Montgomery County Leaders, Advocacy Groups Lay Out Priorities for 2018 General Assembly Session

Leggett calls for additional education funding; environment supporters press for more renewable energy


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Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner, right, encourages state legislators from the county to pursue dedicated Metro funding in the 2018 General Assembly session

Andrew Metcalf

As Montgomery County’s state delegation gears up for another General Assembly session, county leaders and the public shared with legislators the issues and legislation they believe are most important on Monday.

At a meeting in Rockville, County Executive Ike Leggett urged legislators to push for additional education funding as the county’s school system’s enrollment continues to grow. He noted that Montgomery County Public Schools has more than 162,000 students and is the largest school system in the state.

The 2018 session begins in January and is scheduled to end in April.

Leggett thanked legislators for securing $1 million in state funds in the 2017 session for a planned winemaking facility in Poolesville. Leggett described it as an important county economic development project.

Plans for the estimated $12.7 million grape-crushing and banquet facility call for the county and its revenue authority to fund about $9 million of the project and the rest to come from the state. County leaders are hoping state legislators can secure the additional funding for the project over the next two years.

“We hope to close that gap this year with additional resources,” Leggett said.

County Council President Roger Berliner encouraged state legislators to pursue dedicated funding for Metro. He described it as the county’s no. 1 transportation priority.

“Let’s get a 10-year dedicated funding plan if we possibly can,” Berliner said.

Metro has sought a dedicated funding source as the agency grapples with fixing and maintaining the aging transit system that has been plagued by problems such as arcing insulators while ridership has declined.

Washington, D.C., has proposed an increase in its sales tax to provide dedicated funding for Metro.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe have resisted proposals for a tax increase in their states to fund Metro. Hogan, instead, proposed in September providing Metro with an extra $500 million from the state’s transportation trust fund over four years if Virginia, the District and the federal government do the same.

Paul Wiedefeld, Metro’s general manager, has said the agency needs $500 million per year in dedicated funding to take out bonds to pay for needed capital improvements.

Berliner encouraged legislators to include the Corridor Cities Transitway, a proposed bus rapid transit project in the Gaithersburg area, in Hogan’s plans to add four lanes to Interstate 270 and other highways in the state.

A representative from the city of Gaithersburg requested that state legislators review Maryland’s Public Information Act to prevent city and county governments from having to release email address lists they maintain.

County Council members requested changes in the state law after a number of people and organizations requested and received more than 200,000 email addresses of people who signed up to receive newsletters from the county and County Council members.

Stewart Edelstein, the executive director of the Universities at Shady Grove, thanked legislators for securing the needed state funding to complete the Rockville campuses’ new $162 million Biomedical Sciences Center. However, he said the school still needs about $15 million in state funding over a two-year period to fund the operational costs for the building.

He said that without the additional funding, the building “will be significantly underutilized when it opens in the fall of 2019.”

Tim Willard, of the Montgomery County Green Party, and Meg Robbins, of the environmental group Food & Water Watch, encouraged the state legislators to support Del. Shane Robinson’s (D-Montgomery Village) Off Fossil Fuels Act. The legislation calls for the state to use 100 percent clean renewable energy by 2035.

The bill also would remove trash incineration and burning methane from factory farms from being classified as renewable energy.

“Our future relies on us making the transition to renewable energy,” Willard said.

The approximately two-hour hearing Monday night was mostly a listening session for state legislators.

On Dec. 4 and 6, the delegation is scheduled to hold additional evening hearings at the County Council Office Building to detail legislation the state representatives plan to introduce in Annapolis during the 2018 session.

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