First line-item veto by any county executive in 25 years affects stormwater management
Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett broke precedent and issued a line-item veto in the County Capital Improvements Programs budget over a fight with a majority of the members of the County Council over the future of stormwater management.
Leggett’s line-item veto, which is narrowly tailored to specific parts of the $4.5 billion capital budget, is the first in Leggett’s nearly 12-year tenure as County Executive and the first line-item veto by any county executive in 25 years. The veto blocks the current status quo of how the County awards contracts for its stormwater-management programs.
In January, Leggett proposed reforming the way the County Department of Environmental Protection awards stormwater-management contracts. Currently, the County offers separate contracts for different companies to plan, design, and build stormwater-management projects. Leggett proposed putting the entire process – the planning, designing, and building – of a stormwater-management contract into one contract for a company to bid on, saying it would make the process more efficient and save taxpayers money.
“I regret that you and the Council majority have made this veto necessary,” Leggett wrote in a letter to Council President Hans Riemer (D-at large). “Playing politics with a critical environmental issue, doubling down on a costly and inefficient status quo, and kicking the proverbial can down the road will never be confused with efficient governance.”
Some environmental groups criticized Leggett’s proposal, saying they worried that the changes would privatize the County’s stormwater-management system so that companies would be motivated by profit over environmental concerns. With his line-item veto, Leggett pushed back against criticism, saying his proposal was not an attempt to privatize stormwater management.
“This was not ‘privatization.’ DEP will continue to have control over the projects undertaken, oversight, and community engagement,” Leggett wrote in his letter to Riemer.
Part of Leggett’s motivation, he said, is to save costs, hoping to not raise the water-quality-protection charge – commonly known as the “rain tax,” before his term as County Executive ends in 2018.
The current water-quality-protection charge costs the average homeowner in the County $104.25 and is usually included in the property tax bill. Leggett said his proposed cuts to stormwater management will decrease redundancies, as the State will take over some responsibility for some of those projects.
In total, Leggett proposed canceling 26 stormwater-management projects and suspending 44 others. Nineteen of the County’s stormwater-management projects, however, will continue under the Department of Environmental Protection’s design/bid/build approach to stormwater-management contract work.
In May, the Council voted 5-4 to maintain the current contracting process for the Department of Environmental Protection, meaning now, with Leggett’s veto the Council and the County Executive will have to act quickly to come up with a compromise to enact a policy for DEP’s contracting process for stormwater management.
While during the vote, some members of the Council suggested they wait until the fall to take up the issue again, after Leggett’s veto, Riemer who has a lot of authority over the Council’s agenda as council president, said he expects the issue to come before the Council sometime in July.
“I don’t think we need go to the fall, I think we can solve this, this summer,” said Riemer, who voted to maintain the County’s current contracting system for stormwater management.
Riemer said staff from the DEP failed to answer members of the Council’s concerns about the plan, saying it was difficult for members of the Council to properly vet the County Executive’s proposal while the Council was in the middle of putting together its CIP and operating budgets.