April 15, 2010

Considering economy, county fared well in 2010 session, legislators say

Montgomery County emerged from the 2010 General Assembly largely unscathed, lawmakers said Tuesday morning, moments after the midnight end of the session.

"This is not a year where you're going to have big slam-bang victories," House Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve said. "This is a year where you're going to protect your position and build for the future, and I think we did that."

Lawmakers started the 90-day session wrestling with a dire fiscal situation as the lingering recession depleted sources of state revenue.

"It's been a tough year to have happy things happen," said Melanie Wenger, director of the county's Office of Intergovernmental Relations.

And while there was pain enough to go around, Montgomery was able to relieve some of it through increases in state aid. The state's fiscal 2011 budget will send the county a 10.4 percent increase in aid, or about $72 million. That jump is the result of a fall in taxable income and a drop in real estate values, said Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., a member of the Budget and Taxation Committee.

"People in Montgomery County haven't suddenly become poor, but if you were making $1.5 million two years ago and $800,000 this year, you're not standing in a bread line but you're paying a lot less in income tax," said Madaleno (D-Dist. 18) of Kensington.

One of the biggest issues for Montgomery lawmakers was the maintenance-of-effort penalty that the state Board of Education imposed on the county. State law requires that county school spending, on a per-pupil basis, at least equal the previous year's spending. The recession forced the county to fall below that level this year, prompting the penalty. The legislature overturned that penalty, in legislation Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) signed Tuesday.

"We got the abatement for the fine on maintenance of effort, and that was a big victory. The maintenance-of-effort law that we wrote for the future is one that will protect Montgomery County and other jurisdictions," said Barve (D-Dist. 17) of Gaithersburg. SOURCE: Gazette

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