Tag Archives: property tax

Update: Budget war in Prince George’s: Council overrides Rushern Baker’s vetoes

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The council reconvened at 8:30 p.m., with Deni Taveras (D-Adelphi) absent, and voted 8 to 0 to kill each of Baker’s 32 line-item vetoes, restoring the budget they passed on May 28, 2015.

June 16 at 10:15 PM

The Prince George’s County Council voted Tuesday to override budget vetoes handed down by County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, rejecting for the second time in three weeks a proposed double-digit increase in the property tax rate.

The decision illustrates a stark shift by the nine-member council, which has supported most of Baker’s major initiatives throughout his 4 1 /2 years in office.

It reflects concern among lawmakers about increasing the tax burden on the county’s residents, who already are taxed more than residents of neighboring jurisdictions and were hit hard by the recession and foreclosure crises. And it demonstrates skepticism of Baker’s theory that an infusion of money into the troubled public school system will catapult it from the bottom of state rankings to the top over the next five years.

Baker (D) said he vetoed parts of the council-approved budget for two reasons: Because he thinks more spending for schools is vital to the county’s future and because he thinks that the council acted illegally by trimming his budget request by more than 1 percent.

Council members say the second rationale is based on a misinterpretation of a 2006 law that addresses the council’s ability to adjust revenue projections — not budget appropriations.

Baker’s interpretation “is wrong and would unconstitutionally erode our system of checks and balances and give the county executive the near-unlimited power to raise taxes,” said Mel Franklin (D-Upper Marlboro), the council’s chairman.

Baker waited until a 5 p.m. deadline Tuesday to send his vetoes to the council, long after lawmakers’ legislative session was scheduled to have ended.

The council reconvened at 8:30 p.m., with Deni Taveras (D-Adelphi) absent, and voted 8 to 0 to kill each of Baker’s 32 line-item vetoes, restoring the budget they passed on May 28.

The council’s overrides reinstate a 4-cent increase in the property tax rate. Baker had originally proposed a 15-cent increase, then floated an 11.45-cent increase on Monday.

Although the amount is significantly smaller than what Baker sought, it would be the first property tax increase in Prince George’s in nearly four decades — a blow to anti-tax activists who pushed through a tax cap in 1978 and have defended it ever since.

Baker circumvented the cap using a 2012 state law that allows rate increases in excess of statutory limitations if they are specifically designated to fund approved public school budgets. Although members of the council objected during weeks of heated public hearings, they ended up implicitly endorsing the approach by voting for the 4-cent increase.

Lawmakers also overrode Baker’s veto of a 1.5-cent increase in the Prince George’s park and planning tax.

What happens next is unclear. Citizens could go to court to challenge the county’s decision to raise property taxes.

And Baker said Monday that the council’s override could be vulnerable to legal challenge as well, based on his contention that county law prohibits the council from adjusting the budget up or down by more than 1 percent.

Franklin called Baker’s discussion of litigation “embarrassing and strange” for the county as well as “self destructive and self-defeating.”

“Hopefully, the county executive will not go down that road.”

If no one challenges the budget, the version approved by the council would take effect July 1, the start of the fiscal year.

That budget eliminates furloughs and layoffs that Baker proposed to deal with a revenue shortfall and provides money to shore up teacher pensions. But it does not fund any of the programs Baker and school chief Kevin Maxwell have proposed to try to remake the public school system.

Read more >>> It’s an official big mess in Prince George’s County

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Baker’s interpretation “is wrong and would unconstitutionally erode our system of checks and balances and give the county executive the near-unlimited power to raise taxes,” said Mel Franklin (D-Upper Marlboro), the council’s chairman.

WRC_0000000010667624_1200x675_454237251635Mel Franklin (D-Upper Marlboro), the council’s chairman called Baker’s discussion of litigation “embarrassing and strange” for the county as well as “self destructive and self-defeating.”

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Pr. George’s Council approves 4% raise in Property taxes.

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A divided Prince George’s County Council passed a budget Thursday that would require a a four-percent increase in the property tax rate to generate revenue for public schools — far less money than proposed by County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, but still the first property tax hike in the county since voters approved a tax cap 37 years ago.

In a meeting that started more than two hours later than scheduled, council members rejected Baker’s proposal to raise taxes by a whopping 15 percent, generating $133 million in new money for public schools.

They also refused to consider a compromise plan — put forward by Baker on Wednesday — that called for $65 million in new schools funding.

Instead, the council voted 6-to-3 in favor of a budget that would raise the tax rate by 4 percent, generating $34 million in new schools money.

In order to take effect, the proposed tax rate must be the subject of a public hearing and another council vote before the start of the fiscal year on July 1.

>>> Read more Washington Post.

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Prince George’s Baker gives up on raising property taxes 15 percent

imageCounty Executive Rushern Baker III

UPPER MARLBORO, Md. – A proposed plan to help turnaround the Prince George’s County school system has been dramatically scaled back.

Through a spokesman, council members declined to comment on the revamped proposal in advance of Thursday’s vote. Before Wednesday, not a single council member had come out in support of the 15 percent tax increase.

Now, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker is instead asking for $65 million to pay for improvements designed to make the struggling school system one of the top 10 in Maryland. Originally, Baker called for a 15 percent property tax increase to the tune of $133 million to pay for his plan. The new proposal is about half of the original amount, but would still likely require some form of a tax increase.

However, Prince George’s county is consistently in the top 5 spenders amongst large school districts in the country. Many of us don’t think the amount is the problem… the problem is what they are spending it on… and the other parts of the equation – i.e. quality of parenting, home life, value placed on education at home. Lack of transparency and accountability is destroying the county to the ground.

“$65 million is the minimum investment we can make that will move us forward and significantly improve our ranking in the state,” Baker said. “Any investment less than that will not move the needle.”

Baker had repeatedly said the original increase was necessary to improve the county school system. However, some school board members were skeptical about any tax hike.

“If you’re going to have a serious compromise that you want to benefit kids, you can not increase property taxes at all without having a conversation about accountability, transparency and performance metrics. Whether you go halfway or all the way, if you don’t talk about auditing you’re not helping kids,” Edward Burroughs, a Prince George’s County School Board member said.

In addition to scaling back funding, Baker is also suggesting any tax hike for schools should only be temporary. Instead, he’s proposing a tax hike should only last for five years until the MGM Casino and other development projects in the county are completed and begin producing revenue.

While Baker calls the revised plan a comprise, critics call it a last ditch effort in the face of certain defeat. His original plan had no chance of passing the town council, and Baker is running out of time to make good on his promise to make the county school system one of the top 10 in the state in five years.

one blogger asked Mr. Baker to his face where the money was going to go. (See below). However, Mr. Baker did not respond. The problem with politicians like Baker is that they look for the easy way out. Instead of doing an overhaul of education to fix the problems of waste and graft, they just raise taxes and leave the problems to fester. The voters in Maryland are tired of this lazy approach.

The county council will vote at 1 p.m. Thursday on the proposed plan, which council members opted not to comment on Wednesday.

wusa9 contributed to this story.

http://www.pgtaxwatch.org/education.html

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Prince George’s bloggers sound off on proposal to raise property taxes

wecgVmWVuLZkLrQ-800x450-noPadOne blogger likened the buzz around Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III’s proposed property tax increases to “a plague of locusts.”

A frequent yet anonymous county political commentator dubbed the budget plan a “tax rip-off.”

And, of course, Change.org has a 300-signature petition going against the administration’s request to the County Council to raise revenue to pay for a $1.9 billion education budget.

The council’s vote is not until June, but the rancor surrounding Baker’s bold proposal is inciting furious debate in the blogosphere, community discussion boards and e-mail listservs where many Prince George’s County residents digest news about their government. The online posts are written by community activists and can be influential.

In southern Prince George’s County, for example, the Indian Head Highway Area Action Council maintains a large e-mail list that is distributed to 25 homeowner’s associations and civic groups from Accokeek to Forest Heights and beyond.

President Archie O’Neil wrote a policy statement for the group questioning the school system’s past expenditures and assertions by elected officials that more money will translate into better schools.

“There is a great possibility of having diminishing returns, if more funding is added to the education budget. There are socioeconomic issues we must address prior to increasing our school budget…Higher taxes will destroy Prince George’s County…”

That message reached Chris Bullock, president of the Simmons Acres Homeowner’s Association in Accokeek, who said the subject comes up often at their meetings: “I think people feel taxed-out,” he said. “We are all a little leery.”

Capitol Heights resident and attorney Bradley Heard has dedicated two recent posts on his blog the “Prince George’s Urbanist” to what opponents have described as Baker’s “brazen and unlawful attempt to circumvent voter-imposed property tax cap known as TRIM.” A third is coming.

The 1970s-era tax cap has been modified a few times in its history, but the core principle persists: Property taxes cannot be raised without voter approval. Detractors like Heard and Hyattsville activist Judy Robinson maintain any tax increases should be approved by voters — as outlined in the county charter — but a 2012 state law, S.B. 848, appears to have given the County Council the revenue-raising authority. Here’s what the state Attorney General’s Office had to say:

The Office of Attorney General has consistently advised that the referendum requirement and other charter limitations on the power of a county council to impose taxes does not apply when the council is acting pursuant to an authorization in a public general law enacted by the General Assembly.” (emphasis added)

In other words, state law supersedes county law.

But the legal view is separate and apart from what count taxpayers are saying, often angrily, during public meetings being held in each district. Council member Mary Lehman (D-Laurel) had to interrupt a recent Q&A event at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Beltstville to demand civility after some residents began to batter administration officials with accusations. Many residents are echoing Heard’s arguments about public distrust, the burden of struggling homeowners and the wisdom of “dramatically increasing” property taxes in a county where many are still recovering from the housing foreclosure crisis and the recession. As he wrote in one post:

“Baker is betting that his ‘let’s educate our children’ argument will eventually persuade a wary public and council to support his move. But raising taxes to increase school funding isn’t the right move for Prince George’s County at this juncture…While there may well be occasions when the county may need to raise taxes for the greater good, even if it risks alienating some people, now is not one of those times.“

Prince George’s County’s grass-roots activists are few but vocal. Their campaigns — over issues such as taxes and term limits — are consistently underfunded. But they have a history of winning, by convincing the electorate they are on the right side. Baker knows it. He was on the losing end of the most recent battle — over term limits.

But being a lawyer by training, the county executive said he is ready for this next debate and is convinced that residents with the right information will understand the urgency of his proposal. He is trying to head off the opposition’s contentions and persuade his constituents that “15 cents” (the proposed property tax increase from $0.96 to $1.11 per $100 of assessed value) is “not a tax increase” but “an investment,” through a series of live roundtable discussions. Schools chief executive Kevin Maxwell will be with him, making the rounds to explain the specifics of the education spending strategy to skeptics.

Baker made the pitch to a roomful of business and government leaders in his “state of the economy” speech on Thursday:

      My friends, it’s time for us to put up or forever hold our peace. We either want the best schools or we don’t. It is just that   simple! This is our moment … Now is the time.

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Opposition mounts to Prince George’s proposed tax increase.

Opponents say measure should be brought to referendum vote.

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County Executive Rushern Baker III proposed 15 percent tax increase to fund a $133 million county increase

Fort Washington resident Earl O’Neal said he is enraged by County Executive Rushern L. Baker’s proposed 15 percent tax increase to fund a $133 million county increase in the school system budget.

“There is no doubt that there is great need in Prince George’s County. But money is not going to fix what is wrong with our schools,” O’Neal said during Monday’s County Council meeting. Thirteen people spoke out against the tax increase, and no one spoke in favor.

Approximately 45 people were in attendance.

Baker is proposing raising residential and commercial property taxes approximately 15 percent to fund a large increase in education spending by the county. He is also proposing increasing the telecommunications tax from 8 percent to 12 percent.

Approximately $127.9 million would be raised to go towards the county school system’s request of $117.5 million in addition to the $15.5 million maintenance of effort increase required under state law.

Maryland state law requires school systems to maintain as a minimum, the per pupil funding amount in the previous year, referred to as maintenance of effort.

Should the tax increase go into effect, Prince George’s would have one of the highest residential property tax rates in the state, trailing only Charles County and Baltimore city, according to data from the Maryland Department of Assessment and Tax Rate.

Tax Reform Initiative by Marylanders, or TRIM, is a county law dating back to 1978 that requires a public referendum to raise property taxes.

Baker’s office is citing a 2012 state law that allows counties to raise taxes above voter-imposed tax caps if the money is used for education.

Judy Robinson of Hyattsville, past chair of citizen committees PG Citizens for Tax Reform and Term Limitation and Truth iN Taxation, said that while the 2012 Senate Bill 848 may allow the county to violate its own charter in regards to raising taxes, she believes the county charter still applies in requiring a referendum vote on any tax increase.

>>> Read more 

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Prince George’s budget plan includes tax hike, layoffs and furloughs.

Controversial Proposal would help pay for education reform in Prince George’s County…

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Despite PG County’s already heavy tax burden, Mr. Rushern Baker III proposes real property, personal property and telecom tax increases against the governor Larry Hogan’s wishes not to increase taxes in Maryland. 

Facing rising costs and flat revenues, Prince George’s County is preparing to lay off over 100 employees and furlough 6,000 others, while asking county residents to tighten their belts in the form of increased property taxes to help pay for education reforms officials say are needed to move the school system forward.

“The proposed FY 2016 budget includes the financial resources necessary to support higher educational achievement,” County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) said in a letter outlining his objectives in the $3.6 billion budget. “The outcome of this investment will be a county school system that will be most noted for rapidly improving its schools by implementing high quality educational programs and rigor for all students.”

Baker presented his budget to the Prince George’s County Council on Friday afternoon. The council must pass an approved budget by June 1.

The school board approved a $1.93 billion budget Feb. 26, challenging county government to meet their request for program expansions and improvements school system CEO Kevin Maxwell said are necessary to improve the system, including expansion of pre-kindergarten, arts education, digital literacy and peer teacher review.

To fund the $135.7 million increase over last year’s school budget, Baker’s chief budget officer Thomas Himler said the county is turning to a bill passed by the General Assembly, Chapter 6 of the 2012 Laws of Maryland. Chapter 6 allows counties to raise property taxes higher than the caps set in their charter, so long as those funds are used only for education.

To compensate for flat revenues and increasing costs of doing business, Baker is proposing layoffs for 110 county employees.

“We haven’t identified what those 110 positions are yet, that’s part of the next few months’ process,” Himler said.

In addition, all county employees paid through the General Fund — over 6,000 employees — will be required to take five days of furloughs, Himler said.

Himler said the layoffs and furloughs are expected to save the county $15 million.

“With revenues not coming in and us having higher expenditures, year after year, this budget was tough, and there were some tough decisions,” said Baker spokesman Scott Peterson.

The budget does include a $48 million increase for public safety, including 100 new police recruits and 35 new officers in the fire department.

Baker’s budget raises the county’s real property tax rate from $.96 to $1.11 per $100 of assessed value, and raises the personal property tax rate from $2.40 to $2.78 per $100 of assessed value. The rate increases are expected to generate $115.7 million, according to the budget proposal.

>>> Read more Gazette. 

Council2015Prince George’s County Council members

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