Tag Archives: Nancy Floreen

Floreen on Krasnow

I asked retiring Councilmember Nancy Floreen (D-At Large) – the first councilmember to endorse a candidate for county executive – why she has endorsed former Rockville Mayor and Deputy Planning Director Rose Krasnow for County Executive:

Rose is a remarkable person. I think she’s just what Montgomery County needs to move us forward. Consider her background. She started her life of activism at age 11 in Memphis during the civil rights movement, then protested the expressway through Overton Park (which ultimately resulted in a famous land use decision by the Supreme Court), worked in Wall Street, ran a homeowners’ association, moved into City of Rockville politics as councilperson then Mayor, and on to managing a branch of United Way, then on to Park and Planning.

Rose has great financial and managerial experience, knows the county through and through, and will bring a fresh leadership style to lead the county into the future. She’s tough and will call things as she sees them.

Plus, Rose has a terrific sense of humor and is a huge sports fan. Strong, knowledgeable, and independent. What’s not to like?

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Floreen Endorses Krasnow

Apparently, Rose Krasnow announced that she was in for county executive at the Montgomery Women breakfast on Friday. Nancy Floreen, who also attended the breakfast, announced her support for Krasnow.

I believe this is this first endorsement by a sitting member of the County Council in the race. Floreen looked past three of her colleagues – Roger Berliner, Marc Elrich and George Leventhal – in making her choice.

If elected, Krasnow would be the first woman to serve as Montgomery County Executive. The two leading candidates in the Prince George’s race, State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks and former Rep. Donna Edwards, are women, so the two counties may both have their first female county executives.

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Council Places M-83 in the Freezer

By a 7-2 vote with Nancy Floreen (D-At Large) and Craig Rice (D-2) opposed, the Montgomery County Council approved a resolution sponsored by Councilmember Hans Riemer (D-At Large) telling the Planning Board to ignore that the controversial M-83 road in making future plans.

The controversy pits Upcounty residents against smart growth and environmental opponents of new roads. Many Upcounty residents in communities like Clarksburg would love to see the long promised alternative route to their communities built in order to alleviate excruciating traffic. Environmentalists and smart growthers think that new roads promote the use of cars and sprawl.

Compromise or Just Spin?

The resolution is being presented by Riemer as a compromise because it keeps M-83 in the Master Plan but tells the Planning Board to act as if it will never be built. Nancy Floreen outlined the politics of spin surrounding this resolution in explaining her “no” vote:

There is nothing in here that says we are going to build M-83. So that is a win for the environmentalist, I guess. And, there is nothing in here that says we are going to build M-83, which is a win for the UpCounty.  I suppose, I should be happy about this because we leave M-83 on the master plan for the future, which is a good thing. But, because we are doing something that is designed to fuel public perception one way or the other, I think it is just plain irresponsible. It is a gratuitous slap in the face to the people who relied on the master plan. And for the people who are opposed to it, it continues the argument ad infinitum.

Indeed, the resolution in amenable to being messaged in a variety of ways to different audiences. Environmentalists and smart growthers can be told it all but kills the road for the time being. M-83 supporters will be told that it’s still in the Master Plan and that the anti-road people aren’t happy for this reason.

Road Opponents Carried the Day But this Street Fight Continues

Riemer, an M-83 opponent, is deeply misguided to the extent he believes that the sop of maintaining M-83 in the Master Plan will appease road supporters. They’re not fooled. The “it’s a compromise” argument only annoys because it comes across as disingenuous to people who wanted this road built yesterday.

Marilyn Balcombe, President and CEO of the Gaithersburg-Germantown Chamber of Commerce, is campaigning for at at-large seat on the County Council and making this an issue:

[T]o invoke the Paris Climate Agreement for any project that someone may disagree with is a very slippery slope. . . . Does this proposed resolution mean that we are never building any more roads in the County?

Not a bad substantive policy question in this election year.

Politically, the impact of this issue remains unclear. It’s a great way to rally Upcounty residents who want the road. But how many vote in the key Democratic primary?

Environmentalists are indeed are unhappy that the county didn’t just kill the road outright. Another county council can take the road out of the freezer and thaw it out. They have a lot of support Downcounty but it’s more diffuse pro-environmentalism rather than opposition to this particular project. Can they rally people beyond the small set of usual suspects to oppose the road?

A more likely strategy is that environmental and smart growth groups endorse against pro-M-83 candidates but mention other more compelling issues or general concerns about climate change in their messaging to voters.

Time to Get Off the Pot

While Riemer presents the resolution as a compromise that leaves all unhappy, another way to see this decision is that they decided not to decide. Often, waiting is a good decision. In the case, however, it has the strong whiff of kicking the can down the road to no purpose as the major fact we can expect to change is that traffic will get worse.

The “solution” that our elected officials voted for is really no solution at all. If councilmembers are against the road for whatever reason–the environment, smart growth, the lack of funds–they should just tell the people by killing it. Similarly, supporters should demand a resolution that actively prepares for it and be ready to explain how they will fund it.

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They Just Don’t Get It

After Adam Pagnucco’s terrific and thought-provoking post from yesterday, I had an interesting conversation with Councilmember Nancy Floreen on Facebook. A very smart and knowledgeable former Council President who is happy to defend her record, the conversation was inadvertently helpful to me in understanding why term limits passed so overwhelmingly.

They Don’t Get It. At All.

Voters didn’t quite say “You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately. . . Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!” in the manner of Oliver Cromwell to the Rump Parliament (repeated famously by a Conservative MP to Neville Chamberlain). But a 70% vote in favor of term limits is pretty darn close.

Yet, reflecting a common view on the Council, Nancy Floreen ascribes no meaning to the vote whatsoever, including viewing it as a vote against the status quo (see full Facebook exchange here). In short, there is now a yawning gap between how councilmembers see their work and the County government, and how voters see them.

This ostrich-like response on term limits–and even though I voted against them and really like and respect Nancy, I don’t know what else to call it–vividly demonstrates this distance and why voters supported them.

The Divorce

On reflection, I realized that something fundamental has changed about how voters see the County government. When I was a more of whippersnapper, people had a much more positive view of the County government. Yes, people paid a lot in taxes but the results were visible in terms of quality services from excellent schools to parks to libraries that made it a great place to raise kids.

People are now much more divorced from their County government–and not just because our population has doubled. Traffic, always bad, is now far worse. We’ve gone through a long period in which taxes have gone up but visible outputs in terms of those excellent services, such as libraries, are going down.

People even worry increasingly about the quality of our beloved school system and whether they’re getting value for money. Metro is no longer spanking new but decaying and dysfunctional. Other infrastructure from electric wires to gas lines to water mains needs replacement.

Why Did Voters Want to Throw the Bums Out?

Many of the problems that the County faces have little to do with its current membership. At least part of the term limits vote stems from having gone through a tough period when difficult, unpopular choices had to be made. And yet, the reasons that voters decided to make the psychological trial separation from the County a full-scale divorce via term limits go beyond that.

The Bubble

County Councilmembers are insulated from the public unless they make a strong effort. The highly symbolic locked door that prevents the plebeian masses from even entering their offices is just the start of it. Staff insulates councilmembers from the public, both by fielding calls and answering email.

Besides naturally supportive staff, councilmembers get a lot of positive feedback from visitors. After all, people lobbying for something tend not to want to alienate the Council. After 12 or 16 years, who wouldn’t be changed by that?

Two Electorates

Roughly 10% of eligible voters participate in the Democratic primaries that elect our local officials. Turnout in Montgomery has been stagnant, so politicians focus on the increasingly small share of people who participate in these contests.

The focus on the odd few of us who vote consistently in Democratic primaries leaves the rest feeling disengaged from politics, as politicians sensibly don’t reach out to them at election time because it won’t help them win.

It also leaves politicians with a pretty warped sense of what the average voter wants because the few who participate in primaries of either party tend to be more extreme than not just the average voter but also the average member of their party.

Term limits was one of the few ways that the other 90% could express dissatisfaction with local officials in a meaningful way other than casting a symbolic vote for a Republican, a brand tarnished by national Republicans that mostly fields weak or even nutty candidates here.

Confusing Congress and Local Government

Too many members of the Council seem to want to be national legislators and opine on the great national issues of the day. Increasingly, this creeps into legislation with more time spent on issues away from core functions.

I miss those wonderful ads with Doug Duncan taking out a voter’s trash. To voters, this said that he got it. One reason County Executive Ike Leggett was able to turn back challenges to his leadership despite being the man in charge at a difficult time was that (1) he showed an unusual capacity for listening at events around the county, and (2) he responded to voters with not just deep fluency on local issues but also a respect for voter concerns. At a town hall meeting with Ike, voters always felt heard.

Property Taxes

Most people’s salaries have been stagnant. Nonetheless, the County raised taxes by over 9%. At a time when many voters find it hard to live within their means, the County made it harder by increasing taxes. As it turns out, berating voters that they don’t care about schools or social justice if they feel this way doesn’t work.

In other words, it is time for the County to start to figure out how to live within its means. Maybe this means tax reform of some sort–no, not in the guise of a massive tax cut like federal Republicans–such as eliminating loopholes that help some but not most of us. Councilmember and County Executive Candidate Marc Elrich made a good start by highlighting an old post by Adam on a tax break for country clubs. But it may also mean taking on labor to rein in costs, actions Councilmember Roger Berliner or Del. Bill Frick, also running for executive, are more likely to do.

The tax argument for term limits was made especially effective by the 28.1% pay increase that the Council voted to award itself in 2013. The Citizens Commission report had recommended a 17.5% increase in one year plus COLAs. That would’ve given the Council a 17.8% increase through 2016 based on the CPI for the Washington-Baltimore region. Comparing annual wages per employee in Montgomery County from 2013 and 2016 reveals that private sector wages have risen just 7.6% in current dollars.

The People v. The Powerful

Monied interests are way better at working Rockville than the rest of us. While members of civic associations are part-time volunteers who are not always up on the latest in ZTAs (zoning text amendments), developers and other powerful interests have expensive lawyers who know how to work the process.

This critique is very different than rich v. poor because the problem affects neighborhoods across the County. Developers and other interests can afford lawyers who can navigate them through the process and leave neighborhoods feeling powerless.

Social Engineering

This intersects with the social engineering tendencies of both the Council and the Planning Board. Personally, I think smart growth is generally a great thing that builds urban nodes like Silver Spring, Rockville and Bethesda where many people want to live or to spend time.

At the same time, it needs to be done with sensitivity and awareness of existing neighborhoods. Most people moved out here for the suburban lifestyle of a house and a yard. They don’t appreciate being told that they’re outdated and even being demonized for caring about their neighborhoods and worrying about whether the infrastructure can handle the growth.

Moreover, those who have lived here a long time have a healthy suspicion of urban planners. In the 1970s and 1980s, these are the same people who told us that elevated urban plazas behind office buildings were the wave of the future. Total disaster.

I think they’ve got it more right this time with smart growth. But carrying it out in such an ideological manner that dismisses neighborhood concerns alienates the people who are supposed to be served. Downcounty residents are mighty tired of hearing patronizing talk of how much they’ll like that new 30-story building looming across the street from their home. Or that traffic is good because it will force us to ride the decaying Metro that doesn’t take us to the supermarket.

Upcounty residents really do want some of those promised roads built and are real tired of begging. If you don’t believe me, check out the hundreds of petition signatures submitted by upcounty citizens (see below) who are deeply unhappy that Councilmember Hans Riemer’s proposed resolution on traffic solutions for the area drops the M-83 extension of the Midcounty Highway.

Put another way, start treating smart growth like a very good idea to be pursued in concert with residents rather than a new religion desperate to burn some heretics. The Council made a good start with the Bethesda Master Plan. It wasn’t perfect but it was a good process so kudos, especially to Councilmembers Roger Berliner, Marc Elrich and Hans Riemer. But concerns have already arisen that development will go beyond what is in the plan, as developers and their lawyers are already working the process.

Ferment in the Land

So yes, it’s definitely “a time for a change” election. Yet, we may end up with a crowd that has much the same views as the previous one but voters will welcome the change of faces. And, who knows, new faces may bring some good new ideas and approaches.

Here’s hoping.

M-83 Petition Signatories 101717 by David Lublin on Scribd

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A Reply to Nancy Floreen on MCPS Funding

By Adam Pagnucco.

Thanks to Council Member Nancy Floreen for writing about MCPS funding in recent years in response to my blog post.  First, a note of appreciation.  While we may disagree about MCPS, we agree wholeheartedly on the issue of economic growth, which is the anchor for the county budget.  The political winds on growth shift back and forth in county politics over the decades, but Floreen has consistently pushed an economic development agenda.  She was for jobs before jobs were cool!  All the things the county has done right in economic development – and there have been a few of them – have Floreen’s fingerprints all over them.  It’s one reason why your author admires her and is sad to see her leave the County Council.

Let’s begin with areas of agreement.  First, Floreen is absolutely right about the terrible days of the Great Recession.  The county had not faced anything like it since the 1930s.  Everything had to go on the table in those days – spending cuts, layoffs, furloughs, broken collective bargaining agreements and an energy tax hike – because the alternative was default.  Floreen was Council President in 2010, the worst year of the recession.  She, the County Executive and her colleagues saved the county from fiscal disaster.  That achievement should not be forgotten.

Second, Floreen mentions the state’s teacher pension shift as a stress point on county finances.  Again, she’s absolutely right.  For many years, the state’s payment of teacher pension benefits was the one state program that disproportionately benefited Montgomery County.  That’s because our high cost of living as well as our prioritization of schools leads us to pay higher teacher salaries than the rest of the state, which results in higher pensions.  In 2010, nearly all of MoCo’s state legislators running for election promised not to shift pension costs to the counties.  But in 2012, Governor Martin O’Malley pushed a plan to do exactly that and most of our state legislators voted for it.  The result is that Montgomery County pays roughly $60 million a year for teacher pensions now, more than any jurisdiction in the state.  Compare that to the size of last year’s property tax hike, which was $140 million a year.  No matter what is said about the county, the state should not be let off the hook.

Now to the areas of disagreement.  It’s interesting that Floreen says our blog post is misleading but does not actually refute any of the data on which we rely.  She simply picks other data and disagrees with our characterizations.  We are sympathetic to her problem: it’s hard to refute data that happens to be true!  One thing she contests is our choice of FY10 as a base year for comparison.  We picked FY10 because it was the peak year of overall county spending before the Great Recession fully kicked in.  So comparing FY10 to FY16, the year before the tax hike, is valid because it’s a peak-to-peak comparison that includes both the cuts to departments in the early part of the period as well as the restoration that occurred afterwards.

She also disagrees repeatedly with our referring to MCPS as going through austerity.  Our basis for doing so was the county’s local dollar spending per pupil, which comes from county budget documents and was not contested by Floreen.  In nominal terms, here is the county’s local spending per pupil from FY06 through FY17.

The data shows that the county cut its local per pupil contribution to MCPS for three straight years and froze it for four straight years.  This period greatly exceeds the length of the Great Recession.  The local per pupil contribution went up after last year’s property tax increase.

Last year’s per pupil bump looks significant, but here is the same data adjusted by the Washington-Baltimore CPI and presented in real terms using 2017 dollars.  (We estimated 2017 inflation at 2.02%, the average rate of the preceding years in the chart.)  Clearly, even with the tax hike, the county’s local-dollar commitment to schools is not what it once was.  And the CPI underestimates major cost drivers for the schools, such as the costs of serving rising numbers of students who live in poverty and need language services.

Floreen then talks about the county departments that were cut during the recession.  She’s right: they were cut.  But after the recession ended, most of them were restored to levels exceeding what they were before the recession.  Meanwhile, county dollars for MCPS were cut by $33 million between FY10 and FY16.  Floreen doesn’t deny that, but she notes that local dollars aren’t the only source for MCPS’s budget.  The schools get plenty of state money too.  Floreen says this:

What really matters is the total MCPS budget, not the State share versus the local share. The higher State spending for MCPS in recent years reflects that the State’s funding formulas, at long last, are starting to recognize our students’ actual needs, as shown in our higher ESOL and FARMS populations. The State aid increases, which were long overdue, enabled us to provide continued strong support for MCPS during the Great Recession without further decimating every other function of government.  Why is that not a good thing?

Floreen is conceding a central point of our original post which is reinforced in the per pupil data above: the county depended on state aid to keep MCPS afloat while it restricted its own contributions to the school system.  Meanwhile, MCPS enrollment grew from 140,500 to 156,514 between FY10 and FY16, an 11% increase.  The Great Recession by itself can’t be cited as a justification for restricting county dollars for schools because the restrictions continued long after the trough of the recession had passed.  Indeed, fifteen other counties increased their local per pupil contributions after the recession ended, including nine controlled by Republicans.  The message here is, “The state was paying for our schools so we didn’t have to increase county per pupil spending on them.”  Is that “continued strong support for MCPS” as claimed above?  Is it satisfactory for parents and voters?  Let the readers decide.

Finally, Floreen repeats her longstanding point that last year’s 9% property tax hike was intended to support MCPS.  That’s true: MCPS did get a big share of that money.  But so did the rest of the government.  Last year, we laid out how the county could have cut the tax hike in half, still given MCPS all the money requested in the County Executive’s budget and done it without spending cuts to other agencies.  County Executive Ike Leggett, who originally proposed the tax hike, asked the council to cut the rate increase in half after the General Assembly passed a law easing the county’s liability from a U.S. Supreme Court decision on income taxes.  But the council chose to keep every penny of the original tax hike and spread it across every agency instead.  That’s not an Education First budget – it’s an Everything First budget.  The result of the tax hike was a tremendous boost for the 40-point triumph of term limits at the ballot box.  Even the council’s own spokesman at the time now says the tax hike was unnecessary and is vowing to stop another one if he is elected to Floreen’s open seat.

Look folks.  We get this is tough medicine.  We understand that elected officials don’t like to be criticized, especially around election time.  And we understand that Nancy Floreen, a Council Member we respect, would like to go out on top.  But it’s important to understand the past to prepare for the future.  The schools need small, steady increases in per pupil funding to deal with their challenges.  There can no longer be wild swings between extended periods of per pupil cuts and freezes followed by huge tax hikes intended to undo the effects of those cuts and freezes.  To fund MCPS fairly without raising taxes, the county will have to restrain the overall growth of the rest of the budget to pay for it.  There cannot be any more Everything First budgets.  With four Council Members leaving and the Executive race wide open, it will be up to the next generation of county officials to chart a better way forward.

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Setting the Record Straight on MCPS Funding

By Council Member Nancy Floreen.

Adam Pagnucco’s recent post on the County Council’s budgeting work made an astoundingly misleading claim: “The County imposed seven years of austerity on MCPS [in FY10-16] while lavishing double-digit increases on nearly every other function of government.”  While I ordinarily ignore this kind of online misrepresentation of Council activity, this goes too far over the top to let pass.

As Council President in 2016, I plead guilty to leading the charge for two tax hikes to support MCPS.  The FY17 property tax hike enabled us to reduce class size and focus on the achievement gap; we exceeded the State-required Maintenance of Effort level (MOE) for the MCPS operating budget by $89 million.  The recordation tax hike enabled us to fund key school construction projects that would otherwise have languished.  We did this in a historic partnership with the Board of Education, which agreed to channel more of its funds to the classroom, and, bravely, less to employee compensation.

Were the preceding seven years really a period of “austerity” for MCPS and “lavish” times for others?  Consider the facts.

1. The choice of base years matters. FY10 was an anomaly. From FY01-09, we had funded MCPS at a total of $576 million ABOVE the MOE level, thus creating a much higher required spending base.  But no good deed goes unpunished.  When revenues sank like a stone during the Great Recession, this higher base became an impossible burden, even after we approved a property tax increase in FY09.

2. During the worst years of the recession, FY09-12, only two agencies – MCPS and Montgomery College – saw increased funding. To be sure, the increases were small (1.8 and 3.2 percent, respectively) and relied on higher State aid. But during this same period, vital County functions like Police, Fire and Rescue, and HHS were down 3.4, 5.0, and 14.7 percent, respectively.  Recreation was down 23.5 percent, and Libraries was down 29.2 percent.  These deep cuts were without precedent.  The new spending base we were forced to create was so low that any later increase seemed disproportionately large.  We consistently prioritized funding for MCPS and the College during this period.  As the Rolling Stones would say, they didn’t get what they wanted, but they got what they needed. This we could not do for the rest of County government.  I was Council President in that awful time.  There were furloughs for all County employees, including first responders.  MCPS furloughed no one.

3. The “austerity” claim fails to account for massive additional County funding for MCPS that is not included in the MCPS budget or in MOE.  So, for example, in FY18, we approved total expenditures for MCPS that include $2.37 billion for the MCPS operating budget PLUS $317.5 million more in the County budget.  This pays for debt service on school construction bonds, pre-funding MCPS retiree health benefits, support services ranging from Linkages to Learning to crossing guards, and MCPS technology modernization.  In FY13-16 alone, this additional County support totaled $1.08 billion.  These dollars are not technically included in the MCPS budget, but they should be. To put the FY18 additional County support in perspective, this amount is larger than the total FY18 budget for Police, Fire and Rescue, or HHS.  Again, this massive support for MCPS is all ABOVE the MOE level. And not counted.

4. Is the flip side of this alleged “austerity” for MCPS in FY10-16 really “lavishing double-digit increases on nearly every other function of government”?  Tell that to one of our most important and beloved departments, Public Libraries.  The libraries provide our one million-plus residents of all ages (including students from MCPS) with an ever-growing wealth of materials and technology.  But the department’s budget of $40.3 million in FY09 did not reach that level again until FY16, seven years later, even in nominal dollars.  The FY18 level, $42.7 million, is barely equal to FY09 in real dollars. “Lavish” indeed!

5. One key fact is that 90 percent of the MCPS budget is for the salaries and benefits of active and retired employees. MCPS’ benefits cost much more than the County’s. If MCPS’ employee share of health insurance costs was the same as the County’s, the savings would be $24 million.  Add to this the fact we alone in the State fund a supplement to MCPS employees’ State pension benefit. This alone cost $25.3 million last year.  The regular pension cost in FY18 is another $71.8 million, plus $56.8 million more for the State’s shift of teacher pension costs.  We also pick up the tab for pre-funding MCPS retiree health benefits (paid from the County budget, not the MCPS budget).  This set us back $74.2 million in FY18 and is now projected to cost $547.8 million in FY18-23.  Is that what you call “austerity”?

6. What really matters is the total MCPS budget, not the State share versus the local share. The higher State spending for MCPS in recent years reflects that the State’s funding formulas, at long last, are starting to recognize our students’ actual needs, as shown in our higher ESOL and FARMS populations. The State aid increases, which were long overdue, enabled us to provide continued strong support for MCPS during the Great Recession without further decimating every other function of government.  Why is that not a good thing?

7. In fact, a more complete and accurate comparison of FY10-16 tax supported operating budgets by agency shows that MCPS received a 12.9 percent funding increase compared to 13.0 percent for Montgomery County Government, 15.9 percent for Montgomery College, and 8.3 percent for Park and Planning. In addition, a significant portion of the FY10-16 increase of 803.9 percent in pre-funding retiree health benefits and 41.5 percent in debt service benefited MCPS!

As we go into an election year of hyperbole and catchy phrases, know that the Council, on which I have been so privileged to serve, is committed to thoughtful fact and policy based budgets, responsive to ALL our residents’ needs. We are also constantly mindful of the burden that our decisions place on our residents’ pocketbooks.  MCPS will always need more support.  Has it been singled out for unfair treatment – “austerity” for MCPS and “lavish” increases for everyone else?  The facts say otherwise.

Nancy Floreen has served on the Montgomery County Council since 2002.  She was Council President in 2010, during the Great Recession, and again in 2016.

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BREAKING: Brookeville to Open Montgomery’s First Casino

brookeville-acadBrookeville Academy

Comptroller Peter Franchot’s discovery that the Town of Brookeville owes $7.2 million to the State of Maryland due to his office’s miscalculation of municipal tax receipts for many years placed the Town in quite a bind, as the municipality of just 134 souls had no idea how it could repay the debt.

Today, Brookeville Commission President Katherine Farquhar announced that, after working on the issue with the County and the State, Brookeville will open a casino in historic Brookeville Academy (pictured above), which is owned by the Town, to raise monies to pay off the debt to the State.

Franchot praised the decision, stating that he “appreciates the Town’s gratitude to my office for finding the errors” and plans to award the Town the Comptroller’s Medal for its “creative solution” to the Town’s financial difficulties.

Members of the County Council had initially expressed concerns regarding the project. But Council President Roger Berliner (D-1) has now announced that the casino will be the first recipient of the microloan program he has advertised on Facebook in anticipation of his 2018 County Executive bid.

In a press release, Berliner said “I’m so pleased that the microloan program will make the casino possible. It will help jump start Federal Realty’s development of the outbuildings for future expansion, showing the importance of partnerships like these.”

After initial opposition, Councilmember Tom Hucker (D-5) came on board once the Town agreed to hire MCGEO workers transferred from county liquor stores. “They know as much about gaming as beer, wine and liquor, so this is a great opportunity,” said MCGEO President Gino Renne.

Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Gigi Godwin agreed with the union president, as she commended the County for brushing aside development concerns with the adoption of a special Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) over the objection of the Civic Federation. “We need the County to take a more proactive approach on business.”

Councilmember Hans Riemer (D-AL) also applauded the project, saying that he was happy to learn that Brookeville “is open to serving craft beers” that an official taskforce determined were crucial to revitalizing nightlife in the County.

The sole casino opponent, Councilmember Marc Elrich (D-AL), pointed out that Georgia Ave. is already a parking lot and that the development violated County traffic tests. His statement was interrupted by George Leventhal, who brusquely asked Elrich “Why do you care about people coming from Howard County? Haven’t you figured out we ignore you yet?”

In contrast, Councilmember Nancy Floreen (D-AL) expressed optimism regarding transportation: “SafeTrack has been such a success. We should use the projected savings on Metro to initiate a study on extending the Purple Line to Brookeville.”

The casino will have a War of 1812 theme, reflecting Brookeville’s role as the “U.S. Capital for a Day” in 1814 during the British occupation of Washington. The building’s exterior will be preserved as the interior is redesigned in a “modern Madisionian” style.

(P.S. I think most have figured out by now, but yes, this is satire. Happy New Year.)

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Is the Montgomery County Council Uncoupled from Reality on Metro?


It’s Not Just Metro Trains that are Uncoupling

Outgoing Montgomery County Council President Nancy Floreen is so eager to defend the Purple Line that she has been reduced to making incredible statements about the Metro system:

Floreen said Leon’s latest ruling focuses on a one-time issue that Metro is dealing with by instituting its year-long SafeTrack repair process.

“To focus on a unique circumstance where [Metro is] focusing on maintenance and they’re improving the system and [the judge] acting like this one-shot deal affects the future of transit in the region is short-sighted and if you ask me, irresponsible,” Floreen said.

Bethesda Beat reported this stunning statement a week ago but it really deserves more play. While it’s good to see Metro making efforts at improvement, even Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld did not sell SafeTrack as a panacea but merely claimed it was needed to keep the system from falling apart completely.

Moreover, as was covered by the Washington Post, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has reported that the work is often shoddy and that problems are being missed. For example, while SafeTrack is supposed to repair loose fasteners, FTA inspectors following up on the work found an “excessive amount of loose fasteners” that “pose a particularly high safety risk.”

Yesterday, cars on the Red Line came uncoupled and people ended up walking the track. According to reports on @unsuckdcmetro, the train that separated was a new train, so hard to blame on old rolling stock.

More evidence that even Metro does not see SafeTrack as the solution is that NBC reports that WMATA is now planning to reduce service by 30 minutes on weekdays and 2 hours on weekends in order to have more time to make repairs.

Anyone willing to bet that this solves the problems? One argument against cutting hours has been that Metro often doesn’t have the repair staff at the correct location even for scheduled repairs. Would the service cuts be needed if this problem were addressed? Alternatively, will WMATA use the extra time effectively? Or will the cuts along with growth in Uber, Lyft and telecommuting just reduce ridership even further?

Nancy Floreen is a very smart, knowledgeable and experienced councilmember. But this particular statement by her was not one of the better calls made by this tough and well-respected public official. Incidents like trains uncoupling are not unusual but the new normal. Articulating a belief that Metro problems and declines in ridership are a very temporary hiccup, rather than a long-term problem, only enhances belief that the problems lie with governance as well as management.

The public is in trouble if people who are supposed to speak for us overlook Metro’s problems and are so heavily invested in defending it that they are willing to explain away manifest long-term problems. We need Metro to work. And we need the County Council to take these problems seriously.

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MCGEO Gets Ready to Rumble

By Adam Pagnucco.

On Monday night, July 11, some MoCo residents received the following robocall.

I’m Tara Huber. I live in Montgomery County and I’m a county worker in child protective services. My job is to protect the vulnerable children in the county and can be very stressful. My job is made even more stressful by the fact that the County under the leadership of Council President Nancy Floreen has failed time and again to give me and my co-workers the right tools to effectively do our jobs. Floreen has mismanaged the county budget to such an extreme that we don’t have enough staff or tools to manage the high case loads. Protect your Montgomery. Call President Floreen at 240-777-7959 and tell her you expect better management of our tax dollars. Paid for by UFCW Local 1994, 600 South Frederick Avenue Gaithersburg Maryland 20877.

This is a new shot fired by MCGEO, the county employee union, in its on-again, off-again conflict with the County Council.  But it’s a risky one that could backfire.

First, some background.  MCGEO has a number of problems with the council, including:

  1. The council’s trimming of employee benefits during the Great Recession.
  1. The council’s vote to end effects bargaining for the police union, which was later upheld by voters.
  1. The council’s vote to cut MCGEO’s raise in half as part of its recently passed budget.
  1. The introduction of legislation by Council President Nancy Floreen that would change collective bargaining procedures in ways that the union claims would weaken its ability to negotiate.

These events and more have caused MCGEO President Gino Renne to tell the Post that his union might support Robin Ficker’s term limits amendment.  And on the night before the hearing on Floreen’s collective bargaining bill, the above robocall went out.  None of this is a coincidence.  Indeed, the union is gearing up for battle.  And no one, whether friend or foe of MCGEO and its fearsome President, has ever claimed that the union backs down when it is under threat.

The problem is that the robocall has little merit and such tactics may provoke the council to do even more against the union’s interest.

Montgomery County has a gigantic Health and Human Services (HHS) budget.  In FY16, HHS had an approved budget of $289 million, with 1,359 full-time positions and 327 part-time positions.  Children, Youth and Family Services, for which the robocall speaker (a MCGEO Vice-President) works, had an FY16 approved budget of $79 million with 525 full-time equivalent positions.

Using FY09 data, your author found that Montgomery County had the biggest HHS budget (along with housing) of any local jurisdiction in Maryland.  On a per capita basis, MoCo spent more than double the state average and lagged only the City of Baltimore.  MoCo spent more than 8 times on HHS and housing than did Prince George’s County.  From FY10 (the peak year prior to the recession) through FY16, MoCo’s HHS budget grew by 13%.  And as for the County Council specifically, it adds millions of dollars on top of the Executive’s recommended budget for HHS every year.  Below is a list of the HHS items added by the council to the Executive’s budget this year, financed with a nine percent increase in property taxes.

HHS Rec List FY17

It’s hard to argue that the council pinches pennies on HHS.  MCGEO has pooh-poohed the tax hike on its website.  What would the union like to see?  Does the council need to raise property taxes by 20% to get its approval?

There is more.  MCGEO is considering supporting term limits for county elected officials.  Fair enough.  The union has some legitimate grievances and any union would fight against a breaking of its collective bargaining agreement.  But let’s remember that the collective bargaining bill detested by MCGEO only had two sponsors at introduction, Nancy Floreen and Craig Rice.  That doesn’t speak well of the bill’s chances under normal circumstances.  But if MCGEO amps up its tactics and really does come out for term limits, could it actually help to recruit votes for Floreen’s bill?  After all, what do term-limited Council Members have to lose?  And let’s not forget that this council will decide on funding two more MCGEO annual compensation packages before the next council is seated.

In May 2011, when the County Council met to pass a budget that included cuts to employee benefits, a group of nine clowns appeared in the audience.  One of them wore a name tag with the first name of the Council President.  The police union refused to admit responsibility but was widely blamed.  Less than two months later, the council voted unanimously to repeal the police union’s right to bargain the effects of management decisions.

What goes around comes around.  Is MCGEO next?

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MoCo’s Giant Tax Hike, Part Five

By Adam Pagnucco.

The untold story about the Giant Tax Hike is that it could have been cut substantially while still maintaining every dime of funding for MCPS in the Executive’s recommended budget.  How could that have been done?

The Executive called for an increase in property taxes of $140 million over the charter limit.  Three sources of savings were available to offset it.  First, Senator Rich Madaleno’s state legislation enabling the county to extend the time necessary to pay tax refunds mandated by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Wynne decision freed up $33.7 million.  Second, the County Council had obtained $4.1 million by not funding some elements of the employees’ collective bargaining agreements.  Third, county agencies other than MCPS were due to receive a combined $36.3 million in extra tax-supported funds in the Executive’s recommended budget.  Using some or all of that money for tax relief would have reduced the tax hike even more.  If all of that money were redirected, the tax hike could have been cut in half with MCPS still getting the entire funding increase in the Executive’s budget.

Instead, the council kept the entire 8.7% property tax hike and distributed $25 million of it throughout the entire county government, as well as its affiliated agencies and partner organizations.  While MCPS may have undergone seven straight years of austerity, most of the other agencies and departments had already received double-digit increases over their pre-recession peak amounts.  This new money was on top of those increases.

Council President Nancy Floreen was very honest about this, writing:

While this is an “education first” budget, it isn’t an “education only” budget. As much as many people care about our outstanding school system, we know that others have different priorities. This budget is very much about those people as well.

This budget provides a much-needed boost to police and fire and rescue services as we will be adding more police officers and firefighters and giving them the equipment they need to continue to make this one the safest counties in America. This budget is about libraries, recreation, parks, the safety net, Montgomery College, and transportation programs that help get people around this county better.

This budget means that no matter where you live in the county, if you call an ambulance, you can count on a life-saving response time. Our police force will now be equipped with body cameras. Potholes will be filled, snow will be plowed, grass in parks and on playing fields will be mowed and trees will get planted in the right-of-way. While our unemployment rate has fallen steadily over the past couple of years, our newly privatized program for economic development promises an even better job market in the future. We are going to help new businesses in their early stages and hope they will remain here once they become successful. We are going to aggressively seek to get established businesses to relocate here and we are going to fight to keep the great businesses of all sizes that already call Montgomery County home. Our avid readers and researchers will appreciate the interim Wheaton Library and extended hours at several branches. And students will have better access to after-school enrichment programs.

As Council President Floreen demonstrates above, this is not so much an Education First budget as it is an Everything First budget, with nearly every department and agency getting a piece of new tax revenues.

Let’s compare what happened this year to what occurred in 2010.  Back then, the county was suffering from the full effects of the Great Recession.  Its reserves were dwindling to zero, revenues were in freefall and its AAA bond rating was on the verge of being downgraded.  The County Council responded by passing a budget with furloughs, layoffs, no raises for employees, a cut in the county’s earned income tax credit, an absolute reduction in spending and a $110 million increase in the energy tax.  Given the dire economic emergency, all options were bad ones, but the council really had no choice.  The cuts and tax hike were forced upon them.

This year, there is a stagnant economy (which we will discuss in Part Six) but no Great Recession.  Reserves are substantial and have been on track to meet the county’s goal of ten percent of revenues.  There is no threat to the bond rating.  And yet, the council chose to pass a $140 million property tax increase – larger than the energy tax hike during the recession – when it could easily have reduced the tax increase, funded MCPS’s needs and not cut any other departments.  But it did not.

Like all big choices, this one will have consequences.  We will explore them in Part Six.

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