Kamenetz outlines legislative priorities

Baltimore County

Towson, Md. (January 11, 2011) — Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz met with members of Baltimore County’s Annapolis delegation in the State House this morning and outlined his legislative priorities, saying that as the State continues to pull out of the recession the County will “ask only for what is absolutely necessary.” He acknowledged the formidable budgetary challenges and said his primary areas of focus are securing State funding to assist with much-needed school renovation and construction projects and working to promote budget security by minimizing State cuts to education and transportation.

Focusing on efficiency, consolidation, and innovation, highlights of Baltimore County’s legislative priorities are:

School renovation and construction
Budget security
Identity theft protection
Strengthening Baltimore County’s delivery of health and human services
Economic development for Liberty Road
Quality Education

Citing the importance of ensuring quality education for the County’s future workforce and leaders, Kamenetz urged lawmakers to support funding for $78 million in critical school renovation projects to upgrade the County’s aging school stock - the second oldest in the State. The Interagency Committee on School Construction has already made a preliminary allocation to Baltimore County of $21 million, and Kamenetz encouraged the assembled delegates and senators to help him secure the additional funding.

Included in this County school board request of $78 million is $6.5 million for the $19 million required for renovations and an addition at Hampton Elementary School, which is currently 189 students over capacity. “Our teachers cannot succeed, and our students cannot excel, if our classrooms are inadequate to provide what is required for a quality 21st century education,” Kamenetz said.

Kamenetz applauded Governor Martin O’Malley’s announcement last week that he will not recommend distributing the costs of teacher pensions to local government until the legislature has the opportunity to reform the current benefit structure. The County Executive stressed the importance of a long-term and sustainable solution to the State pension issue, saying it makes no difference to taxpayers whether they write a check to the State or local government.

Public Safety

On the public safety front, Kamenetz asked legislators to help secure passage of Senator Delores Kelley’s bill to fight identity theft by authorizing the seizure of wrongfully obtained proceeds from this increasingly sophisticated and damaging criminal activity. Much like existing law related to drug trafficking, this proposed legislation would seek forfeiture of motor vehicles, real estate and money gained through identity theft.

Kamenetz advised legislators that his administration plans to evaluate the possibility of strengthening the social safety net for citizens by considering merging the Departments of Health, Aging and Social Services into a single, integrated and more efficient agency. The County expects to conduct this fiscal and productivity analysis over the next few months. Kamenetz indicated that once this review is complete, the County will likely ask legislators in next year’s General Assembly session to make necessary changes in state law to allow this merger.

Capital Funding

Recognizing the state’s fiscal issues, the County Executive said he will submit a very limited capital funding request. He highlighted one small, but important line item capital request for $2 million in State funding to help spur commercial revitalization along the Liberty Road corridor with infrastructure improvements that build on the success of the Northwest Hospital Center. “The Liberty Road corridor is poised to become an economic engine of Baltimore County and approval of these funds will have an immediate impact on economic development across the region,” he said.

Kamenetz’s Speech

Following are the County Executive’s remarks as drafted:

I would like to begin by thanking all of the elected officials and guests who are joining us here today. I know how busy you are at this time of year, and I appreciate you taking time out of your schedules to attend this press conference.

Tomorrow, the Maryland General Assembly begins its 428th Session in very difficult budgetary circumstances. With our nation still suffering the aftereffects of the worst recession since the Great Depression, every level of government has challenging decisions to make. Anticipating the road ahead, in just my first week in office, I eliminated 143 vacant positions in County Government and consolidated four agencies into existing departments, resulting in taxpayer savings of $8 million annually.

Decisions such as these are not easy, but if we are to meet the challenges that we face today, they are necessary. As we prepare for the 2011 session of the General Assembly, I make a commitment to our delegation, Governor O’Malley, and the leadership in Annapolis that Baltimore County is ready to be a partner in their efforts to keep our State on the road to fiscal responsibility.

Supporting Education

In recognition of the financial difficulties that Maryland confronts, Baltimore County will ask only for what is absolutely necessary during this legislative session. That is why our number one priority this year is the State’s continued support of education through the State’s school renovation and construction funding program.

The people of Baltimore County are immensely proud of the accomplishments of its public schools, which are an important part of what makes our State home to the finest education system in the country. However, our teachers cannot succeed, and our students cannot excel, if our classrooms and facilities are inadequate to provide what is required for a quality 21st century education.

Baltimore County is home to one of the oldest school stocks in the State of Maryland. Many of our schools opened their doors more than half a century ago. While we are proud of the tradition and the accomplishments that have been forged in these schools, it is imperative that our facilities are equipped to teach children in 2011.

Thanks to the assistance of Governor O’Malley, our County delegation, and the entire legislature, Baltimore County has made significant progress in recent years in both renovating our older schools and building new ones to meet the needs of our communities. I am proud to have been part of a County Council that allocated nearly $2 billion in school renovation and construction funding to Baltimore County Public Schools over the past sixteen years. And I thank the members of our delegation for their efforts in securing those funds. However, as Robert Frost taught us all in elementary school, we still have “miles to go before we sleep.”

The Interagency Committee on School Construction has already recommended $21 million for Baltimore County in the FY2012 budget. While we appreciate this preliminary allocation, there are many significant projects poised for additional State funding.

At the top of this list is the completion of funding for the addition and renovation of Hampton Elementary School. In its September 30th enrollment analysis, school officials in Baltimore County reported that Hampton is currently189 students over capacity. This is a situation that demands our immediate attention.

Baltimore County is already committed to its portion of $12.5 million of the $19 million required for this important project. In the first round of distributions, the State dedicated $950,000 for Hampton’s addition and renovation. It is my sincere hope, that the State will fulfill the school board’s State request of $6.5 million dollars as the session moves forward. The parents and children of Hampton Elementary School are counting on us to keep this project on track so that it may be completed prior to the 2012 school year.

Fiscal Challenges

But Hampton is only one of many worthwhile projects that remain unfunded in the Board of Education’s $78 million budget request. I understand fully the fiscal restraint that is required in this time of economic challenge, but it is those same economic challenges that make the education of our future workforce and leaders more important now than ever. As you formulate this upcoming budget, I thank our delegation in advance for focusing on the needs of the Baltimore County Public Schools, and all of Maryland’s public schools, as the session moves forward.

And then of course, there is the elephant in the room: the long-term fiscal challenges facing the State as a result of its obligation to the teacher pension system. Few problems loom as large as that of the structural budget deficit resulting from the State’s ongoing commitment to teacher pensions. The strain that the current benefit structure places on our State budget is clear. That is why I applaud Governor O’Malley’s announcement just last week that he will not recommend any discussion regarding the shifting of the burden of this program to local jurisdictions until the legislature has the opportunity to reform the current benefit structure. The Governor’s approach is thoughtful and fiscally responsible. I join the Governor in the belief that we must respect the service of our teachers who do heroic work each and every day, and we must make fiscally sound decisions.

With that in mind, I have been following the recommendations of the Pension Reform Commission very closely, and I want to take a moment to thank all its members, particularly Baltimore County’s Administrative Officer Fred Homan, for laying the ground work for a long-term and sustainable solution to State pension issue. As we move forward, I urge our delegation and the entire legislature to consider Governor O’Malley’s recommendation that calls for reform of the current system before having any discussion as to how the cost of that system should be distributed. It is important to remember that it makes no difference to a taxpayer whether he or she writes a check to the State or to the local government. A dollar is still a dollar. That is why reform of the system is essential.

I am confident that the State can reach an agreement with all of the important stakeholders who care deeply about this issue, and that such a solution can be fair to both employees and taxpayers and sustainable for state and local government. Baltimore County is ready and willing to work with the Governor and the legislature as it addresses this important issue.

While our legislative priorities reflect the economic realities that we face today, they also reflect the reality that government’s most important responsibility to its citizens is public safety. That is why Baltimore County, along with our State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger, is joining with Senator Delores Kelley to once again support legislation that will give our law enforcement agencies the tools they need to combat identity theft.

Identity theft crimes are more sophisticated than ever, and as a result, an increasing number of victims are experiencing greater losses than ever before. Senator Kelley’s legislation will authorize the seizure of proceeds wrongfully obtained through identity theft. It will seek the forfeiture of motor vehicles, real estate, and money, using the same standards and methods that are already in place for forfeiture from drug trafficking. This legislation will make our entire state a safer, better-protected place to live and I look forward to working with Senator Kelley to finally pass this important piece of legislation.

Productivity & Efficiency

Today, we face an economy that is forcing us to maintain the level of essential services our residents need even as the resources we have to deliver those services are diminished. Government at every level must maximize efficiency, consolidate services, and become increasingly innovative. We can no longer afford redundant positions and services. Baltimore County is committed to serving our citizens as efficiently and effectively as possible.

As we look to the future, I am not only considering what we can accomplish in the 2011 session, but I am also looking ahead to 2012. In the next several months, Baltimore County will conduct both a fiscal and productivity analysis to examine the possibility of merging the Departments of Health, Aging, and Social Services into a single agency. The roles played by these agencies are essential to the continued prosperity of our communities, but it is often impossible to separate the issues that face these departments. An individual who needs assistance from social services often has many needs that must also be addressed by the Department of Health, and in many cases that individual is also a senior citizen. By bringing the services delivered by these agencies together in one organization, it is my belief that we will be more efficient in providing the social safety net that our citizens deserve. However, I want that decision to be based upon hard data and not intuition. Once we have completed that comprehensive analysis, I hope to work with Baltimore County’s legislative team in 2012 to make the necessary changes in State law to allow Baltimore County to move forward in giving our residents the most efficient and effective government possible.

Recognizing that this is not the year to have substantial capital budget or bond requests, Baltimore County will limit its request to a $2 million dollar capital line-item budget request for infrastructure improvements in the Liberty Road corridor of Baltimore County. This commercial center is poised to become an economic engine in Greater Baltimore County, building on the success of the Northwest Hospital. This important institution located in Randallstown serves the health care needs of the northwest Baltimore metropolitan area, including Baltimore County, western Baltimore city, and Carroll and Howard Counties. Approval of this capital request, along with the matching funds from Baltimore County, will have an immediate impact on economic development across the region.

I am under no illusion that this legislative session will be easy. In fact, I am sure that our delegation will face many challenges in the weeks and months ahead. We have formidable challenges to overcome and difficult problems to solve, but I look forward to working with our legislative team to move Baltimore County and Maryland forward. Thank you.

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