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Is It Drafty In Here?

Rosalind Helderman

If at first you don't succeed...

In a letter submitted to the Prince Georges's County Council Wednesday, Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) made it clear he would like the group to approve his proposal to raise county phone taxes by 3 percent.

He called it "the preferred method for funding the school system's budget." He said the tax would provide "a reliable source of ongoing revenue with which to fund major programmatic improvements" for schools. And he suggested a council suggestion for making up the money without the tax--using surplus school funds--could create an imbalance in future years once the surplus is gone.

But these haven't been Johnson's only words on the topic. On Tuesday, his staff unveiled a first draft of the same letter to the council during a committee meeting. In that version, Johnson was far blunter.

He called the tax the "responsible path" for school funding and said it would "not be sound fiscal practice" to use the school surplus in place of the tax. He suggested also that if the council does not approve the tax, the "responsible fiscal practice" would be for them to cut the Board of Education budget--a move he knows would be politically tricky.

"In light of our successes in improving the financial position of the county, it would be unwise and unfortunate if the Council were to substitute a temporary fix for a viable ongoing revenue source that can pay for school improvements on a permanent basis," he wrote in the first draft.

Reports from the committee meeting indicate council members were quite ticked off at the letter, particularly its implications that they were putting school system funding at risk. In strong terms, they urged revisions. Apparently, they got them.

In an interview Wednesday, Chairman Camille Exum (D-Seat Pleasant) declined to comment on reports that Johnson had felt the tax was the "responsible" path for funding. She indicated in public comments that schools would receive "funding priority" regardless of the fate of the tax.

Johnson spokesman James Keary said formal letters often go through several drafts. "The final version is the actual document," he said.

By Rosalind Helderman  |  May 24, 2007; 2:00 PM ET
Categories:  Rosalind Helderman  
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