times as many voters in gubernatorial general elections as there are in gubernatorial Democratic primaries.  Presidential general election voters outnumber gubernatorial primary Democrats by five to one.  So while Democratic primary voters pick our elected officials, the presidential general voters are a much closer gauge of the political sentiments of the entire community.

We will begin contrasting MoCo’s two electorates in Part Two.


MoCo Board of Elections Responds to 7S Report on Early Voting Problems

The following was sent to 7S by Marjorie M. Roher, Public Information Officer of the Montgomery County Board of Elections:

Regarding “A Critical Error in Early Voting

The Montgomery County Board of Elections would like to take this opportunity to address the concern raised in “A Critical Error in Early Voting.”    Mr. Pagnucco’s description of the process that occurs in an early voting center is correct, and the Board appreciates his acknowledgement that the mistakes were honest.

Board staff learned of similar occurrences sporadically in several of the Early Voting Centers.  In each case brought to our attention, the voter received the correct ballot prior to scanning and was able to cast his or her vote in the appropriate congressional race.  The Election Director immediately contacted each Early Voting Center Manager to reinforce the need for accuracy in ballot distribution, instructed that Check-in Judges be reminded to circle the ballot style number on the Voter Authority Card (VAC) to make it easier to see, and Ballot Judges be reminded to double check the ballot style number on the VAC and ensure that they were issuing the correct ballot to each voter.  The design of the ballot issuance tables at each Early Voting Center was reviewed to ensure that the possibility of co-mingling ballot styles was eliminated.  Finally, a copy of The Seventh State blog was sent to each Early Voting Election Judge so that they might better understand the perception of the public when these types of errors occur.

All of these measures will assist in keeping errors to a minimum, but we urge voters also to pay attention to the ballot they are issued and, if they think they have the wrong ballot or if they have any other concerns regarding the voting process, speak to an election judge immediately so corrective action may be taken prior to scanning the ballot.  This will assist the election judges, who are voters who volunteer to work at election time to assist their neighbors with the voting process.

When the State Board of Elections selected the voting system to be used in 2016, it intended to utilize Ballot Marking Devices (BMD) at all Early Voting Centers.  This system would have allowed the Check-in Judge to hand each voter a ballot activation card with a bar code on the top, which  would contain the voter’s ballot style and, when inserted in the BMD, cause the correct ballot style to appear on the screen.  This would eliminate the need for an election judge to select the correct paper ballot for each voter.  Unfortunately, problems with how the BMD screen displayed contests with many names could cause voters to not see all candidates before voting.  For that reason, the State Board of Elections determined that the BMDs would only be used in 2016 by those individuals who requested them.

The State Board of Elections has requested the manufacturer of the BMD to modify the device so that all names in a contest would appear on the same screen.  We believe that this will be accomplished by 2018 so that all voters choosing to vote during Early Voting would be able to utilize this method, thereby eliminating the need for multiple styles of paper ballots at each location and the possibility of human errors.

The Montgomery County Board of Elections strives to ensure that each voter has a pleasant, efficient, and accurate voting process and we encourage voters to contact us with comments or suggestions for improvement, so that  we all can work together  to make a good voting experience even better.

Marjorie M. Roher
Public Information Officer
Montgomery County Board of Elections


MoCo’s Giant Tax Hike, Part Six

By Adam Pagnucco.

Montgomery County’s giant tax hike will have consequences.  Here are a few of them.

1.  Term limits are more likely to pass.

There are several reasons why Robin Ficker’s newest term limits amendment will probably pass if he gathers enough signatures to place it on the ballot, but the tax hike is one of the biggest.  The last time the council broke the charter limit in 2008, voters responded by passing Ficker’s charter amendment to make tax hikes harder.  With a new tax hike in place, voters may be tempted to respond with term limits.

Ficker has taken notice.  He regularly runs Facebook ads linking term limits, the tax hike and the council’s 2013 salary increase like the one below.  Commenters respond predictably.

Ficker vs Elrich

Ficker may have a new ally in his quest to evict the council: MCGEO President Gino Renne.  After the council voted to abrogate his union’s collective bargaining agreement, Renne told the Post, “I’m tired of these clowns,” and said his union might support term limits.  An alliance between Gino Renne and Robin Ficker would be one of the strangest events in the history of MoCo politics.  Whoever can produce a picture of these two smiling and shaking hands will be awarded a gift certificate from Gino’s beloved Department of Liquor Control.

2. Outsider candidates could be encouraged to run for county office.

If term limits pass, two things will happen.  First, the County Executive’s seat and five seats on the County Council will be open in 2018.  Second, the tax increase will be blamed for the success of term limits.  Both factors could lead to the entry of outsider candidates with a message like this: “We need new leadership.  We need to do things differently.”  Translation: we need to run the government without giant tax hikes.

Some of these outsiders may use the county’s new public financing system to run.  But the strong performance of David Trone, who started with zero name recognition and won many parts of CD8, will encourage self-funders.  This being Montgomery County, there are a LOT of potential self-funders, including those who have previously run for office.  Candidates in public financing can raise as many individual contributions of up to $150 each as they are able to collect, but the system caps public match amounts at $750,000 for Executive candidates, $250,000 for at-large council candidates and $125,000 for district council candidates.  A wealthy self-funder could easily overwhelm candidates who are subject to these caps and make a mockery of public financing.

3.  More charter amendments on taxes are possible.

Ficker’s 2008 property tax charter amendment, which instituted the requirement that all nine Council Members must vote to override the charter limit on property taxes, was a mild version of his previous ballot questions on the subject.  His 2004 Question A, which would have abolished the override provision entirely, failed by a 59-41 percent margin.  Now that the 2008 amendment has been proven ineffective, Ficker could be encouraged to bring back his more draconian version soon.  In the wake of this new tax hike, would voters support it?

Passage of a hard tax cap would have very grave consequences for the ability of county government to deal with downturns.  In 2010, the County Council responded to the Great Recession by passing a tough budget combining cuts, furloughs, an energy tax increase and layoffs of 90 employees.  When the next recession comes, if the county has no taxation flexibility, it might have to pass a budget laying off hundreds of people and gutting entire departments.  If the levying of giant tax hikes in non-emergencies causes the voters to abolish the possibility of levying them in true emergencies in the future, it would be a serious calamity.

4.  Governor Larry Hogan is a big winner.

One of Governor Hogan’s favorite political tactics is to play the Big Three Democratic jurisdictions against the rest of the state, with the City of Baltimore being his prime target.  But he can also point to Prince George’s County, where the County Executive (and a potential election opponent) proposed a 15% property tax hike, and also to Montgomery County, where the council passed a 9% increase.  His message to the voters will be a simple one.

“Look, folks.  This is what you get when you allow liberal Democrats to have one-party rule: giant tax hikes.  That’s why you need people like me in office to stop them.”

How many MoCo Democrats will ask themselves this question: “What is easier for me to live with? Larry Hogan or nine percent tax hikes?” What do you think their answer will be?

Hogan received 37% of the vote in Montgomery County in 2014.  He had a 55% approval rating in MoCo according to a Washington Post poll last October.  A Gonzales poll taken in March found that registered voters in the Washington suburbs (defined as MoCo, Prince George’s and Charles) gave Hogan a 62.6% job approval rating, with 35% strongly approving.  If Hogan can use the tax issue to run in the low 40s, or even as high as 45% in MoCo, he will be very difficult to beat for reelection.

Reelecting himself is not Hogan’s only priority.  He would also like to elect enough Republicans to the General Assembly to uphold his vetoes.  That task is easier in the House of Delegates, where Democrats hold 91 seats, six more than the 85 votes required to override vetoes.  If the GOP can pick up seven seats, as they did in 2014, they can uphold the Governor’s vetoes on party line votes.  That would cause serious change in how Annapolis operates.  Could big tax hikes in Democratic jurisdictions like Montgomery help the GOP get there?

5.  It will be harder to get more aid from Annapolis.

In 2007, former Baltimore State Senator Barbara Hoffman commented to the Gazette on Montgomery County’s ultra-wealthy reputation in Annapolis.  “They have to overcome the view that they’re rich and trouble-free. … That’s not true anymore.”  She was right then, and she is even more right now.  The county has massive needs for transportation projects and both operating and construction funds for the public schools.  But when the county levies giant tax hikes on itself to pay for these needs, is it letting the state off the hook?  State legislators from other cash-strapped jurisdictions that lack wealthy tax bases like Bethesda, Chevy Chase and Potomac are perfectly happy to let MoCo tax itself while they ask the state to tax MoCo even more to pay for their needs.  (Remember the 2012 state income tax hike, of which MoCo residents paid 41% of the new revenue?)  As a result, the next time the Lords of Annapolis are asked to help Montgomery County, they could very well reply, “Tax yourselves to pay for it. You always do.”

6.  A major argument in favor of the liquor monopoly has been proven hollow.

County officials predicted that if the liquor monopoly was lost, annual property taxes would have to rise by an average $100 per household.  Instead, the monopoly was preserved and the council passed a property tax hike that will cost an average $326 per household.  The tax hike was in the works since at least January 2015, long before small businesses and consumers launched their campaign to End the Monopoly.  And the $25 million in new spending added by the council to this year’s budget actually exceeds the $20.7 million that the liquor monopoly is projected to return to the general fund.  This proves once and for all that liquor monopoly revenues do not prevent tax hikes!

7.  There will be pressure in the future for another tax hike.

As we discussed in Part Three of this series, the U.S. Supreme Court’s Wynne decision, which requires counties to refund taxes paid on out-of-state income, was one reason for the current property tax hike.  Senator Rich Madaleno’s state legislation extended the time that counties had to pay for refunds from Fiscal Year 2019 to 2024.  Below is a table showing the fiscal impact on all Maryland counties combined, of which Montgomery accounts for roughly half.  While the legislation enables counties to spend less in FY 2017-2018, it requires them to spend more in FY 2020-2024.  MoCo will have to spend around $20 million a year in most of the out years.

Madaleno Wynne Bill Fiscal Impact

Given its $5 billion-plus annual budget, Montgomery could easily afford the out-year payments by slightly slowing the growth rate in its annual spending.  But instead, the council added $25 million in new spending on top of the Executive’s FY 2017 budget, and unless it is cut, that spending will continue in future budgets.  The cumulative impact of that new spending plus future Wynne refund payments will start to be felt in three years.  At that point, the council could very well face a choice between trimming back their added spending or raising taxes.  What do you think they will do?

8.  Economic development will now be harder.

Despite the wealth in some of its communities, Montgomery County struggles with the perception that it is not business-friendly.  While its unemployment rate is low by national standards, its real per capita income fell steeply during the recession, much of its office space is obsolete and it lacks Northern Virginia’s two major airports and its new Metro line.  The chart below shows the county’s private sector employment from 2001 through 2014.  Despite recent sluggish growth, the county had fewer private sector jobs in 2014 than it did in 2001.

MoCo Private Employment 2001-2014

And while the county lost private sector jobs, the Washington region as a whole grew by 9.5% over this period.

Washington Private Employment 2001-2014

There may be a variety of factors explaining MoCo’s weak economic performance, but consider this: in the last 15 fiscal years, the county has seen six major tax increases.  The county broke its charter limit on property taxes in FY 2003, 2004, 2005, 2009 and 2017 and it doubled the energy tax in FY 2011.  (Most of the latter increase is still on the books.)

Good government is an exercise in balancing needs.  Education, transportation, public safety and public services are valuable and require resources, at times necessitating tax increases.  But all of that is impossible without a vigorous private sector that creates jobs and incomes and pays the government’s bills.  Those priorities must be balanced, and when they are, progressive policies can be afforded.  But if they are not, economic growth will fail, government services will be harder to sustain, taxes will fall increasingly on a shrinking base and a downward spiral could begin.

In the wake of its long-term stagnant economy and its Giant Tax Hike, how close is Montgomery County to that tipping point?