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Baker: O'Malley should veto Pr. Geo's tax measure

Jonathan Mummolo

Here's something you don't see very often: A candidate coming out against a tax break in an election year.

Former Del. Rushern L. Baker III (D), who is running for Prince George's County Executive, said Gov. Martin O'Malley should veto a bill on his desk that would give residents a tax break because it could also impair the county's ability to avoid furloughing workers in this year's budget.

The bill would place a cap on taxes that county residents pay to the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, an agency that serves Prince George's and Montgomery counties. The cap, because of the way it would be applied, would cost the commission an estimated $18 million in the next fiscal year, and Prince George's has been relying on the commission to supplement its operating budget.

In short, that could mean complicating County Executive Jack B. Johnson's plans to avoid a third straight year of furloughs for county workers, better funding education and eliminating planned layoffs, some officials have said.

"We have to have people working, we have to have morale high, and if this is going to help us not have to furlough employees ... I would ask the governor to veto it," Baker said in a Wednesday interview.

Not every candidate agreed. Del. Gerron S. Levi (D-Prince George's), who is also running, said she wants O'Malley to sign the bill so residents can get some financial relief.

"This is a tough time for homeowners -- high foreclosures, high mortgage delinquencies, and high unemployment -- so if Park and Planning is collecting a surplus of tax dollars, and the county and state are diverting those surplus dollars to general government uses, we simply must refund to homeowners some of their money back in these tough times," Levi said in a statement. "The Governor ought to sign the bill into law."

The county budget proposed by Johnson (D) includes more than $60 million from the Prince George's side of the commission. If the commission takes an $18 million hit, it might be hard-pressed to provide that assistance without changing plans for projects that include improvements to parks and athletic facilities throughout the county. The agency might have to borrow money for projects or delay or scuttle them, officials said.

The budget dilemma stems largely from an amendment added to the tax cap bill late in the session by Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters (D-Prince George's). Dubbed a "technical amendment" -- which typically would not significantly affect legislation -- the change was approved with little study, several members said.

Taxes residents pay to the commission are based on property assessments, and the new measure would place a cap on how much of a home's value could be taxed. Peters's amendment would exempt portions of past assessment increases when calculating future taxes, which would lead to a more immediate tax break for residents and a more dramatic revenue loss for the commission.

"I don't know how you consider $18 million a technical amendment," Baker said.

He added that he thinks a tax break is needed, but he still favors vetoing this bill because, he said, it could lead to furloughs.

"I think a tax break is very important. It's one of the things I've talked a lot about. ... I think our property taxes are way too high. ... But given the hard choices, I would chose to have money to employ our people."

An O'Malley spokesman said last week that the governor and his staff are still reviewing the "pros and cons" of the bill.

This post has been updated since it was first published.

By Jonathan Mummolo  |  April 28, 2010; 3:00 PM ET
Categories:  2010 Elections , General Assembly , Governor , Jonathan Mummolo , Prince George's County  
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PRESS RELEASE
For immediate release:
April 28, 2010

For more information:
John E. Erzen
Press Information Officer
Prince George’s County
Office of the County Executive
301-952-4131


COUNTY EXECUTIVE URGES GOVERNOR TO SIGN LEGISLATION TO SAVE COUNTY TAXPAYERS $18 MILLION

UPPER MARLBORO, MD – Prince George’s County Executive Jack Johnson today urged Governor Martin O’Malley to sign legislation that will provide $18 million in tax relief to county residents.

“During these difficult economic times, our citizens have been struggling to make ends meet and this legislation will provide needed tax relief,” Johnson said. “This additional money will make it easier for residents to pay their bills and provide for their families.”

Senate Bill 683 was passed by the Maryland General Assembly on the last day of the 2010 session. If signed into law by the Governor, it will place a cap on taxes county residents pay to the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. This will provide parity with Montgomery County residents who already enjoy this tax relief.

Johnson said the reduction in funding to the Park and Planning Commission would not impact operations if the agency would make cuts that other government agencies have made over the last two years. Those cuts include a reduction or elimination of merit and Cost of Living increases, hiring freezes, reductions in non-essential operating costs, elimination of program enhancements and elimination of new positions.

“I believe that by considering all the aforementioned options, the Administration, the County Council and the Commission can put together a plan for meeting the necessary reductions to produce a sound, balanced fiscal year 2011 budget,” Johnson said in an April 22 letter to County Council Chairman Thomas Dernoga.

Note: Full letter can be found in the Newsroom section at www.princegeorgescountymd.gov

###

Posted by: JohnErzen | April 29, 2010 11:38 AM | Report abuse

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