Politics Roundup: Manno Is Lone Montgomery County Senator To Vote Against Amazon Incentives

Politics Roundup: Manno Is Lone Montgomery County Senator To Vote Against Amazon Incentives

Plus: County executive candidates suggest administration positions for their opponents; an update on local bills in the General Assembly

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State Sen. Roger Manno

Provided photo

Manno Only Montgomery ‘No’ Vote as Senate Gives Final OK to Amazon Legislation

When the Maryland Senate gave final approval this week to a package of tax incentives designed to attract Amazon’s second headquarters to Montgomery County, seven of the eight senators in the Montgomery delegation voted in favor of the bill.

The lone dissenter: Sen. Roger Manno of Silver Spring, who objected to the size of the tax breaks being offered to convince Amazon owner Jeff Bezos to choose Montgomery over 19 other finalists around the country—and to locate the facility and its 40,000 to 50,000 jobs at a site reported to be the former home of White Flint mall.

“It’s a $5 billion tax break for the richest man in the world, with nothing for education, health care or worker rights,” Manno declared in a phone interview. “We’re better than this.”

The legislation that passed the Senate on a 34-12 vote Monday night was originally billed by the administration of Gov. Larry Hogan as containing about $3 billion in tax incentives—while the Department of Legislative Services, in a “fiscal and policy note” accompanying the bill, has estimated the 35-year cost at nearly $5.6 billion if Amazon chooses to locate in Montgomery County.  

Manno—who is leaving the Senate to compete in an eight-way Democratic primary for the 6th District seat of departing U.S. Rep. John Delaney of Potomac—was also the only member of the Montgomery Senate delegation who declined to co-sponsor the Amazon legislation when it was introduced last month.

“I am eager to see Amazon headquartered in Maryland, and am hopeful that any taxpayer-funded package includes guarantees of top-tier salaries, benefits, and union representation for all operational and construction jobs,” Manno—who has strong ties to organized labor, and has been endorsed by nearly 20 unions in his bid for Congress—said when the legislation was unveiled.

Manno said this week that he continues to want to see Amazon’s second headquarters located in the county, but feels that Maryland’s attributes should be sufficient to attract the facility without offering large tax breaks.

“We’re ideally situated to be the home of Amazon,” he contended. “We’re Maryland; we’re already great. We have one of the most well-trained workforces, some of the most beautiful natural resources, some of the best schools … you’ll find anywhere in America.”

He added: “The reason why companies who have headquartered here are here is because we have so many attributes that you can’t find anywhere else. We’re a unique place. We need to remember that and we need to sell that.”

Besides Manno, the majority of the remaining 11 Senate ”no” votes on the Amazon bill came from the Baltimore area, including five from the city of Baltimore and two from Baltimore County. Baltimore made a highly publicized bid to attract the Amazon headquarters to the city’s Port Covington section. But it did not make it into the final round of 20, in which Montgomery County is the only Maryland finalist.

All 12 no votes were cast by Democrats; all 14 Senate Republicans joined 20 Democrats in supporting the measure, which now must clear the House of Delegates by this year’s April 9 adjournment. A hearing on the Amazon legislation was held in late February before the House Ways and Means Committee.

Nineteen of the 24 House members from Montgomery County are co-sponsoring the bill, including Del. Aruna Miller of Darnestown—one of Manno’s rivals for the 6th District congressional nomination.

– Louis Peck

 

Leventhal invites Berliner to be his Department of Environmental Protection director at county executive forum

George Leventhal, Roger Berliner and Marc Elrich. Photos provided/ Bethesda Beat file photo

During a discussion of county stormwater management policy at a county executive candidate forum in Silver Spring on Thursday night, one of the Democratic candidates—County Council member George Leventhal—suggested in a half-joking manner that one of the other candidates should join his administration if he is elected.

“Look, if I’m county executive, I think Roger Berliner would be an excellent director of the Department of Environmental Protection,” Leventhal said, generating laughter from the audience. “I think he could really get in there and solve some of the problems … . I hope he would consider the position.”

Berliner, Leventhal’s colleague on the council, has been endorsed by the environmental group the Sierra Club and has focused on environmental issues such as divesting the county’s pension fund from fossil fuels while serving on the council. However, he fired back quickly at Leventhal’s suggestion.

“And George Leventhal would be a great HHS director,” Berliner said, referring to the Department of Health and Human Services. Leventhal studied issues relating to homelessness to earn a doctorate of philosophy in public policy from the University of Maryland last year. He also was a key figure in the effort to establish the Montgomery Cares program, which provides health care to the uninsured in the county.

Getting in the last shot, however, on Thursday was another council colleague, Marc Elrich, who is also running for county executive. “I’ll take both your advice on that,” he joked.

– Andrew Metcalf

 

Bills to expand public funding for campaigns die in homestretch of Annapolis session

Two bills to expand Montgomery County’s new system of public campaign financing are dead for the year, as the 2018 session of the General Assembly heads toward an April 9 adjournment.

One piece of legislation, sponsored by Del. Marc Korman of Bethesda, would have authorized the county to enlarge its public funding system—which now covers contests for county executive and County Council—to include races for state Senate and House of Delegates.

Among the eight members of the Montgomery House delegation who co-sponsored Korman’s bill was Del. David Moon of Takoma Park, who also was the lead sponsor on a separate measure to allow public financing to include candidates for school board as well as courthouse offices: state’s attorney, sheriff, clerk of the circuit court, and register of wills. Five other Montgomery delegates co-sponsored Moon’s bill, while companion legislation was introduced by Sens. Richard Madaleno of Kensington and Will Smith of Silver Spring.

But neither the Korman bill nor the measures sponsored by Moon and Madaleno had come to a vote by March 19, designated as “Crossover Day” for the 2018 Annapolis session. Barring extraordinary circumstances, legislation that did not receive approval from at least one chamber of the General Assembly by then will not move this year.

The legislation would have applied to the two Maryland counties currently with public finance systems—Montgomery and Howard—by authorizing their county councils to vote to expand those systems, with local revenues used to fund races for additional offices. At present, Montgomery has an $11 million fund covering county executive and council races in 2018.

It is unclear why the bills failed to move. But the leadership of the Democratic-controlled General Assembly has been resistant in the past to a statewide system of public funding for legislative races—and didn’t seem more willing to allow such a move via local public financing.

“In general, people are reluctant to change those kinds of processes easily,” Moon observed.

Moon said his expansion of public funding to include the school board and courthouse offices had the backing of the Montgomery County Board of Education. But he acknowledged there was reluctance from others who “felt it was too soon in the experiment of the Montgomery public financing system to already be expanding it, since we haven’t completed the first run on it.”

Added Moon, “I’ll bring the bill back next year when we have a better handle on how things went in Montgomery.”

Also failing to move by Crossover Day was another Moon-sponsored bill designed to establish a limited system of special elections.

It would have required special elections for vacancies in the state Senate and House of Delegates that occur in the first year of a four-year term. At present, all legislative vacancies are filled by political party committees, and appointed legislators can serve nearly four years without facing voters.

“We had a little bit of progress on that,” Moon said, noting that the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee this year became the first local party committee ever to endorse the change. But, in general, the state’s two major parties have traditionally resisted such bills, which would erode their power over filling vacancies.

“I’m hopeful this one will ultimately move,” said Moon, pointing to a measure he successfully sponsored in 2016 to require special elections for state attorney general and comptroller. “I think it will be harder and harder to justify doing [state legislative] races differently than everyone else.”

– Louis Peck  

 

Blair ramps up TV ad effort with large buy on Montgomery cable systems

County executive candidate David Blair, who earlier this month purchased a handful of commercials on a Washington broadcast station, has ramped up his ad efforts in recent weeks with a nearly six-figure buy on Montgomery County cable TV.

From March 6 through this past Monday, the Blair campaign spent $87,364 for close to 300 spots aimed at subscribers of the county’s two largest cable services—Comcast and Verizon FIOS, according to the Federal Communications Commission’s public website.

In terms of placement, the Blair ads followed patterns of other recent local political campaigns, with many of the spots running on news channels such as CNN, CNBC and MSNBC. But there were also significant buys on sports channels—including ESPN and the Golf Channel—as well as ads adjacent to leisure and hobby programming, notably HGTV and the History Channel.

With three months until the June 26 primary, Blair’s five Democratic rivals in the county executive contest have yet to join him in booking TV ad space—but that may soon change.

All the other executive candidates “definitely have reached out to us,” said Mike Miller, regional vice president of Comcast Spotlight, whose firm handles bookings for cable and satellite TV systems throughout the Washington area. “We expect everybody to really pick it up in April,” he added.

Blair, a wealthy former health care company executive who has never before sought elected office, has been utilizing several different types of media over the past couple of months to boost his name recognition. He has been advertising widely online, and this week sent out a direct mail piece to Democratic voters asking, “What are your ideas for Montgomery County”—with an attached prepaid postcard with which to respond.

Blair also spent nearly $9,600 on just nine spots on over-the-air WUSA/Channel 9 in Washington over a two-week period this month. His cable buy was about nine times more than that figure, but he was able to purchase about 30 times as many spots—underscoring why candidates for county office prefer to concentrate TV ad efforts on cable.

Besides its high cost, over-the-air television advertising comes with another significant disadvantage: It reaches a Washington metropolitan area audience that exceeds 6 million people, as compared to the approximately 385,000 registered Montgomery County Democrats eligible to vote in this year’s primary. Consequently, a broadcast TV spot from a county executive candidate could be wasted on as much as 95 percent of the viewing audience.

While Miller said no contenders in either the crowded County Council at-large primary or council district races have yet booked cable ad time, he said his firm has received requests from media agencies representing several of these candidates.

“They haven’t disclosed who they’re representing,” Miller said of the agencies. He added that, because council candidates are working with limited funds, “we probably won’t see them active [on cable] until late May or early June.”

– Louis Peck

The story was corrected March 26 to reflect that a hearing on the Amazon legislation before the Maryland House Ways and Means Committee was held in late February.

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