Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening (D) yesterday projected a $70.3 million revenue shortfall this fiscal year -- a much wider gap than was forecast two months ago -- and said his administration will face "one heck of a challenge" to avoid more layoffs than the 190 already announced.
Glendening, briefing County Council members on what he called "an obviously very serious" revenue drop-off, said the shortfall is likely to grow larger. He said he plans to propose a new round of significant spending cuts, and he raised the possibility of new taxes if the reductions fail to bring the county's nearly $1 billion budget in line.
"I wish I could guarantee that this is the end of the decline and that we have bottomed out," said Glendening, who in November projected a budget gap of $49.9 million. "In fact, I don't believe that that's the case. The economy continues to decline throughout the region."
As he has in the past, Glendening, blamed much of the projected shortfall on a decline in real estate transfer taxes and recording fees, the result of a sluggish housing market.
He did not specify the additional cuts he intends to propose, but said he hopes to avoid further layoffs.
"I have made a commitment that the 190 reduction in force would be all that we reduce," he told the council members. "I hope we can all work to keep that commitment. But it's going to be one heck of a challenge."
Glendening also declined to discuss the "revenue enhancement" measures he said may ultimately become necessary.
"The bulk of the reductions must come from expenditures," he told the council, when pressed on the question of taxes. "The whole economy is hurting out there, so you don't go with a bunch of new taxes. All I'm saying is, if you get to the point where you start hurting the primary purpose of government -- public safety, education, care of the frail and elderly -- at that point you have to start looking at other options."
He noted that the revenue problem in Prince George's is "not as bad as it is in some other jurisdictions out there."
Montgomery County has forecast a $185 million drop in anticipated revenue this fiscal year. In the District, officials have projected a budget gap of $275 million to $300 million this fiscal year. Virginia is trying to cope with an expected $1.9 billion shortfall in its two-year budget. Maryland's revenue gap has been projected at $423 million.
"It's a difficult time to be an elected official," said Prince George's Council Chairman Richard J. Castaldi (D). He and other council members said they have received numerous calls from constituents worried about service cuts and from nervous, sometimes desperate laid-off county workers.
As for more layoffs, Castaldi said, "You're dealing with people who have jobs, who have families, people living paycheck to paycheck. It's difficult to set aside your emotions when you have to take actions that may cause them to lose their homes and be on the street . . . . But you still have to do what's right, what's responsible, what's prudent."