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Pr. George's Budget Shortfall Reported

Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson
Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson (Richard A. Lipski - The Washington Post)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 27, 2008; Page B01

Prince George's County is facing a new budget shortfall of at least $46 million and wants to trim pay raises for its unionized workforce to close the gap, said labor leaders who met with County Executive Jack B. Johnson behind closed doors yesterday afternoon.

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Johnson (D) has not publicly revealed a widening budget gap, and his spokesman would not comment late yesterday.

Two union presidents said, however, that Johnson told a group of employees yesterday that new projections show that revenue from income taxes and taxes from the sale of houses will fall off even more sharply than anticipated. The drop-off in tax money will create a hole in the budget adopted by the County Council in May to take effect July 1.

The union leaders said they were told that they must renegotiate contracts to provide for smaller raises for their members or else face possible layoffs or forced furloughs.

"Now of all a sudden, Mr. Johnson is saying the bottom is falling out," said Arthur Emery, president of the union that represents civilian employees of the police department. "We sat down and negotiated in good faith. We think they should live up to their end of the bargain."

Johnson has talked publicly about the deepening impact of the souring economy on the county's budget. When he proposed his budget in March, he recommended a tax increase and some budget cuts to close what he predicted then would be about a $122 million shortfall.

He said he hoped to avoid layoffs or forced furloughs but has warned that the county's budget situation could worsen. Still, the union leaders said they were surprised to hear projections had dipped so quickly.

"We were all caught off guard," said Vince Canales, president of the local Fraternal Order of Police.

Several county public safety unions have been waiting for months for the County Council to ratify two-year contracts negotiated in the fall. Votes on some contracts were scheduled for Tuesday.

According to Canales, Johnson said he would ask the council to delay votes on the contracts to allow for further talks. The police contract called for a 3 percent cost-of-living increase and a 3.5 percent merit raise.

Contracts for firefighters, sheriff's deputies and police civilian workers would provide for a 2.5 percent cost-of-living increase and 3.5 percent merit raises.

When the County Council adopted Johnson's budget in May, Council Chairman Samuel H. Dean (D-Mitchellville) said Prince George's did not share the concerns of neighboring Montgomery County, where some council members had contended that union contracts locked the county into unsustainable pay increases.

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