UPPER MARLBORO – The Prince George’s County government faces “uncharted waters” and an impending shutdown after County Executive Rushern Baker III vetoed the County Council’s adopted budget, questioning its legality. Baker said he had “no choice” but to veto sections of the budget because after a “comprehensive legal review” County Attorney M. Andree Green advised […]
UPPER MARLBORO – The Prince George’s County government faces “uncharted waters” and an impending shutdown after County Executive Rushern Baker III vetoed the County Council’s adopted budget, questioning its legality.
Baker said he had “no choice” but to veto sections of the budget because after a “comprehensive legal review” County Attorney M. Andree Green advised him the budget does not comply with section 809 of the county’s charter.
Section 809 of the charter prohibits the council from adjusting the county executive’s proposed revenue estimates by more than one percent. However, the council’s adopted budget decreased Baker’s original proposal budget by 2.5 percent, he said.
According to the county charter: “The Council shall have no power to change the form of the budget as submitted by the Executive or to alter the revenue estimates except to correct mathematical errors, or, by a vote of two-thirds of the members of the full County Council, adjust the revenue estimates by an increase or decrease of no more than one percent (1%).”
Baker originally proposed a $3.62 billion budget that raised property taxes by 15.6 percent to fund a $133 million increase in county funding for the school system. Earlier this month, the Council adopted a $3.53 billion budget that lowered Baker’s proposal by $92 million and raised taxes by 4 percent in order to meet the requirements of what Council Chairman Mel Franklin said were “unfunded mandates” from the state legislature.
Thomas Himler, deputy chief administrative officer of finance and budget for Baker’s office, said the vetoes restore $54 million in total funding to get the budget to the 1 percent threshold required by the charter.
Once Baker’s office transmits the veto letter to the Council, the Council has one legislative day to act, which would give the Council until June 23 to make a decision. If the Council votes to override the line-item vetoes, Green said the judiciary would have to settle the conflict.
“It is my opinion, after extensive research on this issue, that without the vetoes that the (County Executive) has proposed, the council would not be in compliance with the charter,” Green said. “The budget would not be in compliance with the charter and, would therefore, be an invalid budget. And, at that point, several of the department heads and the tax payers would not know what appropriate action to take. So at that point there would have to be some judicial action.”
The county must have a budget in place by the time the current one expires on June 30, or else the county could face a government shutdown. The Council needs six votes to override a veto, Green said. Should they override the veto, she said, the county would be in an “unknown position.”
“We are hopeful and confident that, if this should end up in court, the judiciary system would act quickly and would render a ruling as to not put us in a position of not having an approved budget by July 1,” Green said.
Officials from the Prince George’s County Circuit Court did not respond to repeated requests for comment for this story.
For now, Baker said he will wait to see what the County Council decides to do before considering the prospect of a government shutdown. Sustaining the vetoes, rather than overriding them, he said, would put everything “back in balance.”
“They have an option of sustaining the veto,” Baker said. “If they don’t, then we’ll take the necessary actions after that. Let’s not presuppose what they’re going to do.”
Franklin said he and the rest of the Council remain “confident” about the legality of their budget process.
“Today’s veto by County Executive Rushern Baker appears to be an attempt to force the County Council to impose a double digit tax increase on the working families and businesses of our County,” Franklin said. “We are confident about the legality of our budget process, our message of investment with fiscal responsibility, and will continue to serve the best interests of our residents.”
The veto would only undo $54 million of the Council’s reductions, Himler said, to meet the 1 percent limit the charter imposes.
“They cut too much,” Himler said. “The adjustments that are being made are to the estimated revenues. The majority of the restoration, and the majority of the cuts, were in education. So you will see some restoration of education funding in there.”
In previous years, the Council has not changed more than 1 percent of the county executive’s proposed budget, Himler said. Only over the last two years, he said, have the Council and Baker struggled to come to an agreement.
“That’s unfortunate, but I think we’ll all move on from this,” Himler said.
Baker said he has no bitter feelings toward the Council, but the two branches of government have “fundamental disagreements” about what direction the county should go in and how fast the county should be going.
“I believe, given everything else we’ve done over the last five years in Prince George’s County, whether that is public safety or health, that education is that last venue,” Baker said. “And I think now is time we put a significant amount toward education. They disagree with that. So it’s not personal.”