How Montgomery County Rolls on Transportation Issues
Ike Leggett (D), the county executive of Montgomery County, one of the wealthiest counties in the country, must be desperate. One can only conclude that he is desperate to implement some massive public spending project during his term. His plan for massive new transportation projects suggests that he believes the local economy is booming.
But the county can’t afford it. The county had its “boom” times during the first 5 years of the Obama presidency when the administration that never lets a crisis go to waste propped up the local labor market by increasing federal spending and doubling the national debt. Montgomery County and the rest of the DC area benefited from “The Hunger Games” economy where those in the capital thrived on the backs of the rest of the struggling country.
The economy around the world is now slowing down and governments have already fired all of their stimulus bullets. The world is facing a global recession. As HSBC’s chief economist stated, “The world economy is sailing across the ocean without any lifeboats to use in case of emergency.” The country is facing a major debt crisis that will hurt Montgomery County that lacks a local economy diversified from the federal government. During a debt crisis the federal government will be forced to cut spending significantly, as they should, which will send the local economy down the drain.
Not only will national headwinds cause local problems, but conditions will be further challenged because Montgomery County elected officials have no idea how small businesses operate. Recently, they imposed a new law on small local businesses to pay for new benefits such as paid ‘safe’ time and sick time of their employees. The county council also implemented universal childcare as the county faces massive shortfalls and massive tax hikes. In the meantime, Council members Elrich, Hucker, Navarro, Riemer and Rice voted in favor of a high energy tax on Montgomery County residents.
The county faced a shortfall of more than $200 million this winter. Furthermore, this June the county faced an even further sharp decline in tax revenue by at least $50 million. The county tax base is not growing – quite the opposite, it’s diminishing.
County elected officials lack a basic grasp of economic growth. Instead, they plan to tax the remaining tax base that primarily works for the federal government or federal contractors. In order to accomplish an illusion of economic growth, Executive Leggett and the Democratic County State Delegates are pushing for Bill MC24-15. This bill will authorize the formation of the Independent Transportation Authority (ITA). The ITA will have authority to independently seize people’s property and tax the public bypassing the county Charter Budget Limitations (Ficker’s amendment). That may be why some people call it Ike’s Taxing Authority (ITA). Montgomery County taxpayers for many decades to come will be forced to fund major transportation projects such as Rapid Transit System that includes BRT in the county.
Interestingly, Leggett and the State Montgomery Delegation tried to pick a good time to push ITA through. They held a public hearing on Friday, January 30, 2015, at 6 o’clock in the evening at the County Council building. Despite this inconvenient time, many residents and organizations came out and opposed the formation of ITA at the hearing. And for a time, ITA was shelved.
However, on June 17, the ITA Task Force held another hearing. At the hearing again many organizations and individuals opposed the formation of ITA. Among them was Cherrywood HOA, President Paul Jarosinski, that stated in his testimony that: “More than anything else, the purpose of this legislation is to evade the County Charter passed by the voters that limits the maximum property tax. Basically it allows the Executive to ignore the County Charter tax cap by putting his special projects in a new authority exempt from the current law giving him an open checkbook.”
Is such government deception necessary to build the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) System on the back of overtaxed working families that may be trapped in this county because they are underwater on their mortgages? The big developers in White Flint got their $72 million tax break instead of contributing to the BRT fund. The BRT will not relieve any traffic congestion. Instead, it will create more congestion.
The BRT is an urbanist fantasy. BRT buses will move through already congested county roads. In some cases, the bus lanes will be built in medians, but in most cases existing traffic lanes will be lost to BRT use only (like HOV lanes). But the BRT will have no parking for commuters and rely instead on Ride-on feeder buses. Blair Lee, former columnist for the Gazette newspaper, observed the typical BRT experience, “I wait in the rain outside my home for a feeder bus to take me to a BRT depot that lacks any parking. I board the BRT bus which drops me off eight blocks from my workplace so I wait for a local bus (it’s still raining) to get me there. After work, it’s the same process, in reverse. You call this “improved mobility”, I call it waiting for three buses.” Even that assessment charitably assumes walking access to the Ride-on buses at both ends of the trip. And county leaders want to add into this mix, the progressive Portlandia idea of bikeways.
There is another aspect of the public safety on the roads. For example, the zoning department at the Department of Permitting Services (DPS) has been jeopardizing the public safety of residents by approving 6 foot fences on property at Darnestown Road (Route 28). Such a fence was erected right in the middle of a driveway and on the county utility easement area in order to restrict the access of property residents that live only a few feet away from the busy road. The county zoning inspector.Andy Jacab, on behalf of Montgomery County government stated that, “If a fence is installed over a utility easement that is not handled by the zoning office”. As if there is another government agency that approves building permits in this confused county.
All Montgomery County property owners will pay for the Leggett and current Councilmembers legacy transportation projects for many years to come, while sitting in traffic watching rapid buses to nowhere.