Prince George’s Council Approves “Prudent” Budget

The Prince George’s County Council passed a $3.8 million budget last Thursday, an increase of $130.7 million or 3.5% over the FY 2017 Budget, reflecting the county’s rebounding economy. It includes salary increases for county employees and $51 million for education, far above the county’s required maintenance of effort. Lawmakers authorized the school system to transfer $12 million from its rainy day fund to its operating budget. The Washington Post reports:

Rising property values and a full year of operations at the MGM National Harbor casino raised revenue projections in the proposed budget crafted by County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D). The budget called for increased spending but at far more modest levels than the three previous years of Baker’s administration.

The county council, led by Chair Derrick L. Davis (D-Mitchellville), made few changes to the plan, saying he and his colleagues approached the budget with the same kind of “prudence” Baker expressed, given concerns about how President Trump’s proposed 2018 federal budget could affect the Washington suburbs.

Cuts to federal funds could have severe consequences, particularly in Prince George’s, home to tens of thousands of federal workers. The county is depending on massive federal resources to complete such projects as the Purple Line. And it is competing to be selected as the home for a new FBI headquarters, which could be a boon to the county economy.

Major cuts to federal spending will affect the entire Washington region, but those reductions may slice more deeply in Prince George’s, where voter-imposed tax caps limit the amount of revenue the government can raise to mitigate the effects, Davis said.

[School System chief Kevin] Maxwell requested a massive $122.6 million for fiscal 2018, but both the county executive and council resisted, authorizing less than half of that.

The council, however, did find room for new but small investments in social programs to help seniors, home buyers and the homeless. It added an additional $5 million to Baker’s proposal to pay for some school repairs and library materials and added $2 million for workforce development and training programs at the community college.

Money for road and infrastructure improvements were also a major priority. Lawmakers also plan to continue a grant program they initiated a few months ago, doling out county dollars to nonprofits working to help domestic-violence and abuse survivors.

The most controversial departure from the county executive’s budget was the council’s decision to reallocate $3.5 million from Baker’s economic-development incentive fund to pay for a one-time financing gap to “stabilize” services for residents with disabilities over the next two years.

Service providers lobbied heavily for the subsidy after the county raised the minimum wage above the state level in 2013. Advocates argued that their agencies, which are funded by the state, were struggling to comply and faced deficits in providing critical services to residents with developmental and intellectual disabilities.

To avoid service cuts, the council included the gap financing but called on the state to act to resolve the long-term funding challenges for service providers.

The county executive has 10 days to review the budget. If he does not veto it, the spending plan will take effect July 1.

See earlier Conduit Street  coverage of the County Executive’s proposed budget here.