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As Long as We Remember...

November 2, 2011

Work Cut Out For Municipal League

Kevin E. Dayhoff

This week officials from Maryland cities and towns throughout the state converged on the Cambridge Hyatt Chesapeake Bay conference facilities for the three-day Maryland Municipal League’s fall legislative conference.


The Maryland Municipal League, (MML) was founded in 1936 by Annapolis Mayor Louis N. Phelps in an effort for Maryland municipalities to obtain funds available to local governments from the Work Progress Administration (WPA) under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.


The organization is run by local officials from the 157 cities and towns from across the state. It works as an advocate for those municipalities.


In recent years, much of the advocacy of the MML has centered on maintaining, and indeed, restoring municipal state-shared revenues that have been taken away by the Maryland General Assembly in order to balance the beleaguered state budget.


Last weekend’s rare October winter weather may not be the only “deep freeze” that descended on the state as national, state and local elected officials attempt to fathom the political consequences of the prolonged economic downtown, increased rules, regulations and unfunded federal and state mandates being placed on local governments.


Not to be overlooked is the recent Maryland General Assembly’s congressional redistricting special session.


On the third day of that special session last month, the House of Delegates passed Gov. Martin O’Malley controversial redistricting map to redraw Maryland’s eight seats in the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 91-46.


The results drew the ire of state and local officials, both Democrat and Republican alike, and spawned threats of federal lawsuits.


With the controversial redistricting already a distant distraction from the country’s ongoing economic malaise, elected officials from Maryland’s cities and towns have their work cut out for them as they prepare for the upcoming regular session of the General Assembly. The contracted economy has caused a prolonged reduction of revenues for local governments across the state – in the face of increased demands on services.


The most pressing issue on the minds of municipal officials is the matter of restoring funds that have been lost over the last few years because of problems in the state budget. Other areas that appear to be on their minds are Maryland Department of Planning’s PlanMaryland initiative and the recent recommendation by the Maryland Blue Ribbon Commission on Maryland Transportation Funding that the state increase the gas tax by 15 cents per gallon.


And, as if the plate is not already full, many municipal officials expressed discomfort over the plethora of environmental mandates in the pipeline, many of which are unfunded – increasing the pressure on budgets that are already stretched to the maximum.


However, the only thing that appears to be worse these days is the not-too-small matter of the various transportation and environmental initiatives that are planned to be funded by increased taxes and user fees.


Maryland’s incorporated cities and towns have few municipal revenue sources. More than the state and the counties, cities and towns depend on the property tax as their primary revenue source to support basic services for their communities.


As I learned firsthand when I served on the MML board of directors for five consecutive years (2000 to 2005) in addition to education and networking, perhaps the MML has been most effective in advocating for municipalities with the Maryland General Assembly.


This year’s was the first MML fall conference I have attended since 2004. Some of the faces have changed, but the pressure on local officials only seems to have greatly increased.


Each year, the MML chooses several priority issues that directly affect the future well-being of Maryland’s cities and towns, and those who live in them.


This year, the MML’s legislative committee considered 13 legislative action requests. In the end, the committee chose to recommend that restoration of state shared revenues, especially highway user revenues and police aid, be the “sole priority for the league in the upcoming session of the General Assembly,” according a MML press release.


In the coming months, the MML will work to see that these issues are introduced as legislation before the General Assembly, and then work to usher these initiatives through the legislative process.


While the MML’s legislative agenda remains a priority of the conference, the annual training and educational get-together has been expanded in recent years to make it more like a “mini convention.”


Each year, the MML fall conference gives elected municipal officials an opportunity to get together for seminars, workshops and discussions on the various issues facing their jurisdictions while it helps prepare for the upcoming session of the General Assembly.


Last year the MML was successful in getting state legislators to reinstate 25 percent of the highway user fees that were budgeted to be taken away from local municipalities.


Just as critical to our local quality of life are the cuts in police and public safety aid “to the majority of the 88 municipalities that provide police protection services to their communities have also totaled 35 percent in each of the past three fiscal years,” according to information provided by the MML.


It may be easily argued that state budget cuts to municipalities in recent years could have easily caused much more damage to local governments if it had not been for the tireless efforts of the MML working the hallways and offices of Annapolis during the legislative session.


Let’s hope that the MML will persevere in doing the hard work on our behalf and continue to prevail.


. . . . . I’m just saying…


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