One rainy afternoon earlier this week, a group of Prince George's County Council members gathered in CJ's Restaurant outside Upper Marlboro to celebrte their swift enactment of a 1981 budget that fostered the largest tax cut in county history.
The battles with County Executive Lawrence Hogan over funding priorities and who would get political credit for the tax cut appeared to be behind them as these men and women drank beer and talked jovially among themselves. But it wasn't to last.
The battles of one-upmanship between the Republican executive and the all-Democratic council began anew yesterday when Hogan vetoed part of a separate budget for the county park system and signaled that he might veto parts of the $551 million county budget that the council had approved only three days earlier.
As Hogan was putting the final touches on his veto message -- in which he sharply criticized the council for increasing the park tax and for rejecting his proposal to charge children for participating in summer playground programs -- the council was busy planning a "veto override" party.
The council needs only six votes to override Hogan's veto of the park system budget, which it had approved by an 8-0 vote two weeks ago. For the county budget, which was passed, 10-1, the council will need eight votes to reject Hogan's veto.
"Nothing's going to change [in the budgets]," said council chairman Parris Glending. "The votes are there for both and Hogan is aware of that. pThe veto is consistent with his style of looking for controversy."
Said council member Gerard McDonough, who in recent weeks has fought with Hogan over major appointments: "The reason he's vetoing this is so he can say, "The council raised the park tax rate and I, Hogan, vetoed it.' He's already started structuring the campaign rhetoric for 1982." v
Hogan responded that the council had "misplaced its priorities" by proposing a tax rate increase to pay for programs they wanted to restore, without also adopting money-saving consolidations in administrative areas. He also argued that the council should have shortened the length of a summer camp for underprivileged children as he had proposed.
Although the council voted to increase the county park tax by 1.45 cents, it voted at the same time to decrease the county property tax rate by 35.5 cents by making across-the-board cuts in county departments. As a result the overall tax paid by county property owners will drop 34 cents, 4 cents more than that proposed by Hogan in his 1981 budget.
"I was extremely disappointed that the council unnecessarily increased the [parks] tax rate by 1.45 cents while at the same time reduced funding in the county budget for such vital services as police and fire protection," Hogan said in his veto message.
The budget and tax cut debate between Hogan and the council indicated how thoroughly both sides have geared their political strategies to conform to the antitax mood of the county's voters, which was first evident in an overwhelming 1978 vote in favor of a tax-limiting charter amendment.
"Taxes have always been the number one issue in a campaign," said council member McDonough. "Now they are even more so."
The current budget debate also indicated that tensions present for the last 18 months between Republican Hogan and the Democratic council show no sign of abating. Given the current fight over what many county officials concede are minor details in the park and county operating budgets and recent council rejections of Hogan's nominees for major appointments, it is unlikely, most council members and Hogan aides agree, that relations will improve, even after the budget debate ends and the council's "veto override" party is held.