State aid eases crunch in Prince George's, Md., Johnson says

By Jonathan Mummolo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Prince George's County employees face no layoffs and fewer furlough days in the coming fiscal year, and county schools will receive more money, as a result of increased state aid secured during this year's General Assembly session, County Executive Jack B. Johnson said Tuesday.

The county will receive an additional $18 million from the state in "disparity grants," which are designed to help jurisdictions with relatively low per-capita income.

In recent years, calculations for the grants were done before many wealthier residents filed their tax returns -- a practice that Prince George's officials said shortchanged the county by making it appear better off than it is relative to wealthier counties such as Montgomery.

The date of the calculations was changed in a state budget bill this year to account for more tax income, resulting in a windfall for Prince George's.

Johnson (D) called the change "huge" for the county. He said that in addition to scrapping a plan to lay off as many as 10 workers, the county will be able to furlough workers for fewer than the eight days he proposed last month. Johnson did not say how many furlough days would be eliminated.

Under Johnson's proposal, fiscal 2011 would be the third straight year of employee furloughs, which have spawned legal battles and protests.

Johnson's comments came during a news conference in Annapolis, where he and several state lawmakers trumpeted legislation that they said would benefit Prince George's.

What Johnson had to say did not satisfy Vince Canales, the county's Fraternal Order of Police president and an ardent opponent of the furlough policy.

"I still firmly believe that there is no need for furloughs at this point in time," Canales said. " 'There will be fewer than eight' doesn't mean much of anything. . . . One is clearly too many for me."

Johnson also said the $18 million should help to mostly close the multimillion-dollar gap between his proposed allotment for schools and the minimum required by the state's "maintenance of effort" policy.

Another measure, still awaiting the signature of Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), would put a cap on the taxes residents pay to the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.

The bill would yield a tax break of $500 to $800 for typical county households next fiscal year, and it would reduce Planning Department revenue by $18.4 million, according to one of the bill's sponsors, Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters (D-Prince George's). The Planning Department's budget is separate from the county's operating budget.

Johnson also welcomed passage of a bill that that would require applicants for nightclub permits to submit security plans to the county police chief for review, and he hailed the defeat of a proposal to shift part of the cost of teacher pensions to local governments.

A spokesman for O'Malley said the governor plans to sign all the measures into law.

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