Lawmakers in Prince George’s County are questioning the reduction in aid to the county in Gov. Martin O’Malley’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2011.

The new budget sees a 2.5 percent reduction – $27 million – in aid for the county, the largest decrease for any jurisdiction in the state.  In contrast, neighboring counties such as Montgomery and Anne Arundel saw increases of over $73 and $27 million respectively.  Those numbers has the county’s delegation in the general assembly looking for answers.

“We’re absolutely going to fight to minimize that amount,” said state Sen. Douglas Peters (D-Dist 23), chair of the Prince George’s County Senate delegation.  “We understand it’s a tough time, but we don’t want to take the lion’s share of the cuts either.”

While the county’s delegation is disappointed in the reduction, the governor’s office wants to make it clear that it is not “cutting” funding to the county.

“There is a gross misunderstanding when it comes to local aid, and in particular, to funding granted to Prince George’s County in the fiscal year 2011 budget,” said Shaun Adamec, a spokesperson for Gov. O’Malley, in an e-mailed statement to the AFRO. “It is inaccurate to label these funding models as cuts, as much of the funding is based on so-called wealth formulas that are legally mandated and in place well before Gov. O’Malley came to office.”

Prince George’s County public schools will feel the majority of the pain.  Already having to make budget cuts of its own, the school system will receive about $10 million less than it received for fiscal year 2010.

The reduction can be attributed to two main factors: a dip in enrollment in the county’s schools and an increase in the jurisdiction’s wealth, which has spurred a resulting decrease in the county’s disparity grant.

The Prince George’s delegation said they knew a decrease in the grant’s funding was likely, but the size was a bit surprising.

“We get a lot of money from the Disparity Grant and there was some hinting that it might be cut,” said Peters.  “We’re going to need to look at the numbers and see where we can get that money back… we are going to fight to get that money back.”

The governor’s office claims it has already fought that battle.

“Through four budgets, and seven rounds of budget cuts at the Board of Public Works, the governor has never cut the Disparity Grant,” said Adamec. “The governor knows is important to the county.”

Peters indicated that the county’s state legislators would be meeting soon to go over the details on how they would go about working with the state to reduce the cutbacks to Prince George’s County.

But, while the county is dealing with the current cuts, it’s also worried about what the future may hold. With both the county and the state strapped for cash for the foreseeable future, there is a real concern that things may get worse.

“I’m concerned about the current cuts and we’ll be working hard to limit those cuts, but I’m also concerned about the long-term structural deficit in this state and what it will mean for us in Prince George’s County,” said Del. Gerron Levi (D-Dist.23A).

 

George Barnette

Special to the AFRO