Exec: ‘Doomsday’ budget better for Montgomery Co.

WASHINGTON – Montgomery County would be better under the “Doomsday Budget” that would result from continued Maryland General Assembly gridlock, the county’s chief executive told WTOP on Thursday, rather than the regular budget legislators are considering.

Proposed legislation would put part of the responsibility of paying teachers’ pensions on the counties in which they work, which would add a $40 million-per-year burden to the county budget, Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett told WTOP on Thursday’s “Ask the Executive” program.

“That’s how bad the regular session treated Montgomery County,” he says. “We are better off with the ‘Doomsday’ versus the original budget.”

Leggett spoke Wednesday night to Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who told the executive he will likely call a special legislative session. O’Malley told WTOP he would only call the special session to pass the budget, which takes effect on July 1, if both the state House and Senate reach an agreement.

A law has passed allowing the state comptroller to deduct monies from the Montgomery County state budget, called a “maintenance of effort.”

Montgomery County would have to implement a $25 million reserve, Leggett says, “in the eventuality there is ‘an intercept.'”

The Doomsday Budget, which cuts state spending by $512 million, would take effect if the legislature fails to reach an agreement on a balanced budget. Failure to pass this budget could downgrade the counties’ bond rating.

The 5-cent county bag tax implemented earlier this year is “designed to help the environment,” says Leggett, not for generating revenue.

Twenty percent of those revenue goes back to the stores implementing the tax because “you want compliance,” he says. This incentive for clerks to enforce the tax would bring in roughly $22,000 per year for a Safeway.

“That helps in involvement in that behavior,” he says. “You don’t just want them to follow the law, you want them to follow the spirit of the law.”

The county executive also followed up on the prediction he made on WTOP in October about the BRAC impact on Bethesda traffic: “It’s going to get worse before it gets better.”

“Unfortunately, I was right,” he said Thursday. The county expects about 15 months of “off-and-on construction” for the first phase of projects designed to offset the additional traffic.

Check out more highlights from the show with this live tweet, and full live blog below:

10:58 a.m., speaking about cameras on school buses:

They should be installed by the fall semester.

10:57 a.m., speaking about the difference between panhandling and soliciting for charity:

I would like to see a registration process put in place, which would eliminate the panhandling problem.

10:54 a.m., speaking about illegal immigrants:

I disagree with the caller’s premise that we’re a “safe haven” for illegal immigrants.

We need the national government to enforce national immigration laws. “We’re not about to go out and enforce national immigration laws.”

10:52 a.m., speaking about nonprofits distributing literature on school grounds:

(A group seen as anti-gay has been banned from some campuses)

We need to find some medium that is pro-free speech, but not restrictive to groups.

10:51 a.m., speaking about overtime payments to county employees:

We are utilizing too few people for overtime in police or fire departments. There may be some question of safety or reliability.

It’s probably more effective to do this.

10:46 a.m., speaking about getting new money into Montgomery County instead of taxing residents:

The tax burden in the county is lower than five years ago. The only tax that’s been extended is the energy tax.

10:43 a.m., speaking about pedestrian safety (Montgomery Co. has more pedestrian fatalities than homicides):

We made progress, but not enough for my satisfaction. The first step is education.

10:42 a.m., speaking about speed cameras:

There are a number of places in our 500 square miles that could be placed, and it would save lives.

I agree with the police chief that we should have the ability to tack on additional penalties if you don’t pay in a timely fashion.

10:37 a.m., speaking about proposed tax cuts for Lockheed Martin:

The problem is it isn’t a tax cut. We have a law for a hotel/motel tax. Lockheed operates a training center. This law, to my dismay, applies that tax to their on-site conferences. We’re trying to correct that flaw.

“Lockheed Martin clearly should not be taxed.”

10:36 a.m., speaking about the Silver Spring Metro Station:

I don’t think it will be rebuilt or torn down. We are close to hammering out an agreement. The question now is, “Who pays for that?” Mediation and safety factors are primary concerns now.

We think the contractor should provide the mediations that are necessary. We certainly will take them to court if we can’t get this resolved.

10:35 a.m., speaking about another Potomac River bridge crossing:

Like O’Malley, I’m going to leave this to my successor. It will be a long time coming for that.

10:32 a.m., speaking about an ambulance fee:

It was introduced a couple years ago and failed. We’ve had a “game changer” in Maryland.

“If we are not able to come up with additional revenues, and if we’re not able to reduce the budget to that point, we’re going to have to find another way to do this.”

It would produce about $17 million per year. This would not increase taxes for the taxpayer. It would come from the insurance fees.

“The customers are already paying for it. They’re paying for it right now. We just don’t have a way to collect it.”

“If you have insurance in Montgomery County, you are paying for this cost.”

We are the only jurisdiction in the entire region who does not have this.

10:26 a.m., speaking about the ICC:

The speed probably needs to be increased. “There’s a lot of open space. The tolls are too high.”

You’re discouraging people who can’t afford to do that. That’s a lot of people.

The use is about at expectation.

Not only is there no increased traffic in the adjacent neighborhood, but actually traffic is reduced.

10:25 a.m., speaking about the Wheaton Library:

We’re going to replace the library, but we’re going to have some interim services in the meanwhile. We can’t provide those at the same site without disrupting services.

There’s about an 18-month construction period.

10:21 a.m., speaking about the bag tax:

Basically, it’s 5 cents per bag. Worst case, you pay the 5 cents. It is not to generate revenue. We’re looking to get about $700,000 per year, which will basically pay for the advertising and give out the bags.

“It is designed to help the environment.” We’re trying to change behavior.

1 cent goes to the stores.

That turns out to be about $22,000 per Safeway. You do that because “you want compliance.”

“That helps in involvement in that behavior.”

“You don’t just want them to follow the law, you want them to follow the spirit of the law.”

10:16 a.m., speaking about increasing or continuing taxes on energy and property:

We’ve cut the Montgomery County budget. We have a slight increase of about 5 percent after cuts.

I never signed off for the energy tax to go away, my recommendation was not to put a sunset on it.

There’s no increase in the property tax, and we are below the charter limit. It’s a fairer tax, it’s broader and it’s well-distributed.

“The property tax does not increase here.”

10:12 a.m., speaking about teacher pension shift:

It didn’t pass, but if it does it will cost us $400 million for the next 10 years. The “maintenance of effort” will add even more costs. Through this, the comptroller would be able to deduct money directly from the county without county approval.

The law passed on that part. The portion that didn’t pass is dealing with the pension.

We now may have to put additional monies in reserves in “the eventuality there is an intercept,” which would be about $25 million more per year.

10:11 a.m., speaking about the potential state budget compromise:

From the Conference Committee budget, versus the Doomsday Budget, for county government “it would be almost a standstill.”

10:06 a.m., speaking about the ‘Doomsday Budget’ after the state General Assembly was unable to pass a complete budget before ending their regular session:

I talked to the governor last night, and I do think there will be a special session.

One of the main questions is the teacher pension shift, which will hit Montgomery County with about $40 million more to pay per year.

Some could argue the Doomsday Budget is better than the regular budget:

“That’s how bad the regular session treated Montgomery County.”

There is a tremendous impact that will start July 1.

“We are no better off with the Doomsday versus the original budget.”

10:05 a.m., speaking about traffic in Bethesda:

It is getting worse before it gets better, due to the construction at intersections to accommodate the greater number of drivers.

We anticipate about 15 months of off-and-on construction for the first phase.

WTOP’s Paul D. Shinkman contributed to this report. Follow Paul D. Shinkman and WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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