February 23, 2024

Message from County Executive Marc Elrich

Dear friends,

Before I was elected County Executive, Ike Leggett held the position for three terms. I appreciate his many years of leadership in the County, including his passion for service and dedication to helping people. In honor of Black History month, I sat down with him to hear more about his remarkable story of how he came to serve in Montgomery County after growing up in Louisiana during the height of Jim Crow laws.

I hope you will listen to this conversation and share it with others. I want to thank him for his time and his honesty about the challenges he faced as a Black man. His stories are powerful, and his commitment, perseverance and strength are to be celebrated. I hope you watch and share the video (see the link above) because it is important to understand our true and complete history – both good and bad as we work toward a more just future.

‘Fair Share’ Taxes Would Benefit Maryland

Speaking of a more just future, this week I testified on behalf of the Fair Share for Maryland Act of 2024. You can watch that testimony before the Budget and Taxation Committee here. Maryland’s current tax structure is not equitable - multi-state corporations and LLCs have many tax avoidance options that sole proprietorships and individuals who receive a W-2 each year do not have. There is no good reason to continue tax structures that favor large corporations over small businesses and residents. We need corporations to pay their fair share and end the overburdening of residents. We need a progressive income tax structure.

For businesses, the legislation closes corporate loopholes, including the adoption of combined reporting. A majority of states (28) and the District of Columbia already have combined reporting. These states are not just the “usual suspects” and include Texas, Kansas, Kentucky and West Virginia. They know that large multi-state corporations base their location decisions on a variety of factors. In Montgomery County, Discovery, located in downtown Silver Spring, relocated from Maryland, a no combined reporting state, to New York, a combined reporting state. Clearly, the reasons were multifaceted and were not just about taxes.

The legislation also establishes three new tax rates above the current top rate of 5.75 percent, which would allow us to reduce the tax burden on low-income residents and make the structure more progressive. The bill would also apply a surcharge to capital gains and reduce the unified credit used to calculate the Maryland estate tax. The bill would also improve the State’s existing Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit.

Our current structure calls into question whether Maryland’s system of taxation would meet the spirit of the IRS Taxpayer Bill of Rights that “. . .taxpayers are entitled to a fair and just tax system.” Based on the numbers provided by the Maryland Fair Funding Coalition, enacting Senate Bill 766 would certainly move Maryland closer to that federal goal. Fortunately, that goal can be met while at the same time, the State can generate significant and necessary new revenue streams to support a quality of life that we have come to expect – but it is not free. An additional $1.6 billion per year in new revenue can help us make the types of strategic investments that will be necessary to realize the benefits of the Blueprint, build a functioning transportation system, expand access to healthcare, enjoy a wealth of cultural amenities and grow our economy. Our current tax structure and historically giving corporations a lower tax burden has not done us any favors.

Businesses and developers have shown they are willing to pay a special tax rate—higher taxes—if they know that the money is invested in infrastructure. In Maryland, we are obligated to keep our residential property taxes tied directly to the rate we tax commercial property. For too long we have ignored the fact that an expense is really an investment, and we have to invest in order to help our community succeed and thrive.

A robust coalition of organizations, including labor unions representing teachers and service employees and nonprofit organizations, backs the Fair Share Maryland plan. I stand with these groups in advocating for changes that increase the income of working families.

Del. Julie Palakovich Carr is sponsoring an identical bill in the House. As she told Maryland Matters, the necessity for this stems from the fact that currently, the wealthiest one percent of Marylanders contribute the smallest portion of their income toward state and local taxes. Put differently, the majority of us are shouldering more than our fair share. It is time to address this disparity and rectify that.

Improving the Affordable Housing Situation Across Maryland

Also, this week the House of Delegates heard testimony on the Housing Expansion and Affordability Act. I am always looking for innovative projects within Montgomery County to produce, protect and preserve more affordable housing. House Bill 538 allows for zoning changes and is supported by the Maryland Association of Counties with amendments. You can read more about these positions here.

It is understandable why the State is prioritizing affordable housing since it is crucial for our economy. We finally have a governor who recognizes the importance of ensuring that everyone can afford to live, work and succeed in Maryland.

The adjustments proposed in the Housing Expansion and Affordability Act would clear roadblocks that local governments could use to prevent affordable housing projects from being added in some communities. In my time, our County has not passed legislation to treat affordable housing construction differently in order to block it, but that is not necessarily true everywhere else. These changes could be key in our effort to preserve affordable housing as well.

In 2000, we had nearly 43,000 naturally occurring affordable housing units (NOAH) according to Montgomery Planning’s County Preservation Study. In 2020, the number of NOAH units in Montgomery County was just 22,000, a decrease of nearly half. Those losses are not due to zoning changes to exclude affordable housing, but rather the lack of any controls to protect affordable housing.

The Rent Stabilization Bill I signed into law last year is one tool to help combat that. Over the years, many developers replaced existing affordable units with more expensive ones.

Affordable housing continues to be a top priority of my administration and I am grateful to our leaders in the Montgomery County Congressional and State delegation as well as our Governor and Lt. Governor for their efforts on this issue on Capitol Hill and in Annapolis.

Food Council Town Hall

Last week I had the chance to speak at the Montgomery County Food Council's Food Security Community Town Hall and take questions from over 50 of our essential community partners fighting hunger in our community.

Their first and most important question is what are we doing to help? It is a fair question when across the board many of the organizations that coordinate food drives are seeing the need for help continue to grow. This is a map developed by the Capital Area Food Bank developed by the Capital Area Food Bank that shows which areas around the region that need the most help accessing nutritious food.

Like few other places in the nation, Montgomery County is committed to address food security issues. I joined with our County Council and the Food Council last year in announcing the Strategic Plan to End Childhood Hunger. The plan’s recommendations were developed through the expertise of more than 140 community nonprofit and government leaders and the insight of over 1,000 County residents. The County also launched the Office of Food Systems Resilience to help all our departments be more aware of food security issues and how they impact everyday life.

Our goal is to put into action strategies that are immediately actionable to build on existing successful partnerships and programs. We are also pursuing innovative approaches to address the systemic barriers to food access in our community.

These problems can be traced back to oppressive laws drawn up by the racist majority at the time to keep large portions of the Black and other minority communities down. Those laws succeeded in preventing many people from living where they wanted to or to have the means to break free from the constraints enacted by racist laws. Even generations after those laws were repealed, we still see their impact on the people the County serves. We serve as the last resort for many people and that population is disproportionately Black and Brown.

Montgomery County is providing a roadmap for addressing inequities by strategically leveraging local resources to maximize federal and state funding while also filling service gaps. By creating strategic partnerships with community organizations that reflect the geographic and demographic diversity, our County will be able to serve residents in trusted spaces and connect them effectively and efficiently to a wide range of available resources.

There are many families in Montgomery County that can benefit as we expand affordable housing, pour more resources into mental and behavioral health resources and focus on improving job training and upskilling opportunities. Tackling hunger issues with a wholistic approach is the best way to help our County in an equitable way.

Black History and the Environment

February is Black History Month, dedicated to honoring the lives, legacies, and contributions of African Americans throughout history and into the present. One of the many influential movements that grew out of the Civil Rights Movement was for environmental justice, led primarily by Black, Indigenous and People of Color. Environmental justice is an important part of our own Climate Action Plan (CAP) implementation right here in Montgomery County.

Understanding where the County's most vulnerable groups are located can help prioritize mitigation, adaptation efforts and the corresponding equity-enhancing measures. During the development of the CAP, our staff delved into the historical policies and practices that have contributed to disparities and perpetuated the severity of climate change impacts.

Historical wrongs such as racism, segregation, disenfranchisement, Jim Crow laws and socioeconomic inequality have played a role in how communities across Montgomery County are experiencing climate change today. Due to historic disinvestment and red-lining, low income and communities of color continue to be hit first and worst by the impacts of climate change like severe storms, extreme heat and more frequent extreme weather events.

Montgomery County led a community-inclusive process to develop a Racial Equity and Social Justice Policy that was formally adopted in December 2019. The County’s Chief Equity Officer who was appointed in February 2020 is responsible for implementing the Racial Equity and Social Justice Policy.

Fiscal year 2023 brought movement toward change, including the critical support of particularly vulnerable communities. Incentives were provided through the Montgomery County Homeowner Energy Efficiency Program to reduce energy costs. Specifically, the Brooke Park Apartments received $507,000 toward upgraded electric appliances and systems for its complex. In addition, eight single family homes, coordinated by Habitat for Humanity, received all electric, upgraded appliances and systems.

The County also established a new Climate Action Team to raise awareness about the intersection between climate, health, equity and populations served by the County’s Health and Human Services Department. The team includes staff from the African American Health Program, the Asian American Health Initiative and the Latino Health Initiative.

Montgomery County Public Schools developed and successfully piloted an Environmental Justice course that includes research, investigation and action focused on the disparate effects of climate change on people of color and those living in lower income areas. The course was taught at Walt Whitman High School.

Currently in development, the Community Justice Academy is an effort to partner with frontline organizations and community members to develop a strategy and programming for equitable resilience. The partners meet regularly and have been making progress moving towards community ownership of climate resilience initiatives.

Montgomery County is developing community justice initiatives to shift the community engagement paradigm from one that is relatively conventional and top-down to one where communities most impacted by climate and racial injustice are deeply integrated into planning processes as collaborators and co-creators with the government.

Montgomery County’s Department of Environmental Protection and Health and Human Services staff have been working with community-based organizations establishing a blueprint for a sustainable collaborative governance, which we anticipate concretizing in the months and years ahead.

Montgomery County continues to progress our climate conscious work to correct injustices of the past, but of course, there is plenty of work that remains. Only through the power of sustained collective efforts from the County Council, County staff, stakeholders partner organizations, and the state and federal governments can we act for a clean inclusive future for generations to come.

To learn more about the history of environmental justice in the U.S., you can visit the Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Justice Timeline.

One Year Since Deadly Arrive Fire

Sadly, it has been one year since the tragic apartment building fire in Silver Spring that killed Melanie Diaz. Since then, her family has been pushing for the kind of reforms that may have saved her life and would undoubtedly save the lives of others in the future.

Melanie died as she was trying to escape a fire in her building with her two dogs. The building did not have sprinklers like many newer units are now required to have.

In Annapolis, a bill introduced by Del. Lorig Charkoudian - House Bill 823- the “Melanie Diaz Fire Safety Act” - would require a smoke alarm in every unit of large apartment building that does not have sprinklers.

I appreciate and support the efforts by Del. Charkoudian and other elected leaders to make our communities safer and prepared should disaster strike.

Health Report

Public health leaders continue to be concerned with the level of flu cases in our community. We have seen a slight uptick in the number of patients being treated for influenza at clinics and hospitals in Montgomery County, but so far that has not translated into more hospital stays.

This is predominantly being seen in our children and young adults. That level of transmission of a respiratory virus can still pose a threat to seniors and others that are the most vulnerable to suffering serious complications. The bottom line is there is still a lot of flu and COVID-19 being spread in our community.

I encourage you to seek out your flu or COVID-19 vaccine if you have not had one since the last one was released in September.

As always, my appreciation for all of you,

Marc Elrich
County Executive