Friday, May 08, 2015

Public forum on controversial MoCo Independent Transit Authority proposal set for June 17

The Montgomery County Transit Task Force has set a public forum on the controversial proposal to create an unelected taxing authority that could raise unlimited taxes on residents to fund Bus Rapid Transit and other projects. Residents and union leaders overwhelmingly rejected the idea at a raucous public hearing earlier this year. Yet County Executive Ike Leggett is bringing the Independent Transit Authority (ITA) proposal back for another swing, via his Transit Task Force.

That task force is holding meetings to discuss the new taxing authority in Rockville amongst themselves. But there will be a "Public Forum" on the unpopular proposal on June 17, from 6:00 PM to 10:00 PM, in the 3rd floor Hearing Room of the County Council office building at 100 Maryland Avenue in Rockville. In the meeting agenda posted online, it says the topics will be the ITA's organization, transfer of functions from existing county agencies (a major point of contention for UFCW Local 400/MCGEO Union President Gino Renne), and - most important to you, the taxpayer - the financial and fiscal implications of the new taxing authority. Questions the task force wants your feedback on will be provided to the public via the Transit Task Force website prior to the forum. However, just what the ability of the public to speak at the forum will be is not specified. Is it a public hearing with a 3 minute speaking time? Or is it a forum where the public will simply be spoken to?

It must be noted that, like the BRT hearing 3 years ago, this forum is being held in the summer. Parents no doubt know that this June 17 meeting will come just after the end of the Montgomery County Public School year. That means many will be leaving for their first summer vacation, which will certainly hold down attendance.

That's probably not an accident. You'd schedule a forum for summer, too, if you were trying to ram through an unelected body that can be handpicked by the County Executive.

An unelected body that can exceed all existing caps and restrictions on tax increases (in fact, the task force is going to be discussing on June 3 the "merits of empowering [the] County to exceed Charter limitations in several respects"). Not the negatives, of course!

Keep in mind that this is the same task force that suggested you should pay a new, 15% property tax increase to fund the BRT system that will primarily benefit real estate developers. You would pay, not the developers, and this was a countywide tax proposal. Do the math.

It's also the same task force whose chairman Mark Winston - as I reported two years ago - could directly benefit financially from the creation of the ITA and a BRT system. Winston, leading the effort to "get you out of your car," memorably admitted "it has been a while" since he rode a bus himself. Something he has in common with the "pro-transit" County Council and Planning Board, as well.

Remember also that this unelected ITA, as described in the legislation the task force is discussing, would not have to show its budget to any elected official. To quote the actual legislation, the ITA would not be required "to submit its capital or its operating budget to the County for approval."

Incredible. Unelected and unaccountable.

Don't forget that the proposal also allows the ITA to take on unlimited debt. It also allows the County Council and Executive to transfer unlimited amounts of debt to the ITA - and then the ITA could use its literally unlimited taxing power to make you pay those unlimited amounts. Unreal.

The ITA would also have unlimited power to seize private property, and sell it at a sweetheart price to developers who contribute to the elected official who appointed them. It would have the power to carry out the demolition of homes and businesses, and not have to answer to the outrage of the landowners at the ballot box.

And speaking of ballots - the legislation would include a provision that would make it impossible for you, the citizens, to put a referendum on the ballot to bring the ITA taxing power under any control or limitation.

This proposal was thoroughly rejected by the citizens and county employees - yet here it comes again, as they do what they do best in the MoCo political machine: ram it through.

Save the date.


Anonymous said...

The appointed board seems to be a model used elsewhere in the country without problems. There are countless examples of this a local, state, and federal levels. We do not elect the people that serve on the FEC or FCC. We don't elect who serves on the WMATA board. I guess I am not that worried about that aspect.

As far as the taxing and spending language in the in legislation ( I can understand why that might sound scary to folks.

I wonder if someone with more experience with law or legislation, can explain why the legislation seems so broad compared to the more moderated approach in the county's FAQs ( about taxing authority and capital budgets.

Anonymous said...

Outrageous. Thank you for letting us know that Lame Duck County Exec is still trying to get this power grab for his buddies.

Robert Dyer said...

6:42: One difference is that the bodies you reference - such as WMATA - do not hold direct and unlimited taxing authority over the residents of Montgomery County. They can raise fares, but we can decline to ride their system.

Anonymous said...

Yeah put in some reasonable limits to the taxing powers and I'd be cool with it. Seems like Tampa Bay, FL area has something similar.

Anonymous said...

This is idiocy. The people were fervently against this a few months ago. Why is he bringing it up again?

It's like the ambulance tax. The voters of MoCo voted against it in referendum, then they went ahead and implemented it anyway.

Why aren't they listening to the voters?

Anonymous said...

10:09 AM Leggett, the Council and others will listen to voters *if* they think there's any chance they'll get voted out. Hence, they backed down on this earlier.

Opposition really needs to organize itself well if they want to stop this again.

Anonymous said...

Obamacare death panels! Or something.

Anonymous said...

10:15 Unelected, with the power to raise your property tax without capped limits?

I say the good property owners of Montgomery County revise their vacation plans and INUNDATE this June 17th meeting.

No one is going to want to see a 15% raise in newly owed property taxes by an entity they cannot unelect, who can also raise it further, year after year.

Didn't we have a tea party a long time ago, in part to end oppressive taxation? Where is built-in accountability to the people in this proposal? Taxpayer Beware.