Spent another full day in Annapolis this week. In addition to our regular legislative committee meeting, some planned and some impromptu meetings took place in the Senate building prior to the meeting. Having facetime with legislators and lobbyists to talk policy in an informal setting is a positive way to strengthen relationships and have an impact. You never know who you are going to bump into in the hallways!
During our meeting, the legislative committee discussed 15 bills. A few were similar to bills that MACo took a position on last week. The tax committee’s most impactful bill we discussed was HB223, “End Ineffective Business Subsidies Act of 2020.” This bill prohibits the Secretary of Commerce from designating or expanding certain Enterprise Zones and terminates the One Maryland tax credit. This is troublesome and shortsighted. Counties are trying to attract and retain businesses, and most of these tax incentives are an extremely helpful tool for our Economic Development departments to offer to businesses, who would otherwise be unable to expand or they might locate someplace else. These businesses create jobs and their employees then pay the taxes and live and work in our communities. Since, there is no hearing yet scheduled, the tax committee recommended holding this bill for further information and to see if the sponsor is willing to amend the bill before we take an official position.
The land use committee bore the brunt of the bills this week. We supported HB78/SB172, “Bay Restoration Fund.” This authorizes and expands the use of funds to include climate resiliency and flood control. Any bill that expands our authority and flexibility is positive to be able to utilize our local autonomy for specific needs for the county. There were a few bills that didn’t have enough impact on the county to take official positions on, but could prove beneficial. One of them was HB177, “Water Infrastructure Assets – Authorization of Emergency Actions and Reserves.” This is a bill by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) that establishes a reserve fund to take action against areas that are in imminent danger of failure, such as a dam or reservoir. The business owner of the property, would then be required to reimburse the department for monies spent.
Another bill MACo is holding on is HB209, “Plastics and Packaging Reduction Act.” The bill hearing is not yet scheduled. This is the plastic bag ban and also establishes a 10-cent fee for durable paper bags. While not commenting on whether we agree with the policy, the concern is that it requires the counties to police it. There are no resources to do this. So, we are exploring an amendment to share a portion of the 10-cent fee, which currently the retailer would retain in its entirety, to help offset the requirement to enforce. Montgomery County is one of several counties that already have a similar bag fee. Their fee is shared between the retailer and the county. The county deposits its portion into the county’s Water Quality Protection Charge (WQPC) fund.
Later in our meeting, we had a couple guest speakers from the administration to gain insight from them. This week we heard from the Secretary of MDE, Ben Grumbles and the Secretary of Planning, Rob McCord. Secretary Grumbles gave us an update on the lawsuit filed against the EPA for not holding Pennsylvania accountable for not doing their share of cleaning up the
Chesapeake Bay. This has been a huge issue for years and the Clean Water Act requires the EPA to enforce it. PA is only at 74% of their goal and their funding is about $200-300 million short. So, we are using our tools under the federal clean water act and going to the courts for enforcement.
Secretary McCord gave us an update on Census 2020. He stressed how important it is to get a complete and accurate count of our communities so that we receive all the funding that is necessary. One of the taglines his department is using is “Come to Your Senses” Census. Every household will be receiving their postcard on March 15th, with Census Day being April 1st. You can fill it out online or over the phone, before they send someone to your front door. An excellent resource is their website www.census.maryland.gov, where you can sign up to receive updates and get complete information. Know how very important this is for all people to be counted so please be prompt in filling out this information.
After the official meeting, MACo hosted its annual reception for the Legislators and the Administration. This is always an excellent opportunity for the locally elected officials to have facetime to discuss the issues as well as our four MACo initiatives and why they are so important. We are able to meet Delegates and Senators from other jurisdictions that we normally would not have an opportunity to interact with. This is invaluable, because a smaller more rural area official can explain to a larger area representative, impacts and unintended consequences that a broad piece of legislation might have. This goes both ways and I believe all who attended gained a better understanding of the county issues.
MACo and the entire State is still waiting on the official “Kirwan” bill, which will have an enormous impact on everyone. From a Baltimore Sun report “Democratic leaders of the state’s legislature have promised to fund an array of improvements to public schools — including expanded prekindergarten, increased teacher pay and other programs — without a broad-based tax increase. They’ve pledged not to pass an across-the-board increase in the state’s income, sales or property taxes.” I will reiterate from earlier articles I have written that income and property taxes are the ONLY taxes the county has control over, so if they have pledged not to have these tax increases, there is no ability of the counties to pay for their share of the cost. Many believe that if the State thinks these are all good ideas that will benefit our children, then the State should figure out a way to pay for the full share of the new Kirwan policy areas and not pass an unfunded mandate onto the counties who are strong partners and already fund 50% of the cost.
Stay tuned, things are just starting to get interesting.
Laura Price is 2nd Vice President on the Executive Board of Directors of MACo, Chair of Budget and Tax, Talbot’s legislative liaison and member of the Talbot County Council.