The Washington Post

Early look at 2015 Moco budget shows $300 million gap

Fiscal year 2014 doesn’t start until next week, but Montgomery officials gave the County Council an early read Tuesday on the outlook for FY 2015. While such forecasts are always subject to change, the county is currently looking at about a $300 million gap between projected revenues and expenditures, according to a report from Stephen Farber, County Council staff director and Jacob Sesker, senior legislative analyst.

The estimate is based on a number of fiscal pressures and policy assumptions. The county faces continued growth in education spending due to the state “maintenance of effort” law, which requires that schools receive, at a minimum, the same rate of per-pupil funding as in the previous year. Projected increases in enrollment and other costs could increase the county contribution to MCPS by $26.6 million. The continued shift of responsibility for teacher pension costs from the state to county government is estimated to rise by $3.3 million.

The county is lowering tax revenue estimates by about $150 million in anticipation of two potentially adverse events. Although to date the federal sequester “has not had the dire impact predicted for it,” Farber said, the county is taking a write down of $65 million in projected tax revenues for FY15.

The county could also be hit hard by a tax case pending in the courts. The state Court of Appeals ruled in January that Maryland must offer a credit to taxpayers who earn certain forms of income in other states to offset county income taxes. The court ruled that Maryland’s failure to offer the credit violates the Commerce Clause of the Constitution.

Attorney General Douglas Gansler has appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. The county is lowering revenue estimate by $85 million because of the possibility that some taxpayers will recieve refunds as a result of the court case.

It means that resources available to county agencies may be down by five percent next year. Add to that the anticipated requests for additional funding, and the gap between revenues and expenses reaches about $300 million, Farber said.

Officials stressed that the picture could change. The sequester may not bite as deeply as feared. Tax litigation may not turn out to be so costly. Unanticipated savings could surface. The county will revisit the budget picture again in December.

But, as Farber wrote, “until employment rebounds even more strongly, along with consumer spending and housing, governmental revenues will remain subpar and budgets will remain under pressure.”

Bill Turque, who covers Montgomery County government and politics, has spent more than thirty years as a reporter and editor for The Washington Post, Newsweek, the Dallas Times Herald and The Kansas City Star.

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