Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Montgomery County Delegates Seek to Raise Property Tax Bills, Circumvent County Charter, to Fund Transit Programs

Montgomery County Delegation Chair Shane Robinson and Vice Chair Kirill Reznik
At the request of the county government and County Executive Ike Leggett, the Montgomery County Delegation to the General Assembly is seeking authority to create a new Independent Transit Authority (ITA) to run all of the county's mass transit programs, and to create a special taxing district", covering the entire county, to fund it.



Under the bill, a new countywide mass transit tax would also be created.  The agency would also be authorized to borrow money by selling bonds.  The money from the new transit taxes would not be spent on motorist oriented projects, only mass transit projects would benefit from it.

New Agency Would Be Exempt From County Charter = Higher Property Tax Bills
In 2008, Montgomery County voters passed a charter amendment by referendum which required a unanimous vote by the county council.  The legislation, if passed would permit the county to circumvent the county charter in order to evade limits on property tax hikes: "PROVISIONS OF THE MONTGOMERY COUNTY CHARTER DO NOT APPLY TO THE TRANSIT AUTHORITY UNLESS THE GOVERNING BODY OF MONTGOMERY COUNTY EXPRESSLY PROVIDES BY LAW THAT A CHARTER PROVISION APPLIES TO THE TRANSIT AUTHORITY" reads the bill.  Yes that's right, the bill explicitly states that the new county agency is exempt from the county's own charter.

The new agency's officials would be appointed by the County Executive.  Among their powers would be the ability to exercise eminent domain to acquire property for transit projects.

Montgomery County's mass transit programs have come under scrutiny after the new Silver Spring Transit Center encountered huge cost overruns.  Some of the county's proposed future transit plans have included the creation of a network of Bus-only lanes which would in some areas may require either narrowing lanes for motorists or taking a lane away completely.

A Massive Power Grab?  Backroom Deals?
There is a petition on Change.Org opposing the bill.  A Facebook page and a Blog opposing the bill (shamtransit.blogspot.com) has also appeared, which urges residents to  "Stop The Back Room MontCo Transit Authority Deal, " asserting that it is a"developer giveaway" and that interests which contributed to the county executive and council members' campaigns will benefit from it.

Most County bills are included in public hearings in December, prior to the start of the General Assembly session.  However this bill was submitted seven weeks after the normal deadline for county bills, at Ike Leggett's request.  The delegation voted in favor of submitting the bill --- even though a public hearing, which is normally done before the delegation votes, had not yet been held.

The vote by members of the delegation to submit legislation circumventing provisions of the county charter regarding property tax increases was as follows:


Limited Time For Public To Weigh In
A hearing for the bill, designated by the delegation as MC 24-15, is scheduled for Friday January 30, 3rd Floor Hearing Room, Stella Werner Council Office Bldg., 100 Maryland Ave., Rockville, MD
6:00 p.m..  The hearing was hastily put together, with less than the normal time for public notice, due to the lateness of the bill's submission. Individuals who wish to comment on this new tax plan can sign up to testify at the Montgomery County Delegation website.   Contact information for the members of the Montgomery County Delegation can be found on the delegation's Contact Page.

The bill has been submitted to the House of Delegates as HB104, and will need to be approved by the Members of the Ways and Means Committee and the Members of the Environment and Transportation Committee before passage.