US tax system needs reform

Just saw the BBC news on US riches people barely paying tax: “US super-rich ‘pay almost no income tax“. This is a fundamentally flawed tax system. In the article, IRS and Mike Bloomberg talked about their privacy was jeopardized and they will hunt down those who leaked the information. Very interesting angle.

The growing wealth gap in USA is hurting the country and it is the No. problem to be sovled. The share of American adults who live in middle-income households has decreased from 61% in 1971 to 51% in 2019. During this time, the share of adults in the upper-income tier increased from 14% to 20%, and the share in the lower-income tier increased from 25% to 29%. Ref: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/02/07/6-facts-about-economic-inequality-in-the-u-s/

Another problem is that many Americans don’t mange finance well. Some 40% of Americans would struggle to come up with even $400 to pay for an unexpected bill. Ref: https://www.cnbc.com/2019/07/20/heres-why-so-many-americans-cant-handle-a-400-unexpected-expense.html

Then I did another search comparing Amazon (Jeff Bezos, the richest in USA) and Alibaba (Jack Ma, the richest in China).

For Amazon

That’s because Amazon actually owed money to the federal government in 2019. After two straight years of paying $0 in U.S. federal income tax, Amazon was on the hook for a $162 million bill in 2019, the company said in an SEC filing on Thursday.

https://www.cnbc.com/2020/02/04/amazon-had-to-pay-federal-income-taxes-for-the-first-time-since-2016.html

For Alibaba:

Alibaba paid more than 7 billion yuan (HK$ 8.9 billion) in taxes last year, averaging around 20 million in taxes per day, Jack Ma revealed in a company letter on Monday, according to The Beijing News.

https://www.scmp.com/business/companies/article/1410260/alibabas-7-billion-yuan-tax-bill-among-jack-mas-proudest-moments

Latency and Disconnect in the new construction yield and school over-capacity

There have been continuous discussions of school prediction where new housing development is not reflecting the school overcrowding issue. Here I am sharing some numbers from 15 housing developments. We have the projected student numbers and the real enrollment in 2018,2019 and 2020. The real enrollment is as high as 6 times as projected for High School, 4.66 times for Middle School and 3.61 times for Elementary School. Why is there such a disconnect? Here are some of my thoughts.

  1. The first year projection (New Construction Yield for Howard County Council terminology) on new housing development does not tell the whole story.
  2. One example, when the house permit is approved in the first year and the house is sold on the second year, it will be counted as resale. For the general public, this should be counted as new development enrollment.
  3. We should look at accumulated enrollment number over the years on new development parcel until it is done. There is a huge latency and discrepancy while only considering the new student number at the first year.
  4. I propose that the impact number (New Construction Yield) should use a different formula:
    • total enrolled students after all houses are sold divided by total house number
    • it could be further divided by total year of development carefully if we need consider yearly yield.
  5. I am looking forward to the new number based on this formula for New Construction Yield.
  6. After all houses are sold, there will be continuous resale. Then we can make a simple assumption that those resale will follow the general housing market.

What is your thought? Please share it with me at chao_wu@hcpss.org. Thanks a lot for helping me understand this issue better. Together we hope we can get this right.

The ration between Real Enrollment over New Construction Yield

The real enrollment

The New Construction Yield:

The data is attached here for your reference. I am very grateful that BOE board member VicKy Cutroneo put many efforts on this and shared this data with me.

Howard County Board of Education Adopts FY22 Operating and Capital Budgets

May 27, 2021

Board of Education Adopts FY22 Operating and Capital Budgets

Ellicott City, Maryland — The Howard County Board of Education adopted its Operating and Capital Budgets for the 2021-2022 school year (FY 2022) on Thursday, May 27, 2021. The operating budget totals $942.6 million, an increase of $23.9 million over FY 2021. The FY 2022 capital budget totals $90.4 million, providing continuity of funding for priority capital projects.

The FY 2022 operating budget maintains the school system’s focus on supporting students and the staff who are entrusted with their education and care, by maintaining existing program and service levels without reducing class sizes or staff positions. It includes funding to advance the Board’s key priorities, including addressing critical shortages in special education staffing, enhancing the staffing and focus on student mental health and well-being, and increasing staff compensation.

“I am pleased that despite the need to make difficult decisions, we are able to increase our continuous support for special education, focus on students’ mental health and well-being, maintain class sizes, and advance other essential goals for the support of our students and excellent staff,” said Board Chair Dr. Chao Wu. “I appreciate the support and collaboration among our County Executive, County Council, Board members, Superintendent, staff and community members, which have resulted in a budget that is fiscally responsible while addressing the Board’s most critical priorities.”

“This budget moves our system forward in enhancing services and supports to give each student the best possible education in a nurturing learning environment, and to support the staff whom we entrust with their learning and care,” said HCPSS Superintendent Dr. Michael J. Martirano. “This budget represents a substantial increase in positions to support student well-being – which has been one of my top priorities – and adds five social workers, three pupil personnel workers, thirteen counselors and one psychologist. I greatly appreciate the ongoing collaboration among our county leaders, Board, staff and community, whose dedicated efforts have been instrumental in ensuring financial support for our students and schools within a very tight fiscal environment.”

The $942.6 million operating budget includes $640.8 million in county funding, representing approximately $10.5 million above Maintenance of Effort, the minimum level of funding required by state law; $282.5 million from the state; and $7.4 million from federal and other sources. The budget also includes the use of $12 million of unassigned fund balance in order to fulfill obligations and advance key goals without requiring deeper impact to the classroom.

The approved FY 2022 operating budget maintains the school system’s commitment to sound fiscal management and cost containment while fulfilling several of HCPSS’ highest priorities:

  • Addresses critical shortages in special education with the addition of 70.7 staff positions
  • Accommodates enrollment changes while maintaining current class sizes with the addition of 27 pooled positions
  • Enhances student well-being and mental health services through the addition of 22 student services positions, including five social workers, three pupil personnel workers, thirteen school counselors, and one school psychologist
  • Enhances support for early reading instruction and to address dyslexia and other reading challenges, with the addition of 4.5 reading specialist positions and DIBELS training for staff
  • Funds compensation increases for all staff
  • Sustains the recent investments in technology with the addition of 5.0 positions
  • Reduces the remaining Health Fund deficit by applying a $10 million, one-time county funding allocation
  • Fully funds actuarial projected employee health insurance costs for the fourth consecutive year

As a result of the ongoing budget pressures in the county and state, the needs of the school system continue to outpace funding allocations, and the Board had to make difficult decisions to balance the FY 2022 budget. Significant savings were realized by eliminating proposed new staff positions associated with enrollment growth anticipated in the 2021-2022 school year, while increasing the number of pooled positions to allow flexibility in staffing assignments throughout the year. Notably, the adopted budget avoids any reductions in services or programs, or increases in class size.  

Additional savings were achieved through the use of grant funding to cover as many costs as possible for technology infrastructure and student services. HCPSS will continue to aggressively seek federal and state grant funding to accelerate learning recovery and help relieve costs resulting from the pandemic and its impact on students and schools.

The Board adopted a FY 2022 Capital Budget totaling $90.4 million, for costs associated with continued construction of a replacement Talbott Springs Elementary School, scheduled to open in fall 2022; continued construction of a new 13th county high school, targeted to open in fall 2023; and a renovation and addition to Hammond High School, scheduled for completion in fall 2023. Additional funding is allocated for on-going and systemic renovations, which include replacements and upgrade of rooftops, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems at several schools, and other continued capital needs.

Details of the budget decisions are available online.

Chart School Application

HCPSS BOE is receiving its first charter school application, at least in my term. Here it is the application document for discussion on Thursday May 27, 2021. The school will be located in Elkridge and focus on students with needs.

The report provides the evaluation of the Reading Opens Doors, Inc charter school application. The original letter of intent and application were received on August 7, 2020 with the final application documents received on March 4, 2021. The applicant’s focus is to maximize the academic abilities of K-5th vulnerable and marginalized children and help them to pursue their dreams.

Here is the application pdf file.

The Housing Opportunity Master Plan for Howard County with my comments

Who are on the committee?

Maybe I missed, I did not see any Asian Americans on this committee, nor Latino Americans.

Some comments on the challenges raised in the report

CHALLENGE #1: LAND USE, PLANNING, AND ZONING

Housing supply has not kept up with housing demand, particularly over the last decade and given recent employment growth. This imbalance between supply and demand is leading to rising affordability issues.

Wu Comment: what is the goal (balance point) for the demand and need? If we don’t define it, we will see this argument for life.

CHALLENGE #2: LAND USE, PLANNING, AND ZONING

A lack of housing diversity throughout Howard County inhibits racial and socioeconomic integration. Historically disadvantaged populations, lower-income households and households experiencing poverty find that most of the housing options affordable to them are concentrated in only a few locations. This challenge is especially problematic considering that most remaining land and school capacity is in the Rural West, where current zoning regulations largely prohibit affordable housing development of any kind.

Wu Comment: But they are keeping building low-income houses in a few buildings in the Columbia downtown area, instead those should be spreat out. The newly proposed policies keep the same old, ill-practice.

CHALLENGE #3: LAND USE, PLANNING, AND ZONING

New development today is less diverse than the housing inventory overall. In recent years, new development has shifted in favor of rental apartments, and—at the same time—the for-sale market has largely stopped building smaller, attainably priced for-sale housing.

Wu Comment: there are only limited lands available and only 7% land left for development in Howard County.

CHALLENGE #4: PROGRAMS AND POLICIES

Howard County lacks a cohesive strategy for prioritization, policy/program design, and resource allocation.

Wu Comment: The policies are driven by developers such that loophole and exception everywhere.

CHALLENGE #5: PROGRAMS AND POLICIES

Existing resources are not sufficient to meet current and future capacity and demands (e.g., schools, transportation, etc.) while also dedicating funds to housing goals.

Wu Comment: That is the reason we need slow down new development to make sure the current school capacity and infrastructure to catch up first. Keeping building more and we will never catch up.

CHALLENGE #6: PROGRAMS AND POLICIES

It continues to be difficult to supply housing for diverse populations, with significant needs going forward.

Wu Comment: this is a very vague statement and it be applied anywhere they see fit.

CHALLENGE #7: PROGRAMS AND POLICIES

The COVID-19 pandemic and associated economic disruption is exposing and exacerbating housing insecurity.

Wu Comment: This is true.

  1. Housing security actually relates to job security. Sometimes policy with good intention can lead to larger harm. Remembering the 2008 finance crisis which crippled many many families, was built on the assumption: everyone should buy a house.
  2. Another is a sound personal financial management. How to spend the money we have wisely is not an easy task.

CHALLENGE #8: PROGRAMS AND POLICIES

A large portion of housing that is affordable to low- and moderate-income households in Howard County is older and at risk of deterioration and/or redevelopment going forward.

Wu Comment:

  1. Yes. We need revitalization on those houses with policy, monetary and community support.
  2. Look at the affordable housing debate in 2016, a proposal by Council Member, now state delegate Jen Terrasa where the proposal required 15% affordable units in all new housing development. It did not pass the county council. Here is the article I wrote at that time: https://chaowu.org/2016/07/27/columbias-downtown-and-affordable-housing/
  3. Another event showed developers’ influence during the last APFO update vote. The developers were sitting in the George Howard Building. In that night past 12 o’clock, some of them shouted on social media: your vote was illegitimate because of some procedure violation. I could not recall much detail for that night now unfortunately.

CHALLENGE #9: HOUSING AND INFRASTRUCTURE

The Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (“APFO”) is placing significant limitations on the amount of housing that can be built, and it is
potentially accelerating those capacity issues by limiting the ability to increase the tax base.

Wu Comment: New housing development could not pay for itself, neither school funding nor other infrastructure cost. Here is my calculation for your reference: https://chaowu.org/2021/05/10/some-math-about-hcpss-funding-needs-and-gaps/

The whole report is here:

Latest APFO chart from HCPSS

The Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO) School Capacity charts are utilized as part of the growth management process of Howard County for new residential developments. The test year for the 2021 APFO
School Capacity Charts is SY 2024-25. For SY 2024-25, there are 22 elementary, six middle, and five high
schools listed as constrained. Additionally, there are two elementary school regions listed as constrained,
which constrains two additional schools, bringing the total to 24 elementary schools. (see Attachment 2).

Some math about HCPSS funding needs and gaps

Some math about HCPSS funding needs and gaps

I wrote something on this topic before. Here I am doing some simple math again with a relative simple model. Please let me know if you have any suggestions. Revised according to some suggestions.

Funding needs because of student enrollment growth

  1. We have been seeing an average of 1000 new students per year for HCPSS in the past 10 years. Assuming 10% of the growth are students with special needs.
  2. The increased cost is : 900*10,000 per student for general education from county funding +100*30000 per student for special education from county funding =12 million dollars
  3. Another calculation using average (16k per student ) 16k * 1000=16 million dollars. County funds 2/3 of those, which is equivalent 10.6 million dollars.
  4. So in general, we need more than 10 million extra dollars each year to accommodate our student’s growth in order not to increase class size or cut service.

Does housing development pay the cost?

  1. Assuming a house has two students over 30 years staying at HCPSS, ignoring inflation.
  2. The property tax for a 400k house is 4k*30=120 K dollars in total.
  3. The cost for 2 new students for HCPSS: 50k ( per student per seat in capital budget) *2 + 10000*13 (years)*2 = 360 K dollars
  4. The gap of funding is 240 K per house.
  5. If the house keeps generating students continuously ( the family moves in only when students attending HCPSS, assuming 20 years for two students ) , the tax will be 4k*20=80k. The gap will be 280k. Every forty year, the funding gap will be 560K, more than half million dollars.
  6. There are also many other costs (infrastructure, county government etc) beyond school system.

Control the city(Columbia)

“Control the city”, “Ownership and monopoly-like control over small cities” are those phrases really catching my eyes when I read the Howard Hughes Corporation’s Q4 2020 presentation.

The opportunity to control cities and monopoly-like control

Columbia

By the way, in the slides where it talks about Ward Village, Honolulu, they are building really expensive houses, for example, 36 million dollars houses.

The presentation is attached here:

HCPSS is hiring bus drivers

HCPSS is hiring bus drivers

Interested in becoming a bus driver?

Applicants must:

  • Be at least 21 years of age
  • Have a clean driving record
  • Have a clean criminal background
  • Be willing to work 180 days a year, and be off during the summer months (however, possible summer work is available)

View a list of current bus contractors and call their office for an application.

To be a certified school bus driver, you are required to:

  • Possess a Commercial Drivers License (CDL) with a “P” and “S” (passenger and school bus) endorsement. The HCPSS provides the behind-the-wheel instruction to acquire this license and the necessary endorsements.
  • Pass a physical and drug screening examination.
  • Provide a driving record that shows two or less current points. The driver will be able to acquire this from the MVA.
  • Submit to a criminal background check that results in no disqualifying convictions or outstanding criminal charges.
  • Complete an 18-hour pre-service training program for certification in Howard County provided by the HCPSS Pupil Transportation Office.
  • Wages and number of hours worked vary from contractor to contractor.

For questions regarding an application, please contact the Pupil Transportation Office at 410-313-6732 or view the current bus contractor list for direct phone numbers.

Think twice about passing that school bus. In Howard County, it could cost  you $250. - Baltimore Sun

Discussion at the Howard County Council meeting with SAAC committee

Discussion at the Howard County Council meeting with SAAC committee

I put up the speech last night and did not do much grammar check.

Chair Walsh, thanks for inviting me to this meeting. This is Dr. Chao Wu, chair of Howard County Board of Education. I am not speaking on behalf of the board, even though probably every board member agrees with me.  I appreciate the county council for giving me the opportunity.

Since the release of the Spending Affordability Advisory Committee (SAAC) report, it has been a month and half. Our county executive already released his 2022 capital budget.

I would like to talk about the SAAC report and the ongoing challenges the school system is facing. I am also proposing two possible solutions. 

First, let’s talk about 2022 school system capital projects. There is an urgent funding need for school maintenance and three new construction projects (Talbott Springs ES, Hammond High and HS 13). Under the county executive 2022 capital budget, the gap is as high as 30 million dollars for the school system.

  1. The Board and HCPSS staff have continuously noted during public discussions with the County Council and State Delegation regarding the costs of these three construction projects. These projects moved forward with construction in 2021 because of the joint commitment to maintain this funding. 
  2. However, with  the current capital funding level from the county’s 2022 capital budget, we have to defer many maintenance projects again. Some projects have been deferred for more than 10 years, even 20 years. That is one reason why the school system is having a 800 million dollars maintenance list since we keep deferring them. Here are some examples:
    1. ARL Heating ventilation and Air Conditioning renovation, last replaced 1968. Older than many people here. The cost is 25 million dollars.
    2. Centennial High School Renovation, Addition and HVAC replacement, last replaced 1997. Cost 90 million dollars.
    3. Dunloggin Middle School, Renovation, Addition and HVAC replacement, last replaced in 1994,  cost 41 million dollars.
    4. Elkridge Landing Middle School, HVAC replacement, last replaced 1995. Cost 10 million dollars
    5. Forest Ridge Elementary School, Heating ventilation and air conditioning system replacement, last replaced 1992, cost 42 million dollars
    6. Fulton Elementary School, HVAC and Roof replacement, last replaced 1997, cost 18 million dollars
    7. Hammond Middle School, Renovation and HVAC replacement, 41 million dollars
    8. Harpers Choice Middle school, renovation and HVAC replacement, 17 million dollars,
    9. Jefferson Hills ES, Boiler replacement, last replaced 1974, cost 0.5 million dollars; HVAC replacement, last replaced 1998, cost 51 million dollars
    10. Long Reach High School, HVAC replacement, 38 million dollars
    11. Manor Woods Elementary School, HVAC replacement, last replaced 1994, cost 10 million dollars
    12. Mayfield Woods MS renovation, 41 million dollars
    13. Oakland Mills High School, renovation,  last renovated 1973, cost 110 million 
    14. Oakland Mills Middle School renovation, 51 million dollars
    15. Old Cedar Lane, replacement of heating, ventilation, air conditioning, last replaced 1982, cost 10 million dollars
    16. Patapsco Middle School, Renovation and HVAC replacement, last replaced 1996, cost 51 million dollars
    17. Pointers Run Elementary School, renovation, 20 million dollars
    18. St Johns Lane Elementary School, HVAC replacement, , 16 million dollars
    19. Wilde Lake High School, HVAC and boilers replacement.  Cost 5.5 million dollars.
  3. New school construction is needed for our country’s rapid development and continuous student enrollment increase. 
  4. Maintenance funding is needed to provide a safe and pleasant working and learning environment. 
  5. Missing either new school funding or the maintenance funding will lead us to a more dire situation since we don’t see any relief coming soon:  future county revenue projection is slowing down and the student enrollment keeps increasing due to fast housing development across the whole county. 

Second, let’s talk about the operating budget. We are looking forward that a hold-harmless number (maintaining FY21 funding level) should be maintained. We did see the enrollment dip because of the pandemic. However, we should expect the student will come back in the fall when we expect HCPSS will have full five-day in-classroom instruction. We should have this confidence that HCPSS will continue to provide quality education to attract parents and students to come to our school. 

Third, over the last three budget cycles, HCPSS has realigned and reduced spending considerably by eliminating positions, increasing class sizes and cutting programs to balance our budget. We can only do so much with limited funding. 

Finally, I strongly believe and propose a solution:  our county’s capital project funding ,operating budget funding and our county’s planning and zoning (by the way, I mean HoCo by Design or the general plan) should always put HCPSS in the center of every decision. 

Proposal for MOE formula for deferred maintenance

 I also propose that we create an MOE (maintenance of effort) for deferred maintenance too, which will hold our county executive and county council accountable for our school system’s maintenance funding.  Once a current aging HVAC system fails catastrophically and no replacement parts will be available due to the old aging system, we have no wiggle room to defer them any longer. The longer we kick the can further away, the higher cost it needs in the future. Keeping deferring them is to cheat ourselves and jeopardize our short term and long term financial health. Past decisions not funding them sufficiently and aggregating to such a large number should be a waking call for us all.

More than 90% of our county’s tax comes from personal income tax and property tax. We should value our parents’ trust in our education system. So all stakeholders, including the county executive, county council and the school board should work hard, both on the funding side and planning side to maintain HCPSS’s reputation. 

Thank you.

HoCo County Council Bill CB 24-2021

HoCo County Council Bill CB 24-2021

CB24-2021 has two amendment areas.

  1. The first addresses the addition of a public ethics report to be made by applicants for development regarding campaign contributions/business with County Council members and/or the County Executive.
  2. The second would prohibit action on proposed zoning regulation amendments during a period leading up to the adoption of a new Howard County General Plan (specifically, nine years after the implementation of the current plan up until the new plan is adopted – this plan is currently on a 10-year cycle, thus this would apply one year before adoption).

While staff cannot estimate a direct impact on HCPSS without knowing what proposed regulations may be delayed by the bill, generally they would agree with the notion that if changes to the General Plan are imminent within the next year, passing new zoning regulations may be counterintuitive to the purpose of the plan itself to provide guidance.

The video is here: