Making my mark on the budget

Last week, the County Council passed a new budget for the year. As we steadily climb out of the Great Recession, we are beginning to restore critical services at a responsible pace.

My number one budget priority is education, and our new budget fully funds MCPS and Montgomery College. Our record funding amount of $2.28 billion will enable MCPS to reduce English and Math class sizes in the highest poverty schools and provide additional English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) staffing in 21 schools. We are also investing a record amount of local money on school construction. Our capital budget includes 27 new or expansion school projects all over the county.

These funding improvements are made in the context of a budget that overall is responsible. We have met or exceeded our reserve requirements, and the rate of growth is affordable (in fact, it is less than the rate of growth in personal income).

As in years past, I put my own stamp on our county priorities. Following are several initiatives that I successfully spearheaded with support from my colleagues at the County Council, largely through my work on the Transportation and Environment committee.

1. An Increase in the County’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC): nearly 35,000 families in our county depend on the EITC to increase their incomes by reducing their tax burdens. The EITC was cut during the recession, but I passed legislation to restore it. The average eligible family will receive a $526 local tax credit next year, a record amount, adding to their Federal and State returns to provide a substantial increase in their incomes.

2. I also successfully worked to expand the county’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance service, which helps residents fill out their tax returns and claim credits owed to them like the EITC — because you can’t claim the EITC if you don’t file taxes.

3. I created a new program in the capital budget that will help make Montgomery County more walkable and bikeable by funding bicycle and pedestrian improvements in the county’s more urbanized areas. The Department of Transportation will begin looking at improvements in Glenmont, Grosvenor, the Silver Spring CBD, Veirs Mill/Randolph and the Wheaton CBD and will then move on to the rest of the county.

4. I was stunned to learn that Montgomery County cannot expand bus service to meet our vision for transit because we are out of buses! I took action to add five more buses to our capital program. We discussed adding service to the 55 route from Germantown to Rockville as a high priority, among others.

5. One of the more important recommendations of our Night Time Economy Task Force was to improve the circulator services in our urban districts. So I took the lead to secure funding to expand and rethink the Silver Spring circulator, with a goal of creating a unified program across the county.

6. I also secured a funding increase for creating new natural surface trails in our parks — I would like to see our county become more of a mecca for hikers and bikers.

7. Finally, the county will begin a new tree planting initiative that I am working with the County Executive to design. Seed funding for this program was created in this year’s budget as well.

As you can see, I am working hard to fund public education and public transportation, our safety net, our environmental programs and more, while maintaining fiscal responsibility. Please contact me if I can be of service.