“Budget War” In Prince George’s

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The budget dispute between Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker and the County Council has accelerated rapidly in the past couple of days. From the viewpoint of an interested outsider, it appears to have spiraled out of control for Mr. Baker.

On Monday, Baker announced that he would veto certain items in the budget approved by the Council.

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III announced Monday that he will veto parts of the budget approved by the County Council, restoring most of the tax increases that lawmakers rejected and setting up a possible legal showdown between the two branches of government.

Baker (D) said he will use his veto power Tuesday to replace a 4-cent increase in the property tax rate with an 11.45-cent increase, a change that would generate an additional $54 million for the county’s struggling public schools.

But that wasn’t all. Baker also claimed that the Council acted illegally in modifying Baker’s original budget by more than 1%.

Repeating an assertion made by his aides last week, Baker said the council acted illegally when it cut much of his proposed 15-cent property tax hike.

Baker said the council cannot adjust his budget proposal up or down by more than 1 percent — an interpretation of county law that the council chairman, Mel Franklin (D-Upper Marlboro), and others strongly dispute.

In my humble lawyerly opinion, Baker’s argument is weak, bordering on the spurious. More significantly, the sight of a county executive virtually inviting a lawsuit against his county’s own budget is politically calamitous, especially for a man with gubernatorial aspirations in 2018.

Baker in fact vetoed the bills as promised, late on Tuesday afternoon, the last day he could possibly do so under the county charter, and after the County Council had concluded its business for the day. It looked petty and churlish, and it ended up being ineffective to boot, as Arelis Hernandez of the Post reported.

Baker waited until a 5 p.m. deadline Tuesday to send his vetoes to the council, long after lawmakers’ legislative session was scheduled to have ended.

The council reconvened at 8:30 p.m., with Deni Taveras (D-Adelphi) absent, and voted 8 to 0 to kill each of Baker’s 32 line-item vetoes, restoring the budget they passed on May 28.

Baker reiterated his legal argument that the budget cuts were illegal, and Council President Mel Franklin responded forcefully.

And Baker said Monday that the council’s override could be vulnerable to legal challenge as well, based on his contention that county law prohibits the council from adjusting the budget up or down by more than 1 percent.

Franklin called Baker’s discussion of litigation “embarrassing and strange” for the county as well as “self destructive and self-defeating.”

“Hopefully, the county executive will not go down that road.”

Will Baker himself challenge the County budget? Will he find a supporter willing to do so? What Hernandez correctly characterizes as a “budget war” is rapidly spinning out of control, and its first casualty appears to be Rushern Baker.

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