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Maryland Politics
Posted at 04:04 PM ET, 04/22/2012

Baker readies for “doomsday” budget but hopes state will find a way to plug gaps

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) is girding for the possibility that any agreements to end the stalemate in Annapolis may exclude a proposed referendum this fall to allow a full-fledged casino in Prince George’s.

But if that’s the outcome of talks among Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), House Speaker Michael Busch (D) and Senate President Thomas G. V. Mike Miller (D), Baker says he wants them to find other ways to plug the funding gaps for Prince George’s.

“If you aren’t giving me revenue through the gaming bill, give me revenue somewhere else,” he told the Greater Bowie Chamber of Commerce during a speech on Friday. On Tuesday, officials from Baker’s administration will brief the County Council on the potential problems the stalemate could cause them as they cull through his proposed $2.7 billion county spending plan, which they must approve by the end of May.

Baker has estimated that if a casino eventually is built in Prince George’s - his preferred site is National Harbor - the county could reap as much as $69 million annually in revenues, with a substantial portion going to Prince George’s. That could make a big dent in the county’s $2.7 billion operating budget and provide extra money for the struggling public school system.

Baker, who had made improving the schools a centerpiece of his administration’s goals, has repeatedly said he can’t do it without more help from Annapolis. He backed a proposed increase in the gas tax as one way to raise revenues, and has pitched the casino plan as another. So far neither has gained traction.

The General Assembly adjourned at midnight on April 9 without enacting an agreed-upon tax package or a Miller-backed bill calling for a statewide referendum on a full-fledged casino in Prince George’s.

Baker said he talked with O’Malley recently and “the governor said he was getting a whole lot of grief” from those who believe the gaming bill - pushed by Miller but not universally welcomed in the state House of Representatives - had caused the meltdown in Annapolis .

The languishing of the tax package will trigger more than $500 million in cuts to education and other spending on July 1 unless lawmakers take up the issues in a special session. So far, no deal has been worked out for a special session, leaving counties and municipalities struggling to figure out what revenues they can count on from the state as local lawmakers work on their jurisdictions’ budgets this spring.

Many, such as Prince George’s and Montgomery — which combined have nearly 2 million residents, or almost a third of the entire state’s population — are in the throes of their budget seasons and must approve spending plans soon.

Baker said he told the governor he is “getting a whole lot of grief” in Prince George’s from people whose sidewalks need repairs, who want to raise teacher salaries to help attract top educators, and who want to expand the county’s commercial tax base to ease the burden on homeowners.

“If you want to talk about grief, I could match you grief for grief,” Baker said.

By  |  04:04 PM ET, 04/22/2012

 
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