My Priorities

We are so fortunate to live in such a prosperous place as Montgomery County, but our future does not look as rosy as it once did. Our schools are overcrowded. Our transit and road options are insufficient to keep up with our growing population. And our tax base has not been increasing fast enoughto enable us to make the improvements we so desperately need. Here is where I stand on some of the county’s most pressing issues.

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Transportation

The Washington region purportedly has the worst traffic congestion in the nation. Although our master plans are balanced in terms of new development and infrastructure, too often that new infrastructure isn’t funded. It took years of struggle to get the Purple Line under construction and the Corridor Cities Transitway is still little more than a vision. There is also no funding for completing Mid-County highway, even though several of our county master plans assumed capacity from that road. The recent problems experienced by our Metrorail system have led to a decrease in transit ridership and a corresponding increase in automobiles on our roads.

As county executive, I would champion full, continued funding for Metro. Fortunately, Maryland, Virginia and the District have recently committed to a guaranteed source of funding to Metro – that’s so very important in the region. In addition, while I do not think that building more and bigger roads will solve our transportation problems, I believe that providing some additional road capacity is essential to address the needs of county residents who have grown increasingly frustrated with the amount of time they spend stuck in traffic.

I would support building Mid-County Highway, perhaps as a parkway to reduce its impacts. I also think we need the Corridor Cities Transitway, which could be built through a public private partnership. I also want to work with state leadership to see what improvements make sense to relieve the highly congested conditions on I-270 and the American Legion Bridge. As someone said to me recently, while Maryland keeps talking, Virginia is doing, and that is not fair to our residents. We need to take action now!

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EDUCATION & SCHOOLS

School overcrowding is a tough problem that needs to be addressed more proactively. Although the school population used to ebb and flow, this has not been the case in the county for many years. In 1984, the school system had 91,000 students. Today, we have more than 160,000 students. Recently, our schools have been growing at a rate of 2,400 students a year and some of our schools are significantly over capacity. 

This overcrowding has occurred for a variety of reasons: The Great Recession was hard on many families so some parents who had been sending their children to private schools chose to send them to public schools instead, particularly since the public school system began offering all-day kindergarten throughout the entire county. Neighborhoods also began to see more turnover. Older parents whose children had grown up and moved away began to sell their single-family homes, often to young couples with children. And the county’s population also continues to grow due to in-migration, thanks in part to the high quality of our schools.

Further complicating this issue is the fact that, in the past, builders who sought approval for large greenfield developments were often willing to dedicate land for new schools at little or no cost. Today, we are primarily seeing infill development and the land has become far too expensive to give away.

We need to look at new ways of providing school facilities. We should consider converting vacant office buildings into new classroom spaces and co-locating more schools with parks so that the parkland can be used for student recreational and athletic activities.

We need to find new ways to help close the achievement gap between different segments of our community. I believe we need to expand pre-K. And press the state for our fair share of school construction money: that’s the only way we can keep up with our booming school population.

We need to recognize that almost a quarter of our high school graduates do not go onto college. We should offer more training programs in our high schools that will prepare these students to move directly into jobs in the county that have career potential. 

The school budget, coupled with that of Montgomery College, represents more than half of the county’s operating budget. I want to study the entire school budget – both operating and capital costs — to look for efficiencies that will allow us to maintain our excellent school system so that it will continue to be a strong asset of our county.

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Economic Development

Montgomery County should be attractive to business for so many reasons. We have a highly educated workforce and a great school system. We have an ideal location just outside of Washington DC. We have numerous amenities, from our award-winning park system to venues such as the Strathmore Music Center. Yet we don’t make it easy for businesses to locate here. We spend very limited dollars on marketing and incentives. Our regulatory process is complex. We take tough state regulations and we make them even tougher, simply because we can.

I have always felt that a vibrant business community is essential to our future success. Fortunately, Marriott International decided to stay in the county and we are starting to see more development in places like Bethesda, Wheaton and White Oak. But we must do more.

Businesses fund many of the county’s philanthropic efforts and they pay significant taxes, reducing the burden on our residents. They play a vital role in creating dynamic, mixed-use communities like Pike and Rose and Bethesda Row. We have many smaller businesses that provide a variety of jobs for our residents.

As county executive, I would reach out to various businesses to let them know they are appreciated. I would expand our workforce development efforts to make sure that businesses can fill the positions they have open and that our residents have access to higher paying jobs. I would open new business incubators, because technology is changing so rapidly and we might just produce the next Amazon.

Further, I would reach out to the chiefs of the major federal agencies located in the county and ask how the county could be a better partner; one that would assist them in achieving their mission by making it possible for the private interests that support the agencies to be in close proximity to them, along with the housing and transportation infrastructure that complement such a location. 

And finally, I would reduce the energy tax, which has taken a heavy toll on our business community. We increased it significantly when the recession hit, but we did not sunset it, as promised, after two years. It’s a very competitive world out there and if we want to be a player, we must step up our game.

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Climate Change & the Environment

Climate change is very real, as proven by the scientific community, and one of my top priorities is expanding a smart growth agenda within Montgomery County through well planned communities and more transportation alternatives to motor vehicles. This approach is paramount to our future environmental health, given the increasing population and development of the county. We need to grow in smarter ways.

I would achieve this goal by working with the County Council and county agencies to ensure current laws and codes are being followed, and that new legislation and programs are undertaken if it can be shown they can provide significant improvement while still being cost-effective. Demonstration projects to highlight residential green technologies, interactive digital tools, bus ads and other outreach programs can build political will for the necessary changes. Involving green advocacy groups is also key to disseminating the messages about climate initiatives. This outreach, in turn, will provide valuable feedback from county residents about climate initiatives that will help us create an effective public policy agenda.

We have already laid the foundation for a greener county. The Agricultural Reserve prevents sprawl, while encouraging sustainable farming. The Building Energy Benchmarking Law requires certain commercial property owners to publicly disclose their energy use. The International Green Construction Code (IgCC), now taking effect, will ensure greener buildings, such as the new LEED Platinum headquarters in Wheaton for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission which is currently being built.

The Department of Environmental Protection is also working with several county agencies to implement the STAR (Sustainability Tools for Assessing and Rating Communities) initiative. STAR is a nationally-recognized quality-of-life/sustainability framework and certification program. Approximately 60 leading jurisdictions around the country are certified STAR communities—including Washington, DC, Baltimore, Seattle, Portland and Houston, and it would be great if Montgomery County could join them.

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Diversity

I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, where my family was active in the civil rights movement. The struggle to get equal schooling and equal rights was one that shaped who I am today.

Given the lack of state and federal leadership on this issue, it is more important than ever that the county executive of Maryland’s largestcounty be a leader in promoting the importance of diversity. We are now a minority-majority county and I will support programs that protect the growing multicultural nature of Montgomery County. This effort includes welcoming immigrants, ensuring appropriate training for our first responders and other county employees, providing language access and English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) services and, most importantly, closing the achievement gap in K–12 education.

Relevant to diversity, I am the only woman running for county executive. Women look at issues differently than men. This is a time when we need a new perspective.

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Seniors

Seniors comprise almost one-fourth of Montgomery County's population and represent the fastest growing segment of our population. Many of our seniors still work, are very active and in great health. That's why we have so many terrific activities for those aged 55-and-older and why the county needs to tailor additional programs in the future to meet their needs.

As county executive, I will advocate for a broad spectrum of programs and services aimed at serving seniors. In addition to those currently offered at five senior centers and 13 programs for 55+ active adults, I would support more workforce development programs. Many of our seniors are not ready to retire and this would be a way for them to get the training or certifications needed to pursue a new career. 

I would also expand volunteer opportunities for seniors to enable them to make a greater contribution to our community. There is a great need for tutoring and mentoring, and county seniors are a great group to provide those services. I would actively work with Montgomery County Public Schools and other educational institutions to develop programs that would better engage those seniors who are interested in helping both youth and adults improve their language, math or science skills.

I also would support the “villages” concept in which residents in certain neighborhoods come together to help older residents age in place. Many of our seniors do not want to move but may need help getting to medical appointments, shoveling snow and maintaining their properties. Villages can improve the quality of life of our residents and should be expanded.

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