As a result of 2013 state legislative action, Montgomery County stands to receive $2.6 million in bond bill funding — money that will pay for important projects in the community.
That total goes toward 20 projects. Here are two:
• The Laytonsville District Volunteer Fire Station will receive $150,000 to help renovate and expand the fire station.
• The Takoma Park Silver Spring Shared Use Community Kitchen will receive $250,000 to upgrade the kitchen, which serves low-income individuals.
These are brick-and-mortar signs that government funds can be put toward the greater good. But critics equate bond bills with federal earmarks as a Maryland example of government waste. The comparison misses key differences in the way federal lawmakers can spend, and the way state legislators allocate the money.
Before reforms in 2010, federal lawmakers could pencil in spending for pet programs and projects. The appropriations would receive little public scrutiny, unless someone leafed through the massive federal budget.
By comparison, bond bills are an exemplar of government transparency. Each bill is introduced and entered into the Maryland General Assembly website, with its sponsor or sponsors noted. Each bill is vetted by the nonpartisan Department of Legislative Services, and the documentation is available online. One or two Saturdays, generally, are set aside for bond bill hearings to make it easier for the public to attend.
Plus, the money generally goes to cover half the cost of capital projects for nonprofits, such as the Laytonsville fire station and the Takoma Park kitchen. The nonprofits cover the other half. And as capital projects, the funding pumps money into the local economies.
As government budgets have dwindled, Annapolis ponders whether the state has the money to devote to the projects. That’s a worthy policy discussion, but one hopes that the legislature finds other line items to cut so it can preserve the few million devoted to bond bills.