Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Plan to Invigorate Ailing Transportation Program

We are considering a plan to move forward on several State transportation projects by using County funds previously set aside to help fund State transportation projects. The plan, totaling $51.2 million, is a unanimous recommendation from the Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee, which I chair.

We asked staff from the Executive Branch, the Planning Board and the County Council to come up with this plan in response to the Maryland Department of Transportation’s September announcement that it would cut more than $100 million in funds that were intended for State projects in Montgomery County. The cuts eliminate and reduce many significant transportation projects.

Under the plan, we will allocate money from the County’s State Transportation Participation program. This already-funded program provides for the County’s participation in funding State and Metro projects that will add capacity to the County’s network and reduce congestion. It is funded primarily by Montgomery County Liquor Fund Revenue Bonds, and we propose to use much of the funding to offset some State cuts.

This plan jump starts critical State transportation projects. Transportation remains the top priority for Montgomery County residents who are tired of being stuck in traffic. We need congestion relief now. That’s why I am pleased to be putting this plan forward. View the entire press release.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Group Considers Transit Funding Option

Last week I held a public work session to explore a plan proposed by the Council’s Working Group on Infrastructure Financing that would allow the County to raise up to $75 million annually by assessing employers a $250 excise tax on employee parking spaces. Revenues would be dedicated to financing transit.

A parking excise tax not only would provide a stable and long-term revenue source, the Working Group’s October 2007 report says the tax “may contribute to achieving other County goals to reduce demand for single occupancy vehicle travel (by encouraging carpools or transit) and to maintain air quality standards.”

I am well aware of the fiscal uncertainty faced by our residents and businesses, and I also know that we have several big ticket transit plans on the table that we need to be prepared to deliver. I held the work session in light of the recent announcement by Maryland Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari that $1.1 billion in transportation projects will be deferred over the next six years to compensate for a revenue shortfall.

Montgomery County’s two planned priority transit projects, the Purple Line (an east-west route that would connect the Bethesda and New Carrollton Metrorail stations) and the Corridor Cities Transitway (a north-south route that would extend from the Shady Grove Metrorail station to beyond Clarksburg), were slashed by $25 million (19 percent) and $42.5 million (47 percent), respectively, over the next six years. The proposed excise tax could help to get these projects back on track.

I recognize that these are difficult economic times for everyone, and I appreciate the thorough consideration given to the proposal. Based on input from the work session, I do not plan to pursue the parking excise tax at this time.

Still, serious needs for both roadway and transit funding remain, especially as the State’s contribution to transportation is shrinking. Some folks have suggested that we can’t afford the cost of the projects, but we really can’t afford a future that leaves employees and businesses paralyzed by gridlock. That’s why I am committed to continue trying to address these core community needs. Do you have a good idea for financing infrastructure? Let me know.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Development Districts Move Forward

Yesterday, we voted to move forward with a Clarksburg development district and to clarify the process for future taxing areas. I did not take this decision lightly, especially because I appreciate how difficult it has been for the residents of Clarksburg to live through the uncertainty of the issues surrounding their community. I apologize for how long it has taken to resolve them.

I know that some folks are unhappy with the Council’s vote on development districts. I supported this initiative because I believe that we have a huge obligation to plan for the future with innovative solutions that will provide the infrastructure necessary for a thriving community. Development districts were always intended to be the way to finance the Clarksburg infrastructure, and its result, according to what our finance people have told us, will put Clarksburg residents at about the midpoint of tax burden that our county residents bear. Some pay less, and some pay more. I am concerned about taxation equity and am committed to working to find ways that spread the responsibility as fairly as possible.

Additionally, I understand that the Clarksburg plan of compliance is on the Planning Board agenda for early November. Hopefully, that will bring to conclusion all remaining issues so that Clarksburg can finally move forward again and reach its full potential.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Council Will Decide on Music Hall

Today we passed a zoning text amendment that clearly designates the County Council as the driver for arts and entertainment land use decisions in central business districts. While the proposed music hall (Fillmore/Live Nation) in Silver Spring is the most immediate project to fall within the new ordinance, it will apply to future projects as well. I proposed this amendment because the County Council, and not any other branch or agency of government, is responsible for setting land use policy in the County and makes final decisions for uses based on those policies. This amendment brings arts and entertainment uses in line with all other land use decisions and allows the County Council to consider these uses within its regular, transparent structure. I recognize that this move primarily represents a technical adjustment that is not all that interesting to most County residents, but I do want to stress that this change cleans up the unclear process that led to much of the controversy associated with the Fillmore/Live Nation agreement negotiated by the County Executive.

As our first act under the new ordinance, we are considering a resolution to accept the County Executive’s negotiated plan to build a music hall in Silver Spring. Some have questioned what they consider to be a sweet deal for the developer, especially during tough economic times. I encourage residents to remember that this deal represents an investment in downtown Silver Spring. It will spur development and generate tax revenue that ultimately will lessen the burden on individual taxpayers. We are scheduled to take a final vote on the music hall next Tuesday. To learn more, visit the Council’s website.