More than 800 Montgomery County leaders in business, labor, education, civic and community-based organizations started their day together alongside federal, state and local representatives at the Committee for Montgomery’s 30th Annual Legislative Breakfast. The scene was a-buzz with conversation as attendees greeted one another and made connections, old and new.
As the meeting began, the focus turned sharply to the key policy issues facing Montgomery County and the region, and a discussion of the priorities and challenges for the 441st session of the Maryland General Assembly set to get under way Jan.8.
Economic development and education topped the list that included transportation, health and human services, housing, public safety and climate change, with importance placed on social justice and racial equity. The tone was upbeat and positive, but layered with realism about the challenges and opportunities ahead. Points were made about the importance of working together county-wide, statewide and as part of the region. As Senate President Bill Ferguson put it, “We rise and fall together.”
Speakers included: Ferguson; Sidney Katz, Montgomery County Council President; Marc Elrich, Montgomery County Executive, Nancy Kopp, Maryland State Treasurer; U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen;, The Honorable Craig Zucker and Marc Korman, Montgomery County Senate and House Delegation Chairs.
Katz emphasized the vital importance of a healthy economy and strong workforce. He mentioned having joined with County Executive Elrich in kicking off a multi-faceted joint initiative, 4Business—Benchmarking to Be the Best for Business to promote the County to attract new businesses, make process improvements, increase the tax base and “expand and boost our economy.”
Elrich made a point that while Montgomery County is #4 in the country in the biotech sector, “people don’t know we exist! We’re going to change that!” He gave examples such as the importance of the FDA being located here and the cutting-edge research being done (like potential cures for cancer) and pointed to the highly educated workforce and the need to strengthen and empower its growth to open up opportunities for a strong, diverse workforce for the 21st Century economy.
In support of economic growth, quality of life and the environment, Elrich pointed out the importance of improved transportation and suggested starting at the American Legion Bridge. “Together we are going to move Montgomery County forward.”
Elrich mentioned the Metro Purple Line and CCT (Corridor Cities Transitway,) and added that for the dedicated $150 million/year funding for Metro for 10 years, Maryland is living up to its obligation, even with challenges associated with the impact of lower gas tax revenue. He said we can set emissions goals, but “the truth is we’re not done until we get to zero.” Further with regards to climate change and the economy, Treasurer Kopp stated, “We can be a leader of the green economy and we can do well.”
One area for action emphasized by all of the speakers was education — the importance of supporting early childhood education and the opportunity quality education brings to the region — and to individuals of all socio-economic circumstances, perhaps particularly for those “from communities affected by opportunity gaps.” Elrich pointed out that only 25% of Maryland high school graduates have BA, AA or career-recognized credential within eight years after graduation and yet most jobs require one of these credentials. He and others spoke of the game-changing legislation for early childhood education to level the playing field.
In alluding to the sought after Kirwan Commission reform recommendation and funding increases, Ferguson stated that offering “world-class opportunities” for Maryland students should be the number one priority in the legislative session. “The year of 2020 is going to be the year of the child. We cannot allow the children of Maryland to be a political pawn.”
“We are going to fight like hell for Kirwan and for school construction,” said Elrich. “This is game-changing. We all know it’s game-changing.” Senator Van Hollen amplified that, saying: “We need a senate, house and president that are committed to education.” And Marc Korma stated, “Of our many priorities, medical, human services, transportation, education – put children first .
Elrich stated that it takes strong political will and ability to really produce opportunities for everyone. Access to quality education will be key. The same holds true for other key issues such as healthcare, housing, food-nutrition and employment. Quality of life should not be predictable: “Being born into poverty should not predict a life of poverty.”
While strides in this direction have been made with the passing of the Racial Equity and Social Justice Act in 2019, we must “break the predictability.”
”Racial justice is not window dressing. It is going to be operational and county-wide, he said. We are going to treat housing as a right, not just a privilege.” In Montgomery County 20,000 households earn $32,000/year or less and many spend 60% of their income for housing, which doesn’t leave a lot for anything else.
In speaking of healthcare, Senator Van Hollen pointed out that the current Administration has undermined federal support for the affordable care act, Planned Parenthood and food and nutrition programs, so Montgomery County has had to pick up the slack on these safety net services. Even then, citizens face challenges. For example, with the Affordable Care Act, it is important to work with physicians to be sure that people who have coverage can find physicians who will take them. “We really need the federal partnership to make this all come together,” he said. Federal, state and local – all need to put people first.
“Make no mistake, there has been a major assault on the budget,” Elrich said, pointing out that the increase in funding for NIH and Chesapeake Bay is currently 80% federal and 20% state and local, but that the federal government wants to flip that to 20/80. “When the Trump administration is cutting funds, the state of Maryland is stepping up. It’s important that we do that.
“We will maintain our county’s exceptional quality of life. We will innovate. We will make the strategic investments needed for our county to thrive. We also must do more with less, and the county’s almost six-billion-dollar annual budget must be spent judiciously.”
It is clear that these passionate leaders care about the people of Maryland and are dedicated to making the changes needed to improve the quality of life for all. They are committed to working together to find attainable solutions to ensure a strong future for Montgomery County and believe that our diversity is our strength, but our power comes from our unity. As Katz put it, “Ideas are easy, implementation can be difficult…we need to collaborate, communicate, and challenge the status quo to accomplish our shared goals for the residents of Montgomery County.”
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