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Race for county executive, county council touched by public financing law

  • Published in Local

Robin Ficker remembers raising $200,000 for his unsuccessful 2014 run for State Senate.

Now, public contributions to his 2018 campaign for County Executive can be matched up to $750,000 by the County Public Financing Fund, a potential fundraising boon to his campaign. Even more importantly, his campaign could change the political landscape of Montgomery County. Public financing itself could create a more democratic election and encourage voter participation in 2018.

According to Ficker, a former member of the House of Delegates, the County Public Financing Fund “gets the big moneyed interests out of [the race] and gives power to the average person in Montgomery County.” Ficker notes that the fund’s ability to match citizens’ donations “gives the average person some clout” especially since the first $50 donation to a campaign is matched six-to-one and adds $300 to the campaign, something that Ficker considers unique, saying “There is no jurisdiction in the United States that has anything close to this.”

Although Ficker says he has never taken contributions from PACs, unions, or other groups, this law forbids participating candidates from taking such contributions, another attempt by the Montgomery County Council to expand the impact of private citizens and limit the influence of large organizations. Furthermore, officials say that the Public Campaign Financing law requires candidates to accept only donations from Montgomery County residents and only donations between $5 and $150.

However, there is some debate as to the effectiveness of the program’s limits on donations from large organizations. According to George Leventhal, the program is “an experiment in democracy which is intended to reduce the influence of big money in local politics.”

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County Council considers new BRT idea

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ROCKVILLE – The County’s plan to fix traffic just got a bit more complicated.

On May 4, the County Council Transportation, Infrastructure Energy and Environment Committee instructed the Montgomery County Department of Transportation to explore a new idea for the proposed Bus Rapid Transit System on U.S. Route 29.

The BRT is a proposed bus route with limited stops that would use the shoulder lanes as well as drive in mixed traffic to help shorten the commute for riders in the East County. During the public hearing for the BRT, some residents criticized County Executive Ike Leggett’s proposal, saying it would not significantly shorten commute times.

Now MCDOT is looking into a new idea originally proposed by East County resident Sean Emerson that would put the proposed U.S. Route 29 BRT in the median to avoid driving in mixed traffic.

“That testimony was really persuasive. Our professional staff likes it,” said Berliner of Emerson’s idea.

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Green Party candidate to run for council seat

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Tim WillardTim Willard.      FILE PHOTO   Tim Willard of Kensington has formally entered the race for one of four county council at-large seats as a candidate of the Green Party.

“I’m running on a platform of sustainability,” Willard said. “I am going to be the only candidate looking at the limits of growth seriously,” he added.

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Council gets its turn to comment on budget

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ROCKVILLE – Last week the County Council heard from the residents. Now it has its chance to craft a budget.

After County Executive Ike Leggett released his $5.4 billion proposed budget in March, the Council took comments from the community in a series of public hearings before it deliberates during the next month or so to craft a budget.

Unlike last year in Leggett’s proposed budget, this fiscal year’s does not contain any considerable tax increase, and Council President Roger Berliner (D-1) said a tax increase over the County charter limit is not on the table this year.

Many of the people who showed up last week to testify asked the County to fund their particular interests, whether they are Montgomery College or one of the County’s nonprofit partners such as Manna Food Center.

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Public weighs in on possible BRT on U.S. 29

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ROCKVILLE – There is little debate that traffic is one of the biggest issues in the County, but there is much debate on what to do about it.

Tuesday night, residents testified at the County Council on the County’s plan for a Bus Rapid Transit system on U.S. Route 29.

The proposed U.S. 29 BRT would be a 14-mile bus route that would quickly shuttle people up and down the East County while driving in both mixed traffic and on shoulder lanes. The proposed bus route would cost $31 million, $21.5 million coming from the County and $10 million coming from a U.S. Department of Transportation grant.

At the public hearing Tuesday night, reaction to the planned BRT was mixed. While most agreed there needs to be more transit options for commuters in the East County, residents are split on what that solution is.

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Candidates test new campaign finance system

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MoCo LogoMore than a year from the 2018 primary election, candidates for County offices are heading in to a new territory of publicly-financed campaigns,

In 2014, the County Council passed a law to publicly finance County elections in hopes to counter the impact of campaign donations from large businesses and political action committees.

Montgomery County is the first county in the state to have publicly-financed elections, meaning the new funding system for candidates is untested.

“It leads some people running for office to look more to grassroots and small donations,” said Ed Amatetti, a Republican candidate for County Council District-2 on the new campaign finance system.

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Berliner says budget aggression will not stand

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Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner reassured activists and professionals in the Jewish community last week that the County’s proposed budget that includes a 1 percent cut in funding for nonprofits will not stand.

“It just simply can’t stand, and I know my colleagues feel the same way,” Berliner told the 60 participants at the 12th annual Jewish Community Relations Council’s Montgomery County Advocacy Day on April 6.

The reduced funding is proposed to come out of the Department of Health and Human Services Non-Developmental Disabilities Provider Services Contracts budget, which many nonprofits rely on to provide services to County residents.

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Green Party candidate files for County Council at-Large

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Tim WillardTim Willard. COURTESY PHOTO  

BETHESDA – Green Party candidate Tim Willard of Kensington has filed with the County Board of Elections to run for the County Council at Large in 2018.

“I’m running on a platform of sustainability,” Willard said. “We have start planning an end to growth, it’s getting expensive, and we have to figure out how we go into the future,” he added.

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Council closer to funding bus rapid transit in eastern county

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If everything goes as planned, the East County will be one step closer to having a new alternative for commuters.

Last week, the Montgomery County Department of Transportation and the Maryland Transit Administration released a study on the proposed Bus Rapid Transit for U.S. Route 29.

Representatives from MCDOT and MTA spoke to the County Council Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee last week. The T & E committee did not vote on the proposal during its meeting last week.

The proposed BRT for Route 29 is part of a series of BRT lines the County is proposing – along with one on MD-355 and MD-586 – that it hopes will cut down on heavy traffic congestion in the County. The BRT would operate partially along the shoulder lanes as a quicker alternative to buses.

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Council questions WSSC rate structure change

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LAUREL – A change in county water bills is almost certainly coming, but exactly how much more (or less) residents will pay is still to be determined.

On March 30, the Prince George’s County Council Transportation, Housing and Environment Committee (THE) held a joint meeting with their counterpart from the Montgomery County Council, the Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment (T&E) committee to hear from Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission staff about progress on the utility’s rate structure study. WSSC has to change the rate structure to remain financially viable, officials say.

“There’s always this tension between having enough revenue to meet the needs for providing the services, both water and sewer, but also on the capital side,” said Council member Todd Turner, chair of THE. “People are consuming less water, so because the revenues aren’t coming in because of the consumption, what are you going to do? Unfortunately, nothing goes down in cost, it seems like, so in making that (increase) reasonable, there’s a balance that we have to find as part of this process.”

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