Court battle is ‘next step’ on spending plan
In a hastily scheduled late-night session Tuesday, the Prince George’s County Council voted 8-0 to override the county executive’s budget veto, and the matter will likely be decided in court.
“The county attorney [M. Andree Green] was very clear that she considers the budget illegal, and so the next step is to go to litigation,” said Scott Peterson, spokesman for Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D).
County Council Chairman Mel Franklin (D-Dist. 9) of Upper Marlboro said in a statement emailed after the vote that the county executive’s threat of litigation was an effort to force the council to impose a tax increase.
“The stunning prospect of the County Executive essentially suing this Council, and thus the nearly 900,000 residents we represent, would be self-destructive, self-defeating and irresponsible, especially given the major economic opportunities this county is pursuing,” Franklin said in the statement.
On Monday, Baker announced his veto of the County Council’s approved budget because it violated the county charter, claiming he was legally obligated to do so.
“I have been advised by the county attorney not to sign this legislation because it is in violation of the county charter,” Baker said.
At issue is a 15.6 percent property tax increase in Baker’s proposed budget to fund education. Prince George’s County property taxes are capped, but Baker has cited a 2012 law passed by the state General Assembly that allows counties to raise revenues above tax caps as long as the funds are mandated for education. An opinion from the state Attorney General’s Office has stated that the state law supersedes the county charter.
On May 28, the County Council approved a budget that included a property tax increase for education of only 4 percent.
Baker’s said that Section 809 of the county charter allows the County Council to adjust the revenue estimates in the county executive’s proposed budget by no more than 1 percent.
“The changes the County Council approved in adopting the budget have reduced the revenues in my proposed budget by 2.5 percent,” Baker said.
Thomas Himler, Baker’s chief budget officer, said that a reduction in line with a 1 percent revenue decrease would require a real property tax increase of 11.45 cents per $100 assessed value, or 11.9 percent.
Hyattsville resident Judy Robinson of the tax cap advocacy nonprofit PG Tax Watch said that both the council’s actions and the county executive’s veto are violations of the spirit, if not the letter, of the voter-imposed property tax caps.
“As far as I’m concerned, none of this is legal,” Robinson said. “Whether it’s 15 cents or 11 cents or four cents, whatever they approve, we the voters would have to respond to it by charter amendment or referendum vote.”
Robinson said she thought it was ironic Baker was using the county charter to defend a tax increase that goes against the county charter.
“I think Mr. Baker is grasping at straws,” Robinson said. “His lawyers in Upper Marlboro are up there searching the charter to find any way to make this sound legal.”
Barbara Michelman of Cheverly, a proponent of Baker’s initial tax proposal for education, said she is very frustrated with the way the budget process has played out, and the apparent lack of communication between the county executive and the council.
“We need people to put their personalities and their egos to the side and come to the table to work out an agreement, and do what is right for the children,” Michelman said.
Additionally, Prince George’s county citizenry should not be confused as sleeping on the wheel even though some appears to be! When Mr. Baker took office in 2010, the county had over $100 million in surplus. What happened to that money? The county citizenry and the County council ought to be asking tough questions to Mr. Baker on how the county end up with $62.5 million deficit and which is growing. Unless we make the county leadership accountable and demand answers, it is going to be a vicious cycle for many years to come. The same goes for millions mismanaged by the Prince George’s county Public Schools under Kevin Maxwell and Mr. Baker’s brother in Law Mr. Segun.
Lastly, Prince George’s County citizenry believe that, Mr. Baker made a case for a 15% increase in the tax rate when they already pay a higher rate than much wealthier Montgomery County. There is no doubt that, Mr. Baker undertook a valiant but likely doomed effort to generate substantial new revenue for the chronically underfunded Prince George’s school system. However, Many people in the county think that, the school budget could use some serious reexamination. Why on earth does Superintendent Maxwell, who is paid $300,000, have a chauffeur-driven, county-provided car? On that salary–not to mention his $1,000,000 signing bonus—yes, one million dollars, he can surely pay for his own car and drive it himself. Above all, many of his bureaucrats hired recently to the tune of millions of dollars without accountability are now using consultants— yes, consultants to do their jobs. Many reporters in the Washington DC area have not picked up the injustice and the inequality on these issues within the county.
This report was written by Jamie Anfenson-Comeau of the Gazette and PGCPSMESS contributed.
Read more >>> It’s an official big mess in Prince George’s County
This is the sign in which Rushern Baker III is sticking to his argument. Everyone We have talked to including our followers in the blogs has called this Pr. George’s budget process the most bizarre and protracted in history of the county due to lack of transparency and proper public input on both sides. Mr. Baker announced budget vetoes yesterday (June 16th, 2015). The county council followed suit claiming supremacy and independence and vetoed every line Mr. Baker overruled.