What The ‘F’?

Question F is peeking my interest here in Prince George’s County, the home base of Maryland Politics Today and yours truly, especially since I started hearing radio ads for it yesterday while I was bumping around town. This question, if authorized, would boost the tax on your cell phone, land line and cable phone to 11 percent.

County Executive Jack Johnson is estimating that Question F would raise $17 million. He would use the money for the school system, because they have been needing money since I graduate from High Point High School in 1999. Remember, Johnson wanted to raise this tax without putting it to referendum, but the council forced it on to the ballot without taking a position other than, “we want to put the question to the voters.”

Two problems I have with this question. The first one might be petty, but I have to ask why is it listed as Question F, following a series of bond questions which no one (not even me) will be paying attention to, instead of Qestion A. How disingenuous (or as an Olsen twin would say back in the day, “HOW WUDE.”)

The placing of the question kind of pales in comparison to my big problem in being charged more for my phones. The problem, no one is going to Prince George’s County Public Schools in great numbers. According to a Washington Post Article from last week, while student enrollment at other schools systems in the immediate Washington Suburbs have been climbing, Prince George’s County has remained flat, especially after several years of decline. In the meantime, enrollment has rose in Anne Arundel, Charles, and Howard Counties. As a matter of fact Charles County has benefited from the decline of enrollment from it’s neighbor to the north and according to a Post article from a year ago, academic progress has remained either steady or improved.

Think about the budget negotiations from earlier this year. The board of education adopted a $1.68 billion budget which reserved money to negotiate with the unions and for parental involvement. I think it’s a sad commentary that we have to give out money before a parent gives a damn about their kids education, but I will save that one for a different comment.

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If Charles County has a majority black school population and they are holding steady or improving with academic progress, what is happening in Prince George’s County? Prince George’s County Council Chairman Samuel Dean, this morning on WUSA-TV (Channel 9) said that the school board diminished the reserve because of “certain things happening.” In February, it was reported that the reserve went from $49 million to $20 million for FY 2009. How can $20 million go close to bye bye (if not completely bye bye) if the population is declining?

Dean also brings up TRIM, the nearly 30 year old property tax cap, as a problem. How could TRIM be a problem? Didn’t the county reach a AAA bond rating? Did they not hold a ticker tape parade celebrating the fine fiscal management here? I guess it’s one of those things where TRIM is a convenient whipping boy for the council. Speaking of TRIM…..

This seems to be the same playbook that was played when the county tried to repeal the law in 1996. They said that the money would go to the school system. Not only did voters keep T.R.I.M. in place, they said ANY tax hikes would have to be approved by voter referendum. Since that time, the budget has grown to over a billion dollars and the county did not seem to have a problem in funding it. $17 million did not make a difference in February or in years past, and I doubt it would make a difference now.

Remember, I push for you all to do due diligence before taking a position. I will tell you what I plan on doing and why. This fall, I plan on voting NO on Question F. It is shameful that the county wants to put such a question on a docket at a time where the economy is spinning in a bad direction. They did not learn anything from the state which raised taxes last November. They also did not learn the same basic unwritten rule of football. If you run the same play two times in a row, the other team will get wise and snuff it out.

Whether you are voting for Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) as president or not, you have to agree with him on a point from last night. Paraphrasing, he said that you cannot keep throwing money at a problem. The Prince George’s County Public School System is at a point where money will not solve the problem. Now is the time to ask tough questions of the school system.

(Also posted on Maryland Politics Today)

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