Montgomery County celebrates success as session ends -- Gazette.Net







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When the dust settled on the 2013 General Assembly session, Montgomery County’s delegation achieved its top priority, and $873 million is headed to the county from the state.

“At the beginning of session, when people asked me what were the top three priorities for Montgomery County, I said: Transportation, transportation, and transportation,” said Del. Anne R. Kaiser (D-Dist. 14) of Burtonsville. “So then the passing of the gas tax was certainly number one for us. This was the number one of our county elected officials, what we heard from the business community, and our constituents have been talking about pot holes and all those other problems for years.”

But there was no certainty that new money would be raised for transportation.

“There was a lot of pessimism when we started,” said Sen. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Dist. 20) of Takoma Park.

The transportation funding package wasn’t introduced until late in the session, as O’Malley, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Dist. 36) of Chesapeake Beach and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Dist. 30) of Annapolis hammered out a compromise on how to fund transportation projects in the future, spurred on by a transportation plan passed in Virginia.

The result is a $3 billion revenue package, which raises gas taxes by up to 20 cents over the next six years, beginning with a 4 cent hike in July.

Details of how the revenue will be allocated have yet to be worked out, but all three leaders, while promoting the bill, talked about the need to fund transit projects like the planned light rail Purple Line between Bethesda and New Carrollton, expected to cost more than $2 billion, though federal funds are expected to match county and state investment.

And the state is throwing $689 million in direct aid to the county, to cover costs on education, public safety and transportation, all perennial priorities for the county, said Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Dist. 16) of Chevy Chase.

That state aid is up 3.9 percent, with nearly $653 million going to education and community colleges. Police are getting $5.7 million in additional aid, up to nearly $17 million in fiscal 2014. The state is also paying $184.5 million in retirement obligations for the county, up 13.7 percent from last year.

Although the Montgomery County delegation was split on the issue, the General Assembly passed a bill that will exempt corporate training centers that offer accommodation to company employees from county hotel taxes. The only such facility is Lockheed Martin’s 190-room Center for Leadership Excellence in Bethesda, in effect giving the defense firm a $450,000 tax break each year.

“It’s an affront to local home rule,” said Councilman George Leventhal (D-At Large), one of the most vocal opponents of the bill on the county council. “Lockheed lobbied hard for this, and they got what they wanted. And now the legislature has overridden us.”

The county council had refused twice in the past to grant the exception when requested by County Executive Isiah Leggett (D).