Prince George's County state legislators, facing a projected $133 million deficit in the state budget and a $30 million shortfall in the county, found themselves between the proverbial rock and hard place as the Maryland General Assembly opened its 1983 session today.
"The state already pays for over half of our county budget," said state Sen. Frank J. Komenda, president of the county's Senate delegation. "What we're dealing with is, how often can we go to the well, and how deep is the well?"
Budget matters are expected to dominate the delegation's agenda, as they will others', but the challenge in Prince George's is compounded by the crunch at the local level. County Executive Parris Glendening said the county faces at least a $28 million shortfall in the 1984 budget, and unless more money is found, the possibility of about 600 layoffs of county employes. A task force formed to advise Glendening on budget matters said last week that the shortfall rises to $40 million if the cost of replacing needed equipment such as police cars and snow removal machines is included.
And although the county has not been hit nearly as hard by unemployment as some other areas, "unemployment, followed by general budget matters and criminal justice are what the constituents are talking about," Komenda said.
On the brighter side, Prince George's legislators consider themselves in as good--or better--a position to bargain as any delegation. They enjoy good relations with leaders of both the House and the Senate, chose sides wisely in the showdown over the Senate presidency, experienced little turnover in last fall's election and have many members in leadership positions. Of seven senators, only Leo E. Green of Bowie is new. In the House, only four of the 23 delegates are freshmen, including two who represent the shared Howard-Prince George's district.
In the House, the county will have four members on both the important Ways and Means Committee, which considers tax bills, and appropriations, which funds projects. Del. Gerard F. Devlin of Bowie returns as vice chairman of Ways and Means and Del. Lorraine M. Sheehan of Kettering, who also sits on Ways and Means, will serve as an assistant majority leader.
Del. Frederick C. Rummage returns as chairman of the Economic Matters Committee, and Del. William R. McCaffrey is expected to be named vice chairman of Environmental Matters. Del. Timothy F. Maloney, often a thorn to the Democratic organization that once ruled the county, will head the appropriations subcommittee that considers law enforcement and transportation bills.
In the Senate, Sen. Thomas V. (Mike) Miller will head the Judicial Proceedings Committee, B.W. (Mike) Donovan will be an assistant majority floor leader, Arthur Dorman will be vice chairman of Economic Affairs, Thomas P. O'Reilly will be on finance, and Tommie Broadwater Jr. will chair an important subcommittee on the budget and taxation.
The large representation on fiscal committees is especially important in a year when the county's wish list includes half a dozen money-raising measures. But the delegation itself is probably the biggest stumbling block, as many of its members have criticized the package as politically impossible.
The key proposal in the package, which is largely the work of the county executive's office, would authorize a 1-cent local sales tax that could raise about $25 million.
Other bills would:
Change the graduated sales tax by dropping the lowest taxable amount from 20 cents to 17 cents, and raising the overall rate from a nickel to 6 cents on the dollar.
Raise from 50 percent to 60 percent the amount a county can collect on top of the state income tax, increasing from 7 1/2 percent to 8 percent the maximum burden. It would provide $20 million for the county.
Establish different rates for real and personal property, the latter of which is collected mostly from utility companies. It would raise about $10 million.
Create a local tax on telephone service, already in place in other jurisdictions. That would raise about $8 million.
Most members of the delegation have criticized the sales tax measures, saying neither the rest of the General Assembly nor the governor would support them, particularly when the state is facing a deficit.
Money is not the only thing on the county's legislative agenda. Several of its bills would grant wider powers to the county's housing authority, enabling it, for example, to help finance construction of nonprofit care facilities for senior citizens. One bill would require sponsors of outdoor music festivals to post a bond and to meet Health Department guidelines. Several bicounty bills (with Montgomery) would allow the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission authority to float bonds for larger amounts.
Several bond bills will be introduced. They call for $10 million to construct a new jail, required by court order; $1.5 million to build a separate facility for drunk drivers; about $1 million each to renovate the Calvert Mansion in Riverdale and the Belair Mansion in Bowie, and $400,000 for a pedestrian mall in Upper Marlboro. The latter was the only bonding bill rejected by the voters in the November election.