An item in Prince George's Notebook on Nov. 14 reported that County Executive-elect Jack B. Johnson will face a projected budget shortfall of $30 million when he takes office. The shortfall is forecast for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1, 2003, and will have no impact on the current budget that Johnson will inherit. (Published 11/28/02)
Is it farewell or on to the next big thing?
Wayne K. Curry (D) hasn't disclosed his post-office plans as he prepares to leave the County Administration Building in Upper Marlboro after eight years and two terms as county executive. "I plan to invigorate my relationship with my friends, and also to get a whole Wayne back," he said on election night.
Could that mean a return to an even more private life? In recent months, Curry took a pass on the Democratic primary, was noticeably absent during the general election campaign and has stayed pretty much out of public view.
His public schedules have been scanty, filled with unspecified "office activities." He went to South Africa as part of a "sister city" visit as the sniper shootings were starting and let others speak for the county, even after a Tasker Middle School student was critically wounded.
Although he returned four days early from the trip, Curry -- unlike his Montgomery counterpart, Douglas M. Duncan -- wasn't heard from during the crisis.
Now, it seems, he's everywhere. It started with three receptions he threw to thank residents of the county in which he was reared and where he rose to become the first African American to hold the top elected office. The receptions, which culminated last Thursday with an event at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland, were open to all, but 2,500 invitations also went out. Nothing political about it, mind you.
"The county executive just wanted to go out into the community and just basically say thank you," said Chief of Staff Glenda Wilson. "It's as simple as that."
Next up: "From Promises to Progress: A Community Transformed," a business community tribute to Curry tomorrow night. Organizers are soliciting non-deductible contributions of $100 up to $10,000 for the event. Proceeds are to be used to pay for the gala, with any leftover cash going to charity.
Curry counts among his major achievements bringing the Redskins stadium to the county, so, fittingly, the tribute will be held on the Club Level of FedEx Field, and Redskins owner Daniel M. Snyder chairs the honorary 40-member event committee.
Others on the committee are lawyers, lobbyists, developers and associates who have played important roles in Curry's administration or career.
Among them are Bruce C. Bereano, a longtime lobbyist convicted of defrauding clients in 1994 and disbarred in 2000; developer attorneys Andre Gingles, John P. McDonough, John P. Davey, William V. Meyers and George A. Brugger; developers Gary W. and Kenneth H. Michael and William F. Chesley; longtime associates Howard Stone and Gregory Wells; and Prince George's Community College President Ronald A. Williams and County Planning Board Chairman Elizabeth M. Hewlett.
An Easy Deficit to Take For County Executive-elect Jack B. Johnson, there is bad news and good news.
The bad news is that his new administration, after it takes office next month, may face a $30 million budget shortfall resulting from rising costs and stagnant revenues.
That's also the good news.
That amounts to a mere 1.5 percent of this year's $1.98 billion budget, and Budget Director Stanley Earley said the amount could be absorbed without any layoffs or noticeable cuts in service.
When Curry took office eight years ago, he inherited a $108 million shortfall from his predecessor, Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening. Curry was forced to made significant reductions to balance the books, as the law requires.
Johnson won't have to do that, Earley said.
The outgoing Curry administration has even prepared a blueprint for him to follow. At worst, the budget director said, Johnson may have to eliminate 48 positions, based on proposals submitted by department heads. These can come from already vacant slots, Earley said.
"The document is prepared, and the county executive will be presenting it to the new county executive for his consideration," Earley said.
The pain in other counties, whose revenues soared in the booming '90s and have tanked during the recession, could be much worse. "We haven't had the growth some of the region has had," Earley said. "On the other hand, our decline is significantly smaller than some of the other counties. They have higher highs and lower lows. We're kind of down the middle."
There will be many doughnuts munched and fond farewells bidden as Prince George's General Assembly delegates gather at Fratelli, the Cheverly restaurant, this morning to elect a replacement for Rushern L. Baker III as chairman of the delegation.
A rising star in Annapolis whose strong ties to House and Senate leaders would likely have proved a boon to the county in the coming year, Baker gave up his seat to mount an unsuccessful bid for county executive. He is still mulling his next move, he said, but has engaged in some discussions with members of Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s transition team.
According to insiders, the two likely contenders for the newly vacant House delegation leadership post, Dels. Carolyn J.B. Howard (D-Mitchellville) and Dereck Davis (D-Upper Marlboro), were running neck and neck this week.
Howard is a 15-year veteran of the House who supervises grant funds for the county public school system and opposed the legislative vote to replace the county school board with an appointed panel last spring.
Davis, who has served two, four-year terms and chairs the bi-county committee of lawmakers from Prince George's and Montgomery, supported changing the school board to a panel of appointees.
The choice of a new House delegation leader is crucial to the county's future, Baker said, because whomever is selected will lead the delegation through a significantly altered political landscape.
For one thing, the state's projected $1.7 billion budget shortfall over the next two years could imperil a massive five-year statewide education spending boost agreed on last session.
Prince George's all-Democrat delegation also must find a way to work with the new Republican governor who may, or may not, be responsive to their priorities.
Unless Prince George's lawmakers present a unified front, Baker said, "the county could really lose out." And keeping all 22 delegates on the same page is no easy task "when you have very few carrots or sticks you can hold over them," he added.
But there is also plenty of good news for Prince George's amid the changes -- such as the fact that Lt. Gov.-elect Michael S. Steele is a Prince George's resident (he lives in Largo).
"It's certainly my hope that his being intimately familiar with our issues should play well for us," said Del. Melony Griffith (D-Suitland), who counts Steele among her constituents in District 25.
In addition, as a result of population changes documented in the 2000 Census, both Prince George's and Montgomery County -- which is usually aligned with Prince George's in the General Assembly -- have gained clout. Each county saw its delegations increase because of redistricting.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Prince George's) recently appointed a half-dozen lawmakers from the two counties to key positions in the Senate that were previously held by legislators from Baltimore city or rural areas.
The newly empowered Prince Georgians include Sen. Ulysses Currie (D), who will chair the Budget and Taxation Committee; and Sen. Gloria G. Lawlah (D), who will chair a budget subcommittee.
"That is a major shift," Lawlah said. Combined with Montgomery legislators, she predicted, "we are going to be a very strong coalition -- a juggernaut that must be dealt with."
There is also a possibility that one or more Prince George's delegates could be plucked for a chairmanship or other leadership position in the House once a new speaker is chosen to replace Casper R. Taylor Jr. (D-Allegany), who was defeated last week.
That prospect, however, could complicate today's vote for a delegation chair: Both Howard and Davis are thought to be well placed for such an appointment, and delegation chairs are generally discouraged from simultaneously holding other leadership jobs.
The Senate delegation will meet to choose its chairman sometime within the next few weeks. The current chair, Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D) said he has not yet decided whether to seek reelection.
Facing a Paper Jam
The tug-of-war between the bureaucrats and the citizens continues over the controversial CB-40 -- the pay-go law enacted a year ago that allows developers to go ahead and build where schools are already crowded if they pay a fee.
Now, a copying fee has become an issue between the county government and a group that's skeptical over the promise of the year-old law to generate enough fees to build schools to relieve growth-related crowding.
The citizens had sought a referendum on repealing CB-40, but have been stymied by the county's court challenge, which blocked the question from appearing on the Nov. 5 ballot. The issue of whether the law is subject to referendum is pending before the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.
Meanwhile, the repeal group has sought to obtain documents under the state's Freedom of Information Act supporting the county's claim that it has 22 agreements with developers that will produce $11 million in pay-go costs under CB-40.
The county has agreed to provide the documents but not waive the copying fee. It wants $112.75 for 451 pages of documents.
"If CB-40 was that great, wouldn't they be having a press conference to deliver the happy news to the citizens?" asked repeal organizer Donna Hathaway Beck. "Instead, we are having to pay a ransom."
"We've been collecting $1 bills. We have one from Congressman Albert R. Wynn, one from Sen. Leo Green and one from [school system] CEO Iris T. Metts," Beck said. "We have $43. I'm going to the Board of Education [tonight] night to ask for their dollar bills."
Even though most of the seniors at the St. Paul's Senior Center were staunch Democrats, Ehrlich and Steele dropped by the Capitol Heights facility before Election Day to seek support from the county's powerful church community.
"I understand that I have 2 1/2 strikes against me. I am a white guy from the suburbs and I am a Republican," said Ehrlich just before his Nov. 5 victory. He was visiting with senior citizens and workers at a Capitol Heights faith-based program that supplies food, clothing and job referrals to people in need.
"I understand that there has been a huge gulf between the Republican party and the African American community," Ehrlich said. "I just asked people to give us an even break, not necessarily to buy into our program, but just to look at us."
Steele plans to play a critical voice for the black community.
"It means access to a table that African Americans have not had access to," Steele said. "Parris Glendening is from Prince George's County, but what has he done for Prince George's? I am from Prince George's County, and I will do a lot more than he's done."
But some church leaders in the county are taking a wait-and-see attitude about the new Republican governor and lieutenant governor.
"We just hope that he is for real," said Bishop Earl Edwards, one of the officials at the Mission of Love. "All of the politicians come around now talking sweet. I just hope that they come again."
The Rev. Harry Seawright, pastor of the Union Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, said, "We are expecting him to make good on all of his campaign promises in respect to our school system, public safety and economic development issues."
Seawright said it is time for more action and less talk from politicians when it comes to a White House initiative to make it easy for churches and faith-based institutions to compete for federal dollars to render services from day care to job counseling.
"African Americans have given blind loyalty to the Democratic Party over the years and for good reasons," Steele said. "We have never presented them with an alternative. But for the first time, they are seeing what we are talking about."