A controversial new report released today by the Baltimore-based Sage Policy Group depicting Maryland’s largest county’s economy virtually comatose is eliciting mixed feedback from some Montgomery County Council members.
Council President Nancy Navarro (District 4) did not directly address the report in a statement emailed to A Miner Detail but instead emphasized Montgomery County’s economic strength.
“The Council has worked hard to place Montgomery County in a position of strength, through our land use and transportation decisions, our investments in education, our efforts in workforce development, our deliberative fiscal discipline that has enabled us to maintain our triple-A bond rating since 1973, and the promotion of our values of inclusion and respect,” said Council President Nancy Navarro, who also serves as chair of the Council’s Government Operations and Fiscal Policy Committee.”
“This position of strength was reaffirmed by Amazon’s selection of Montgomery County as one of the top twenty finalists for their second North American headquarters, in our increasingly global economy. The Council will continue to work aggressively to promote an economic development strategy that grows high-quality jobs for our residents and attracts large corporate investment while also supporting our small business innovators.”
The report, entitled Restoring Economic Momentum in Montgomery County, MD, was commissioned by the pro-business organization Empower Montgomery and was prepared by economist Anirban Basu, who leads the Sage Policy Group.
Read the entire report: SAGE Policy Report January 2019
As previously reported, the new report notes that Montgomery County is being outperformed by ‘proximate jurisdictions inside and outside of Maryland along the dimension of economic development, leaving the County in a weakened fiscal position and a growing inability to support quality of life through spending on education, transportation, public safety, and health and human services.’
The report offers several solutions to help stimulate Montgomery County’s economic activity and grow its tax base, including:
- Build public schools to improve student outcomes – and end develop moratoria;
- Grow the White Oak and White Flint areas by accelerating public-private investment through accelerated infrastructure, substantial tax breaks and permit-expediting zones;
- End the county’s liquor control monopoly;
- Invest additional resources into the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation;
- Leverage Montgomery County’s political power in Annapolis by advocating for a better business climate.
However, some Montgomery County residents are dismissing the report’s findings almost entirely – on the basis that Empower Montgomery and the Sage Policy Group reek financial benefits from showing negative economic indicators throughout the county.
“So a group that exists to advocate for policies that will make its members more money says that there will be economic doom unless we implement the policies they recommend,” wrote Bobby Bartlett, a former District 39 Democratic candidate. Barlett shared his thoughts on the report via Facebook.
“I generally discount any study that is funded by a group with a clear economic interest in getting exactly the conclusions that study reaches. I think there’s a discussion to be had about economic development and policies that would improve the climate for it,” Bartlett continued.
Another county resident emailed A Miner Detail on background calling the report’s objectivity into question, pointing out that “the Empower Montgomery group and Nulsen & Co not only supported Nancy Floreen to the tune of millions as you likely know, they are also huge fans of proven-bad-ideas-unless-you’re-an-adjoining-land-owner like the 2nd crossing.”
Freshman Councilman Andrew Friedson (District 1) told A Miner Detail that while he hasn’t had an opportunity to review the report in granular detail, “the broader picture it paints of our challenging fiscal and economic trends is something we must acknowledge as county policymakers.”
“As evidenced by the Fiscal Plan and Expenditure Overview we received at today’s Council session, our needs are growing while our capacity to meet those needs isn’t. The only sustainable path forward for maintaining our high quality of life and level of county services is to grow a private sector economy to make it more affordable for families to live here and more attractive for businesses to grow here,” Friedson wrote.
Statements from Councilmen Katz (District 3) and Albornoz (at-large) are as follows:
“CM Katz has not yet had the opportunity to read the report in its entirety. However, from what he has heard/read, he is concerned about some of the information contained in the report. He has been concerned about economic development in the County for quite some time and will look with interest as to the County’s analysis of the report.”
“I agree with the general premise that we must grow our economy and that there is urgency do so. However, simply boosting residential construction, as the Empower Montgomery report recommends, is not the best approach and will not accomplish this alone. We must grow jobs, not just add residences and to accomplish this we must grow our commercial base. Also, having led a major County department through the depths of the Great Recession, cutting the budget reserves we have diligently built in recent years to buffer our residents from severe service cuts would be of concern to me. I look forward to working with Empower Montgomery on the many common goals we can agree on – building a strong local economy and growing sustainable, quality jobs.”
County Executive Marc Elrich’s press shop acknowledged A Miner Detail’s request for comment but did not provide a statement by the established deadline. Councilman Will Jawando’s office offered a call, tomorrow, to discuss the report’s findings.
The story will be updated with additional statements from Councilmen Glass (at-large), Hucker (District 5), Rice (District 2) and Reimer (at-large) should they issue any public statements.
A Miner Detail Podcast host Ryan Miner is set to interview representatives from Empower Maryland on Friday at 11:00 a.m.