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Friday, February 06, 2009

Prince George's County News (Johnson's tax request)

For immediate release:
February 6, 2009
For more information:
John E. Erzen  
Press Information Officer
Prince George's County
Office of the County Executive
301-952-2657, cell, 240-508-4491


ANNAPOLIS, MD - Prince George's County Executive Jack Johnson testified before the county's House Delegation last night in support of legislation to help close a $115 million budget gap and maintain basic services, especially public safety and education.
"What we are proposing is absolutely necessary to balance our budget," Johnson said.  "In the absence of this legislation, we will have to lay off people.  I cannot tell you how important this legislation is."
Johnson made it clear to the Delegation that without this legislation, the county would not be able to continue on an upward trend that has seen crime drop to 20 year lows, test scores increase for five consecutive years, a AAA bond rating and economic development we only once dreamed of.
"I'm asking each of you to do what we need to do to keep education, public safety, economic development and our AAA bond rating going.  We cannot do any of that without this revenue," Johnson said.  "A deficit of $115 million equals the disintegration of the infrastructure of our county.  We will be forced to lay off police, fire, corrections and other employees and we would have to cut the school system's budget and this will impact the progress we've made in improved student performance."
Johnson was joined by Acting Police Chief Roberto Hylton and President of the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 89, Vince Canales, both said additional revenues are necessary to maintain current services.
"Continued funding for the police department is critical if we hope to continue our reductions in crime and keep up with attrition.  By the end of next year, almost 24% of our sworn force will be eligible for retirement," Hylton said.
Major Kevin Davis told delegates that in 2005, police district one, which has approximately 28 percent of the county's population, had 53 homicides.  Today, with the additional staffing that has been provided, there has only been one homicide in that district over the last three months.  He said it would be difficult to maintain that kind of reduction if police officers are laid off.
The proposed legislation would raise approximately $25 million in FY 2010 and $43 million in FY 2011.  One piece focuses on the Homestead Tax Credit and the other is regarding the Transit Tax.
The Homestead Tax Credit is currently capped at five percent in the county, despite the state cap of 10% that is used by most jurisdictions in the state.  The discrepancy has cost the county approximately $700 million in revenue over the last six years.  If that legislation passes, the county cap would be raised to 10% for two fiscal years and then return to five percent beginning in FY 2012. 
The Transit Tax currently can only be used to pay for mass transit.  If this legislation passes, it would authorize the county to be able to use revenues generated to offset the cost of school bus transportation.  The county spends approximately $57 million annually on this expense.  Allowing the Transit Tax to be used to help offset this cost, would free up money in the general fund to go towards core government services such as public safety and education.

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