Budget Part 1: Education and Workforce

Dear Resident,

The Council has completed next year’s budget. In this and a few emails to come, I’m going to share details about some key initiatives. I’m excited to report on our progress.

Fiscal policy

Storm clouds of economic recession are gathering again. Inflation and market turmoil are already impacting our residents’ finances and could soon do the same for the County.

That’s why the Council took some corrective action on fiscal policy — rejecting the County Executive’s proposal to tap into the retiree benefits fund for $20 million in current spending, in violation of county policy. We put that money back so it will be there when we need it in the future.

Unlike the Executive’s budget at the start of the pandemic, this one had no property tax increase for us to un-do. Tax rates remain the same.

Now for education and workforce.

Our children are experiencing significant impacts from COVID, whether learning loss or mental health, and it is going to take concerted effort to recover. The Council approved $2.9 billion for MCPS next year, a 5% increase in our county contribution.

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Transit in the 270 Corridor

Dear Resident:

Last summer the majority of the Council and the Governor reached an agreement to fund a major new transit project as part of the Governor’s plans to add capacity on the American Legion Bridge and 270 in his Opportunity Lanes project.

You may have been asking yourself, “what transit project are we going to build?” Well, the Council is going to answer that question in the next couple months. But first, we want public engagement on the question.

The process begins with a public hearing on February 15, 2022 for the Corridor Forward: I-270 Transit Plan. That plan addresses future transit investments in the area.

Because the Corridor Forward plan is so closely related to the objectives of funding transit through the Opportunity Lanes funds, we are asking residents to provide testimony on the Corridor Forward plan generally and how to prioritize immediate investments in a new transit system paid for by the Opportunity Lanes project.

Now the County Executive has proposed that we use funding from Opportunity Lanes to pay for Bus Rapid Transit on 355 and Veirs Mill. His recommended transportation construction budget shows $170 million. That’s just a downpayment towards the full cost of construction and operations.

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Statement on in-person learning at MCPS

Dear Resident,

As a parent and community leader I’m incredibly concerned about the negative impact that school closures and virtual learning have had on student mental health. I believe that schools should remain open for in-person instruction whenever and wherever possible, although I recognize that the learning process will be disrupted this month under any scenario.

All of our students have experienced losses of one kind or another over the last two years – social, emotional and academic. Unfortunately, data shows that some of our most vulnerable children – children from communities that were already facing enormous challenges before the pandemic – are the most heavily impacted by learning loss. That is heartbreaking to me.

But the good news is that we also know the vaccinations are exceptionally good at preventing serious illness from Covid. Although it still feels very bleak, I do think we’ve come a long way from where we were a year ago, and we’ve gotten better at certain aspects of controlling the virus.

We are going to get through this wave. It would be unrealistic to say there won’t be significant impacts to learning while we ride it out – no doubt we still have a ways to go.

But I think that now is the time as a community to come together on behalf of the long-term well being of our kids by trying to keep them in school as long as staffing is adequate.

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A vaccination requirement will protect seniors

Dear Resident,

As we all face down the possible emergence of a new COVID variant, we can be confident in our ability to manage through if we keep following best practices — including ventilation, masking in certain settings, testing, vaccinations, boosters. (Schedule your booster appointment here.)

Most people can be confident that they are protected once vaccinated. As the New York times reported, data from King County Washington shows that the risk of hospitalizations remains very, very low for younger age cohorts that are vaccinated. And soon we will have anti-viral pills in addition to monoclonal antibodies.

Hospitalization Data from King County Washington showing higher risk for older age groups

For seniors, however, and those with higher medical risks, there continues to be some elevated risk even after being vaccinated. That is why we must stamp out transmission, so that we can all — including our seniors — return to normalcy.

Our vaccination rate is very high, and as the Washington Post detailed, our death rate is relatively low. But there are still many unvaccinated people. And the pandemic continues to burn.

One way that we can increase our vaccination levels is through employer requirements. I continue to believe that we must require County employees to get vaccinated, with necessary medical and religious exemptions. Unfortunately the legislation several of us have proposed to do just that is facing resistance from the leadership of the employee unions (though not in the schools) and the County Executive.

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What is Thrive 2050?

Dear Resident:

By now you may have seen email traffic on your local listserv about Thrive Montgomery 2050. Perhaps some of it is alarming.

I’d like to provide some context and clarification for your consideration. I support moving forward with Thrive because I believe we need to be more creative and think differently about housing.

So, what is Thrive anyway?

Thrive is a guide for our community planning process. It is a policy document that is at the “vision and strategy” level.

You’re already living with the policy vision embodied in Thrive. That’s because what Thrive does is update a 1950s “general plan” with the modern planning principles that we have been using for years now.

If you like the changes in development that we are making on Rockville Pike — you can see them in action at Pike & Rose — then you’re valuing the kinds of ideas that Thrive articulates.

So while broadly Thrive is already in use, there are a few important shifts that Thrive also calls for. They don’t happen directly as a result of Thrive, but Planners and the Council will have guidance to consider them in the future.

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