The Future of Schools and Roads Dominate Political Discussion at the Committee for Montgomery’s Annual Legislative Breakfast
By Linda Willard
Dennis Melby, Alex Bush and I attended the Committee for Montgomery’s Annual Legislative Breakfast on December 13, 2018. Key speakers included Senator Chris Van Hollen, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich, Montgomery County Council President Nancy Navarro, State Senator Craig Zucker and Delegate Mark Korman (LD-16).
Senator Van Hollen began his remarks by discussing the looming government shutdown, and not surprisingly, placing blame on the President and House Republicans. He did acknowledge, however, two important pieces of bi-partisan legislation likely to pass: the Criminal Justice Reform Bill and the Farm Bill, which contains important funds for the Conservation Reserve Program. The balance of his remarks focused on the three areas where Republicans have failed to act: healthcare, gun control and immigration reform.
County Executive Elrich focused on education, transportation and income inequality. He said that his first order of business after being sworn in was a $50 million shortfall in the 2018 budget. With respect to education, he went a step further than recommendations in the draft Kirwan report and said the state should provide early childhood education, not just universal Pre-K. He also pledged to fight for more money from the state for county schools. He criticized Governor Hogan’s proposal for potential express toll lanes on I-270 and I-495 as a 20thcentury solution to 21stcentury problem. His solution would be to reverse lanes on I-270, depending on traffic flow and time of day, and to use dedicated bus lanes.
County Council President Nancy Navarro, who followed Elrich, gave brief remarks about the need for the county to be more business-friendly, tolerant and respectful. Del. Mark Korman (LD-16), Chair of the County House Delegation, and Sen. Craig Zucker, Chair of the County Senate Delegation, briefly discussed the upcoming session in Annapolis.
The focus of the Keynote Panel’s discussion was Maryland Political and Policy Insights. The panel included moderator Bruce DePuyt, Josh Kurtz from Maryland Matters, Delegate Anne Kaiser (LD-14), and Bryan Sears from The Daily Record. Panelists examined the blue wave of the 2018 mid-term races in Maryland, and how Republican Governor Larry Hogan has emerged unscathed from this wave. They expressed uncertainty about what Hogan seeks to accomplish in his second term, but they did cite his post-election proposal authorizing $3.5 billion in schools construction and renovation. With limited funding for schools and the Kirwan report due out any day, panelists commented that there was a constant tension between capital expenses and teachers’ salaries for schools.
At the state level, the panel noted that leadership is changing in many of the Senate and House committees in Annapolis. Despite the appearance of fiscal health, upon closer look, Maryland’s budget is not as strong as it appears: with expenditures of 5 percent and revenues of 3.5 percent, future shortfalls are likely.
Governor Hogan’s $9 billion proposal to establish public-private partnerships on I-270, I-495 and the BW Parkway without talking first to elected officials, was characterized as a “bit bold.” Del. Anne Kaiser (LD-14) was “suspicious” about the details of any proposal, and was critical that Hogan wasn’t more collaborative with this plan. Bruce DePuyt called for mixed modal solutions.
The panel closed its session with a discussion about the controversial issues of health care and living wages, both of which are likely to come up in the 2019 legislative session. Del. Kaiser commented that Montgomery County Executive Elrich’s input in Annapolis on the $15 per hour minimum wage and other priorities would be very important.