Montgomery County’s elected officials said during an online state legislative forum Friday morning that their 2021 goals include COVID-19 pandemic assistance and a long-anticipated $4 billion education reform bill.
The forum was the Committee for Montgomery’s annual legislative breakfast, in which local and state elected officials discuss their legislative priorities in the upcoming General Assembly session. The organization is made up of community leaders who advocate for the county at the state level.
State Sen. Craig Zucker, a Brookeville Democrat who chairs the county’s Senate delegation, said he hopes the legislature builds on last year’s session in trying to pass the Kirwan Commission bill.
The legislature passed the bill, formally known as the “Blueprint for Maryland’s Future,” in the 2020 session. But Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed it, citing the need to not spend money on new programs in the wake of the health crisis. The legislature is poised to override Hogan’s veto during the 2021 session.
“When it comes to education, we made sure [last year] that when it came to the Blueprint for Maryland’s future, the formulas worked for Montgomery County and not against them,” Zucker said. “We made sure that we’re expanding access to early education and making sure that our students are career and college ready.”
Zucker didn’t mention Hogan’s name, but said that “with the stroke of a veto pen” the Kirwan bill became “very partisan.” He said the pandemic illustrated how urgent the need is for education reform and he hopes to avoid partisanship over the issue that was on display last year.
“The achievement gap that once was is now an achievement valley. And it’s more important than ever to make sure that we continue to promote social justice and bring back the resources that Montgomery County deserves and that our constituents expect,” he said.
Del. Marc Korman, a Bethesda Democrat who chairs the county’s House delegation, followed by reiterating the need to focus on public education as a priority in the upcoming session. Other areas of focus, he said, are police reform, the environment and transportation.
The legislative session, which will be held in person in Annapolis starting Jan. 13, will be “strange and interesting” due to the pandemic, Korman said. He said that although the public won’t be able to testify in person, there will be many opportunities to weigh in online.
“A small silver lining is we’ll be oddly more accessible. It’ll be easier to submit testimony. It’ll be easier to access what we’re doing in our subcommittees than it has been before when it required a drive to Annapolis,” he said.
County Council President Tom Hucker was among those who attended Friday’s forum, and called on Hogan to allocate money from the state’s rainy day fund to help local businesses.
“That fund is full of our tax dollars, funds that our lawmakers prudently saved for years to be released during exactly the rainy days we’re living through now,” he said. “It’s not doing any good in the treasury in Annapolis. It needs to be on the streets in Montgomery County.”
Dan Schere can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org