He said Montgomery, which lags behind Fairfax and the District in terms of job and business growth, is still a “model” for other jurisdictions and the “economic driver for the state of Maryland.”
But he acknowledged that growth is “not where it should be.”
“We are well aware of our reputation for business,” said Elrich, who was elected in 2018 over the opposition of the business community and some proponents of higher-density housing near mass transit. “And it’s not a good reputation.”
A 2018 study found that between 2006 and 2016, Montgomery added 210 jobs — less than 4 percent of the 6,030 in Fairfax County.
Elrich pushed back on skepticism from business leaders and officials over plans to expand Montgomery’s climate regulations, jabbing at “people who think this is not going to be a top-down process.”
“The idea that businesses all by themselves . . . are going to deal with climate change, you’re going to wait a very long time,” Elrich said. “The poles will have melted.”
Montgomery County Council member Andrew Friedson (D-District 1), who has positioned himself as an ally of the business community, responded that while he agrees the county needs to invest in climate, he does not think “piling on requirements” is the right approach.
“If we’re going to solve the climate crisis, it can’t just be about strong rhetoric,” said the freshman council member. “Anything we do that dramatically risks losing businesses and residents . . . it’s going to be one step forward and two steps back.”
Elrich also released his proposed capital budget on Wednesday, unleashing a new round of criticism from Friedson and other officials. The proposal covers funding for infrastructure projects and must be reviewed and amended by the council after public hearings.
Friedson decried the lack of funding for a tunnel on the Capital Crescent Trail and a new Metro entrance at the White Flint metro station — both of which the council pushed to include in last year’s budget after they were “zeroed out,” he said.
Other officials expressed concern over Elrich’s recommended funding for school construction and affordable housing — top priorities for the suburb’s residents.
The proposed budget gives Montgomery County Public Schools 94 percent of its requested capital funding, about $100 million less than what the school system had sought.
“We are deeply disappointed,” Montgomery County Superintendent Jack R. Smith and Board of Education President Shebra Evans said in a statement Wednesday. “Our enrollment has increased by more than 10,000 students in the last five years and our aging building infrastructure continues to be strained. We ask that the County Council closely examine this recommendation.”
Council member Hans Riemer (D-At Large) said the council is “going to have to fix this,” adding, “This is just dumping a huge problem on our lap.”
Riemer, who heads the housing committee, also noted Elrich has kept funding for affordable housing at $22 million a year, despite regional calls to ramp up government resources in that area.
The capital budget extends the county’s $22 million-a-year allocation for six years, totaling $132 million, which deputy housing director Frank Demarais called a “fairly significant expression of our commitment.” Riemer, however, said the six-year plan was “an accounting maneuver” that will do little to fulfill the county’s need for 23,100 additional low-cost housing units by 2030.
Elrich proposed the creation of a new Affordable Housing Opportunity Fund that, like similar funds elsewhere, would help the county assist housing developers in launching low-cost projects. The goal, Demarais said, is for the county to provide $20 million to the fund and get $80 million from other partners.
“I have always fought for affordable housing,” Elrich said at his address, receiving cheers from the contingent of renters in the audience.
Riemer said he disagrees. “That was the most disappointing,” he added. “To hear [Elrich] talk a big game on housing but not deliver a big increase in funding.”
The council’s public hearings on the capital budget are scheduled for Feb. 5 at 1:30 and 7 p.m. and Feb. 6 at 7 p.m. at the Council Office Building in Rockville.