Council President Nancy Floreen Stressed Priorities in Remarks to
Legislative Breakfast of the Committee for Montgomery
Yearly Event is a Virtual “Who’s Who” of Montgomery, Maryland Politics
ROCKVILLE, Md., December 14, 2009—Today the Montgomery County Council President Nancy Floreen spoke at the Committee for Montgomery’s annual legislative breakfast. A virtual “who’s who” of Montgomery County, political event, the breakfast traditionally kicks off local preparations for the upcoming General Assembly.
Councilmember Floreen joined guest speakers Maryland House of Delegates’ Speaker Michael Busch, U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, U.S. Congressmen Chris Van Hollen and Donna Edwards, and County Executive Ike Leggett.
Floreen’s remarks were as follows:
Thank you, Charles, for that warm and gracious introduction. Let me also give a shout out to our Master of Ceremonies, Henry Hailstock for your steadfast commitment to this community. Let’s give it up for Henry.
I am really honored to be standing here as the President of the Montgomery County Council, at such a critical juncture in our community’s history.
It is always moving to attend this breakfast where Montgomery County comes together to send a unified and decisive message to our representatives in Annapolis about our pressing priorities.
Let me personally thank Speaker Mike Busch for recognizing Montgomery County’s importance by being here today and giving us his insights on how next year’s challenging legislative session will unfold. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
I strongly concur with our County Executive’s bold call for political action. We must aggressively step up our efforts in Annapolis, and with solidarity, we can become a powerful force for safeguarding our county’s fiscal future. And as public officials that should be our foremost obligation.
I am especially pleased to be here with my colleagues on the County Council—Council Vice President Valerie Ervin, George Leventhal, Phil Andrews, Roger Berliner, Nancy Navarro, Mike Knapp and Duchy Trachtenberg. Please will my colleagues—both members and staff please stand. I don’t think anyone in this room appreciates how hard Montgomery County Council members and their staffs work on behalf of the county.
I am extremely confident that working closely together in 2010 we will do everything as the front-line legislative body to safeguard our nearly 1 million residents and keep our county on track.
Every year it is essential that our voice be heard loudly in Annapolis, but this year it is paramount and exceedingly urgent that we all speak as one.
As you see every day across our diverse communities, our county is facing a stark reality check.
Like never before, our residents have much less with which to pay their bills, so we have much less revenue to pay for needed County services.
And this diminishing revenue cycle (call it a double-whammy) continues unabated. This is what scares us all!
Faced with these growing and severe fiscal constraints, we have extremely tough, almost unacceptable choices, to consider.
But in this painful process we will not lose sight of our community’s bedrock priorities.
We must keep our county’s economy stable and growing and ensure that it remains as the indispensable engine driving our state’s economy.
We must keep our school system strong and vibrant, now a model for the nation.
We must have a reliable transportation network that moves people today and will move future generations.
We must keep our families safe and secure and protect Montgomery County’s wonderful quality of life—the envy of so many.
And, finally, we must continue to provide a critical lifeline to our residents in need.
But first things first!
I’ve never been known for mincing my words. I try to call it as I see it. And this is how I see it.
We are going to have to engage in some very difficult and frank conversations at the federal, state and local level.
We “kicked the can down the road” on so many financial decisions that we have run out of road.
We must get our financial houses in order, in the state and right here in Montgomery County.
Every tax dollar we receive is an act of trust by our residents. How we spend that dollar defines whether we are worthy of that trust.
With the county facing a nearly 610 million dollar gap next year and the state contending with a 2 billion dollar shortfall, we will all be forced to make some tough calls.
Everything will be on the table.
That doesn’t even include the 64 million dollars Montgomery County will have to save out of our current budget to balance this year’s books. Nothing will be simple this year.
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AND JOBS
Without question, my top priority as County Council president will be to restart our economic engine and make sure it stays ignited.
Nothing else works without a dynamic and dependable economy. Right now our economy is stalled. If we don’t act now, we will face catastrophic consequences.
Here’s a startling fact: In the last 12 months, 14,000 Montgomery County residents have lost their jobs. Let me repeat: 14,000!
Our unemployment rate is higher than it has been in recorded history, and that number excludes those who have given up looking for a job or are underemployed.
This is a devastating blow, and it creates negative ripple effects across our county. We cannot afford to let jobs leave Montgomery County.
To keep our engine humming, we must find ways to attract and retain businesses that provide solid careers and good paying jobs for our residents. As part of the metropolitan Washington area, we’re competing with some top-notch jurisdictions for coveted industries.
You also may be stunned to hear: our county is next to last in the region in job growth this decade, while Fairfax County has added nearly 43,000 jobs since 2001. We have too many assets in our county to let Fairfax or any of our neighbors beat us when it comes to offering attractive job opportunities.
We have to become more competitive to entice the type of biotechnology, clean energy, defense, and government jobs, given our advantageous strategic location. That can stimulate our economy over the next few emergency years and establish vital business sectors for the long-term.
We currently have initiatives underway to address these unprecedented economic problems, much to the credit of the County Executive and his able Economic Development Director.
But many more aggressive steps need to be taken, across our economy and in full concert with our extraordinary business community.
That is why I am proposing that we create a completely new Economic Development Authority, on a magnitude and design that has not been aggressively pursued before in Montgomery County.
Dire times require bold solutions.
We need an infusion of new investments. We need to stabilize certain vital sectors, like retail and the construction industries. We need the banking community to reliably supply capital to small businesses.
We need to partner with the federal and state governments for building-block grants in such growth areas as health care, IT and energy. Our universities need to align their research and applied enterprises with the county’s long- term economic development priorities.
We have to formulate workable enterprise zones for maximizing the entrepreneurial spirit. And our scientific laboratories should be ahead of the curve in uncovering the next wave of cutting-edge and market-ready technology.
And of course we need new funds and creative incentives to effectively to do this, all configured within this Authority concept.
Fundamentally, I am talking about a uniquely public-private partnership, which leverages the best minds, resources and institutions--all aimed at spring boarding our economy forward.
For the Montgomery County Economic Development Authority to be successful we need to empower it with decisive capability and have it led by business leaders.
But all innovative ideas and best practices will be thoroughly examined. I will be meeting very soon with the Executive staff, my Council colleagues and leaders from our business community to develop the best approach.
Our future economic vitality depends in large part on our diversified and well-trained work force, and that is where our world-class school system enters the picture.
Montgomery County Public Schools has long been recognized as one of the best school systems in the nation.
The success our students are achieving is nothing short of remarkable. The graduation rate is tops in the nation, according to the reputable Education Week.
MCPS is focused on doing what it takes to get every child ready for college and the world of work. And we’re going to need every one of these children to keep our county strong.
This County Council and this community have been totally committed to the success of our students. We have always invested heavily in our schools. We know its money extremely well spent. Our commitment to public education will never change.
This year we’re facing the unfortunate reality that even funding a bare bones budget will be a real challenge.
We face an extraordinarily difficult problem with the “maintenance of effort” issue. I do not believe our school system – or the county government and its taxpayers – should face a stiff penalty because we failed to make “maintenance of effort” this year.
The State Board of Education will do itself a huge disservice if it penalizes us for failing to spend money that was not needed by the school system.
Montgomery County schools are the model system for the entire state in so many ways. If you penalize us for being the leader and doing the right thing, what does that say to every other school system?
To strengthen our economy, we must invest in transportation infrastructure. Businesses can’t thrive in Montgomery County if their employees are stuck in traffic. This jeopardizes commerce, operations and productivity.
That means enhanced transit options and a better road network.
Working effectively with our federal and state representatives, we need maximum funds to build two of the best light rail systems in the country, the Corridor Cities Transitway and the Purple Line.
We are looking forward to increased economic opportunities and jobs from the Base Realignment and Closure Commission’s decision to merge Walter Reed and Naval Medical. But it will not be successful without commensurate infrastructure support.
We received good news last week about a 4.4 million dollar federal funding commitment to upgrade the roads around NIH and the Naval Medical Center. Thank you Members of Congress Chris Van Hollen and Donna Edwards and Senators Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski.
We will also be vigilant and vocal in making sure Metro doesn’t fall into further disrepair. And similarly, we must move forward on widening I-270.
We feel so strongly about keeping people and commerce moving that Montgomery County took the unprecedented step of using millions of County dollars to keep several state transportation projects on schedule.
We can’t afford to keep doing this – not with the kind of red ink we are staring at for the foreseeable future.
PUBLIC SAFETY, ENVIRONMENT AND SOCIAL SAFETY
We often take for granted our outstanding public safety forces in Montgomery County. Every day, the brave men and women who make up our police and fire rescue departments are keeping us safe and secure.
How confident we are when facing an emergency that with just a phone call help will instantly be on the way? That is a priceless security blanket. Even with these unsettling budget woes, our exemplary public safety services will be protected.
Our character as a community is often determined by how we care for our most needy and for our surrounding natural resources.
Few communities can match our dedication to building an underlying social service safety net for vulnerable residents.
And as stewards, we see the wisdom of pursuing strong environmental protections for future generations.
Yes, it true that we’ll likely see cuts across the board, but we are committed to these objectives.
As I close this morning, I ask you to consider these challenges and the opportunities before us.
We have always done our part in providing resources from Montgomery County to fund needs for other parts of the state. In fact, for every dollar we send to Annapolis, we only get back 18 cents.
That means the State’s success greatly depends on Montgomery County’s success. Solving our county’s budget crisis is in everyone’s best interest around the state.
Our county is resilient and we will emerge from this downturn poised for great achievements.
I look around this room.
I see successful people in business.
I see powerful advocates for residents and communities alike.
I see public officials who have made an enormous difference with their leadership.
I see so many of you who have overcome great challenges and are powerful success stories that make folks across this country proud.
Together, we are at a juncture when all of our extraordinary experiences, knowledge, talents, energy and fortitude must be focused on getting Montgomery County back on track.
I am inherently an optimist about the future ahead, and you should be too.
Winston Churchill said it best: “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
Won’t you join me in the Optimist’s Club?