PG County Executive Rushern Baker Wants to Increase Property Taxes by 15%
Earlier this month PG County Executive Rushern Baker unveiled his budget for the upcoming year, and there were some nasty surprises. Besides eliminating 110 positions and 5 day furloughs for everyone else, Mr. Baker proposed increasing the hotel tax by 2%, increasing fees for various permits, and a 15% increase in the property tax rate.
Clearly, the property tax hike has drawn the most attention, and for good reason. In 1978 PG County residents passed TRIM, the Taxation Reform Initiative by Marylanders, an amendment to the county charter. TRIM codified the tax rate, and effectively froze it, as well as made it impossible for the county government to raise property taxes without a ballot initiative. There have been several attempts to repeal TRIM over the years, and every time the populace votes to maintain it. Clearly, the citizens of PG County do not want a tax increase, nor do they want their elected officials to be able to raise the property tax rate without voter approval.
County Executive Baker claims that the 2012 Senate Bill 848, “Education – Maintenance of Effort”, gives him the ability to ignore the will of of the people and the county charter. The 2012 SB848, signed into law by former Governor Martin “Tax ’em More” O’Malley, seems to allow counties to raise their property tax rates, and tries to set limits on what that money can be used for, specifically for the county school system and projects.
MD Senator Muse has responded by introducing a bill into the Maryland Senate, SB939. SB939 adds a paragraph to the “Education – Maintenance of Effort” code that specifically forbids PG County from raising it’s property tax rate. SB939 is currently in the Senate Budget & Taxation Committee, due for a hearing on April 1, 2015. The Maryland Business Clergy Partnership is organizing a rally to support State Senator Muse’s bill. They are asking for everyone who can to show up on April 1, at 1pm on the 3rd floor of the Miller Bldg in Annapolis.
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Many in the opposition to the tax increase are saying that regardless of the 2012 SB848, Mr. Baker can not raise taxes without a public referendum, thus it is illegal for him to impose a higher tax rate. Those who support the tax increase – mostly Mr. Baker & the Teacher’s Union – claim that State Senator Muse’s actions with SB939 prove that the County Executive is well within his rights to raise the property tax rate. The whole discussion is muddy by the fact that Rushern Baker is a lame-duck county executive. Term limits enacted in PG County mean that he and 5 members of County Council will not be eligible for re-election. Council Chair Mel Franklin (D9), Mary Lehman (D1), Derrick Davis (D6), Karen Toles (D7), and Obi Patterson (D8) are all on the way out in the next few years. Unless these people aspire to more than just county politics, they will likely not have to answer to the voters again.
There will be two public hearings on the budget – April 28 & May 1 at 7 pm in the County Administration Bldg in Upper Marlboro. While I heartily recommend everyone contact their councilman ahead of the public hearings, nothing sways a council like voters staring at them from the seats. Anyone who is available needs to pack the city council meetings every Tuesday at 10 am. If we don’t make our voices heard loud and clear now, they will assume we are fine with the County Executive’s Charter-ignoring, potentially-illegal tax increases. And if you give them this one, they will very likely be back with a bigger increase next year.
PG County Council Contact Information:
JAMEL R. (MEL) FRANKLIN, Chair (District 9)
MARY A. LEHMAN (District 1)
DENI TRAVERAS (District 2)
(301) 952-4436; fax: (301) 952-3238
DANNIELLE M. GLAROS (Ditrict 3)
(301) 952-3060; fax: (301) 952-4904
TODD M. TURNER (District 4)
(301) 952-3060; fax: (301) 952-4904
ANDREA C. HARRISON (District 5)
KAREN R. TOLES (District 7)
OBIE PATTERSON (District 8)