Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker III's proposed budget for fiscal year 2016 includes an aggressive plan to increase spending on education and public safety by raising tax revenues.
The property tax, which has not seen an increase in more than three decades, would rise by 15 percent under Baker's plan, from 96 cents to $1.11 per $100 of assessable property. In his budget proposal released late last week, the county executive is also proposing higher personal property and telecommunications tax rates.
The revenue increases would fund an additional $135.7 million in funding for the county's public school system, a 7.6 percent increase over last year's budget and $117 million more than the maintenance-of-effort funding levels required by the state, an investment Baker's budget summary called "historic."
Kevin Maxwell, CEO of Prince George's County Public Schools, said in a statement that the generous funding would put the school system "on a rapid path to becoming a top-10 school district in Maryland by the year 2020."
Baker's proposal gives public safety a boost as well, funding two new police recruitment classes – a total of 100 new officers – and one, 35-person class of new firefighters. The budget also provides additional overtime funds for police.
In Laurel, Baker's proposal includes $23.2 million in the capital budget to fund the replacement of the Laurel branch of the public library.
Other measures to fund the budget, which under Baker's proposal would increase overall by $3.63 billion, or 5.7 percent, over the last fiscal year, include a bump in the county's hotel tax from 5 to 7 percent and increasing various building, licensing, permitting and technology fees.
The budget proposal cuts 110 county positions and would require five furlough days for county employees.
Baker's budget proposal overview acknowledges that his proposals require "sacrifice."
"Propelling our progress forward comes with much hard work and is not without sacrifices by our residents, business community and employees, especially given the county continues to face economic challenges," the overview reads. "However, these sacrifices must be seen for what they are ... a momentary obstacle to overcome, such that the county reaches its destiny of being the 'Place to Be.' "
Prince George's County Council Chairman Mel Franklin released a neutral statement on the proposal Friday.
"The Council, in our role as fiscal stewards, along with the Legislative Branch staff, looks forward to collaboratively working with the County Executive and his team to produce a final budget that incorporates fiscal responsibility, while making key investments strengthening the communities we represent," Franklin said.
But reaction among local residents suggests the proposal is bound to become controversial.
One potential stumbling block for the county executive is a decades-old law, the Tax Reform Initiative by Marylanders, or TRIM.
Passed in 1978, the law requires county voters to approve any property tax increase. Baker, however, has said he has the power to raise the tax, based on a 2012 state law that placed the burden for teacher pensions on county governments and permitted county officials to override property tax limits to meet state maintenance of effort funding levels.
Former Prince George's County Council member Tom Dernoga called Baker's proposal unsurprising. Three years ago, he wrote an email warning that the state bill Baker is citing was "the latest effort to circumvent the long-standing expressed will of voters by undermining their County Charters."
"The county voters never seem to get any respect," Dernoga said Tuesday.
The proposal goes next to the County Council, which must vote to approve a budget by June. The 2016 fiscal year runs from July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016.
Two public hearings on the budget have been scheduled for Tuesday, April 28 and Monday, May 4. Both meetings will be held at 7 p.m. in the county administration building in Upper Marlboro.