It’s an official big mess in Prince George’s County

Tax debates highlight community concerns

rushern-baker-head-111010wMr. Rushern Baker –The current County Executive for Prince George’s County is known not to be a man of his word according to Prince George’s County NAACP Chapter and is deeply involved in the scandal comprising Dr. kevin Maxwell 

Kudos to the Prince George’s County Council for the recent reaction and veto concerning tax hikes advanced by the Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker III. However, on Monday June 15th, 2015, Mr. Rushern L. Baker III announced  that he will veto parts of the budget approved by the County Council, restoring most of the tax increases that lawmakers rejected and setting up a possible legal showdown between the two branches of government. The County Council approved tax increase that would benefit the Maryland National Capital Park & Planning Commission and teacher retirement system which was meant to help stop the fiasco to some degree.

While the parks system is valuable, priorities should dictate that additional revenue go to county schools which has no accountability mechanism to the determent of the county citizenry. According to Mr. Baker, the county schools need much more resources.  Mr. Baker repeated an assertion made by his aides last week that the council acted illegally when it cut much of his proposed 15-cent property tax hike.

While Baker’s rationale for the veto makes sense to some degree, his criticism of the council’s actions spotlights concerns that exist in his own office, as well. According to some county parents who did not want to be identified for fear of retaliation, they stated that the county ranks in the top five in the nation on per capita spending on school children. The funding is already more than adequate. In any case, money is not the problem and raising taxes to hire more administrators, relatives, and politically-connected contractors is not going to improve school performance. Mr. Baker and the council needs to focus on the money being wasted at Sasscer Administrative Building in Upper Marlboro. Dr. Kevin Maxwell either needs to be reigned in to do the right thing or resign his position.

In any event, in a letter to council Chairman Mel Franklin (See attached below), Baker explains that the council did not “sufficiently inform the public” about the increase. Franklin says the budget meeting was open to the public and a video of the meeting was online, but Baker is right. The council should have made a more significant effort to alert residents about plans to raise the tax and sought their input. It’s the same criticism Baker faced when he decided to overhaul the school board in 2013 with a personal motive, only a few weeks left in the legislative session and little opportunity for input from residents.

Sufficient time must be allotted for community involvement in such important decisions, whether they are made by the council or the county executive.

Baker’s letter also mentions that the council’s lack of public engagement prevented discussions on the “propriety of such an increase.” He mentions that the council didn’t extend the “same courtesy” he provided to residents by hosting community forums as he sought to increase property taxes by 15.6 percent.

What Baker fails to mention, however, is that the increase he was seeking was a slap in the face to county residents who felt blindsided by his proposal. The county has a decades-old, voter-imposed tax cap that Baker circumvented using a fairly recent state law that allows him to override county rules if the tax hike benefits schools. The county tax cap did not apply to M-NCPPC’s funding.

So while it’s wonderful that Baker took a community approach to his proposed tax hike, many questioned the “propriety” and “courtesy” of his efforts, as well.

Additionally, if a County Council cannot alter/amend a budget submitted by the county executive who is on his last term, we do not live in a democracy! The County Council needs to play it’s rightful role and put Mr. Baker on the spotlight instead of the other way around.

The only thing that appears clear in this whole taxing mess is that county leaders clearly aren’t on the same page regarding priorities, and both branches need to work harder to ensure taxpayers — those footing the bill for such major decisions — become a critical part of the process on a consistent basis.

On this note, as we have said it before more than a year ago today, and will keep saying it. The Democratic’s choice for County Executive in Prince George’s at the moment is appalling. It’s like letting a snake enter your house and bite your child’s buttock as you watch. (Read more ~ Major Scandal underway)

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Prince George’s County Council led Mr. Mel Franklin must do the right thing and Keep the County Executive in proper Check. 

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“There are known knowns; there are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things we now know that we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don’t know” – Donald Henry Rumsfeld, US Diplomat.

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