Wednesday, May 2, 2012

MoCo JuiceBlender: Ambulance Fee Returns, O'Malley Launches Bike Share, Roger Berliner Calls for Innovation Officer


Now that Annapolis legislators are currently pausing from legislative activity, Maryland Juice is paying closer attention to policy proposals floating through Montgomery County. We've provided extensive commentary on County Executive Ike Leggett's corporate welfare plan for Lockheed Martin, but there is much more to discuss. Below we provide a few recent tidbits, starting with a news item on a proposed Montgomery County ambulance fee:

JUICE #1: IKE LEGGETT'S AMBULANCE FEE PROPOSAL BACK FROM THE DEAD - MoCo politicos are likely familiar with the long-running debate about whether to charge insurance companies for residents' use of County ambulances. The proposal passed the County Council in 2010, but was struck down by voters later that year. Now County Executive Ike Leggett seeks to overturn the will of voters and is attempting to pass the ambulance fee yet again. Should the Council pass the plan one more time, opponents would have to organize yet another petition drive to strike down the measure. That doesn't seem fair -- no matter where you stand on the ambulance fee. The Washington Post reported last week:
WASHINGTON POST: An ambulance fee is back on the agenda in Montgomery County.

On Thursday, Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) proposed legislation to reinstitute the fee, which was struck down by referendum in 2010....

After dueling campaigns that involved hundreds of volunteer and career fire and rescue personnel, the law failed in a referendum. Leggett said the circumstances are different this time, because the state legislature is in the midst of adding significant costs to the county.

The General Assembly approved changes to the formula deciding how much counties must allocate each year for school funding, and Leggett said he expects that the legislature will soon enter a special session to approve a shift of teacher pension costs to the counties. Both measures will create substantial costs to the county in the long term, and Leggett said he wanted a stable source of revenue to help mitigate the effect.

“It would be irresponsible not to put this as an option given the financial conditions we’re in today,” he said.
Maryland Juice finds Ike Leggett's worries about MoCo's cash-flow to be very strange, given that the County Executive seems to think we have hundreds of thousands of dollars to give away to profitable multinational corporations right now.

JUICE #2: COUNCIL PRESIDENT ROGER BERLINER CALLS FOR MOCO INNOVATION OFFICER - MoCo's current Council President Roger Berliner has at least one idea for a better way to spend county money than on mindless corporate welfare. Yesterday, he sent some of his colleagues on the County Council a letter calling for MoCo to hire a Chief Innovation Officer (CIO). In a letter to members of the County's Government Operations (GO) Committee, Mr. Berliner stated some concrete goals for a CIO:
ROGER BERLINER: early funder of Twitter and a representative from Google advised us that in their view our County needed to do more to embrace innovation. They specifically pointed to the wealth of data that our County possesses and how other communities are using that data to create economic opportunities.
The Chief Innovation Officer would assist in putting the data our County collects to work for our residents: turning information into services through cutting‐edge technology like mobile phone “apps”. He or she would engage a new generation of problem‐solvers, our County’s most tech‐savvy residents, to come up with new solutions to old problems.

CANARY IN THE COALMINE: AN EARLY WARNING ABOUT INTERNET POLICY: Over and over again, Maryland Juice has pleaded with politicians and policymakers to start taking Internet policy and citizen engagement more seriously than they may have in the past. We already witnessed citizen backlash to proposals to censor or invade privacy on the Internet (ie: SOPA & CISPA). I am pleading one more time for the Democrats to own Internet freedom as an issue, and to not cede one inch to the Republicans. In the short-term I believe this will aid Democrats in building a brand among younger voters; and in the long-term it will build us loyalty among a new majority voting population of Internet users who self-identify as such. More importantly, protecting the free-flow of information (and now commerce) on the Internet should be a bigger government priority than it currently is.

The New York Times today had a timely warning for U.S. policymakers. Germany notably has a multiparty democracy due to their country's proportional representation election system. But amazingly, the third most popular party in the nation right now is The Pirate Party. Given that the party is focused on Internet issues and is only six years old, Maryland Juice thinks this is pretty significant:
NEW YORK TIMES: The sudden roar erupting from the J├Ągerklause bar in east Berlin’s bohemian Friedrichshain district late on a recent Sunday sounded like the usual soccer-match pandemonium. But the crowd inside, with their jeans and sneakers and easygoing looks, didn’t seem like typical soccer fanatics.

Nor did they look like political operatives — but that’s what they were: members of the upstart Pirate Party, which had just scored a key electoral victory in the small western state of Saarland.

The German Pirates, founded in 2006 and long dismissed as a niche party obsessed with copyright reform and online privacy, picked up four seats in the Saarland regional Parliament, twice as many as the once strong Green Party — and far more than the pro-business Free Democrats, who were shut out.

This month they face their biggest challenge, with elections in two more states, including North Rhine-Westphalia, the country’s most populous. Should the results match recent poll numbers — as high as 13 percent, making the Pirates Germany’s third-most-popular party — they will serve notice that a new electoral force has arrived and offer a compelling political lesson for parties on both sides of the Atlantic.

On the surface, the Pirates are indeed niche: their platform stands for stronger protection for file sharing and against censorship, along with unorthodox ideas like voting rights for teenagers.

But their real goal, and the root of their success, is more meta: using the Internet to create a new structure of politics that can solve the problem of how to energize citizens — not only for the excitement of a campaign but also the often dreary realities of actual governance....

But the Pirates’ generation isn’t as radical as their parents’, and they understand the value of conventional politics. They just believe that it’s stuck in the past....

Still, the real lesson for American observers is not how to build a viable third party, but how Mr. Obama and other politicians must adapt to the political sensibilities of Internet-savvy voters. It’s easy to dismiss the Pirates as a quirky band of idealists. But as countless old-line German politicians can attest, American parties ignore them at their peril.

MOCO COUNCIL RAPS WITH GOOGLE & TWITTER REPS: Below, you can a video of the County Council discussion with representatives from the Internet companies and startups mentioned by Mr. Berliner. We also re-print Mr. Berliner's letter to the Council below:

Get Microsoft Silverlight

Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner Calls for MoCo Chief Innovation Officer (CIO)

JUICE #3: O'MALLEY ANNOUNCES FUNDING OF MOCO BIKESHARE PROGRAM - Montgomery County Planning Board member Casey Anderson alerted Maryland Juice to an exciting new development:
CASEY ANDERSON: I just found out that Montgomery County received a grant to fund their bike-share program. Assuming the County Council funds the required match, the program could be operating by the end of the year. The state grant, if matched by County funds, would pay for all of the bike-share stations proposed inside the Beltway. It looks like there will be 29 stations and 204 bikes for now.
Councilmembers Valerie Ervin and Roger Berliner deserve huge credit for this. Valerie was pushing for bike sharing before anyone else, and Roger has pushed the County's Department of Transportation repeatedly to get it funded. Even MCDOT has come around and seems to be genuinely enthusiastic.

UPDATEA Maryland Juice reader notes that several state legislators also played a large role in ensuring funding for MoCo's bikeshare program. Effort was sponsored in the House by Delegates Bill Frick, Al Carr, Ana Sol Gutierrez, Sheila Hixson, Tom Hucker, Ariana Kelly, Susan Lee, Eric Luedtke, Heather Mizeur, and Jeff Waldstreicher. In the Senate, the measure was sponsored by Senators Brian Frosh, Rich Madaleno, and Jamie Raskin

Maryland's Department of Transportation made the announcement via press release yesterday (excerpt below):


Seven Winners throughout the Baltimore-Washington Region

HANOVER, MD – As part of the O’Malley Administration’s Cycle Maryland Initiative, Governor Martin O’Malley today kicked off bike month, by announcing the first seven winners of his new Maryland Bikeshare Program grants to help Maryland communities plan, establish or expand bikeshare programs.  He announced the new Maryland Bikeshare Program in November 2011 to create bikeshare systems in Maryland.  Bikeshare systems can help solve the “last mile” problem, connecting public transportation riders to their final destinations.  Governor O’Malley’s new program will provide $2.5 million this year to three counties and several municipalities for a variety of projects in different stages of development from feasibility assessment to implementation of bikesharing stations....

The winners of grants to implement bikesharing systems are:  Baltimore City, Montgomery County and joint partners with University of Maryland at College Park and the City of College Park.  The winners of grants for feasibility studies of potential bikeshare stations are:  Frederick City, Howard County and joint partners with Prince George’s County and the City of Greenbelt.

JUICE #4: MOCO TO FACE EMPLOYEE RECRUITMENT COMPETITION FROM VA? - Maryland Juice periodically gets irate when policymakers blindly believe unproven claims that our state and county tax rates are responsible for residents moving to Virginia. During the recession (and even today), Virginia was constantly being used a bogeyman to justify tax cuts, corporate welfare, pay freezes, and government layoffs. Now some policymakers are hinting that we need to reverse course. Amusingly, the argument is still competition with Virginia. See the recent debate about government employee pay in The Gaithersburg Patch:
GAITHERSBURG PATCH: Instead of pay raises, most Montgomery County employees could receive a one-time $2,000 payment next year, according to a compensation and benefits package reviewed by a council committee Tuesday.

Analysts briefed the Government Operations Committee on County Executive Isiah Leggett’s recommendations, needed because the economic outlook was “uncertain,” Council Staff Director Stephen B. Farber said Tuesday.

According to county records, the lump-sum payouts to county government employees would cost $16.5 million — $14.4 million coming from tax-supported funds — and would include “longevity adjustments” or raises for certain employees who’ve worked for 20 years, according to county records.

Roughly 500 employees would be eligible for such a raise, a cost of $1.3 million, county data show....

Councilman Hans Riemer, D-At Large, said he was concerned that surrounding counties were doing more to increase employee pay, making Montgomery County seem like an “outlier.” Councilwoman Valerie Ervin, D-Dist. 5, asked Farber for “apples-to-apples” figures from surrounding counties and jurisdictions in Northern Virginia.

Councilwoman Nancy Navarro, the committee’s chairwoman, said offering the lump sum instead of pay raises was not ideal, but it was “better than nothing” given the state of the economy and not knowing whether the county would wind up picking up teachers’ pension costs — part of the so-called doomsday budget that resulted from the General Assembly’s unfinished business.


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