Virtually every jurisdiction in the region is grappling with profound financial woes, but Prince George's County is emerging as a leader in its response to tough economic times. It led the way in proposing layoffs in the face of a big deficit. Its employee unions have been among the first in the region to grasp the need for and agree to deferred pay increases.
Now at a time when neighboring subdivisions are bracing for deep and disturbing cuts in school spending, comes a proposal from County Executive Parris N. Glendening to add $21.8 million to the education budget. The new money would come from activating two escape clauses built into the 1978 property tax limitation known as TRIM. These, which add up to a 20-cent increase in the county's property tax rate, allow it to circumvent the TRIM amendment by raising taxes to fund public transportation and to pay long-term debt. Mr. Glendening is pushing a companion 2.5 percent hike in the energy tax that would also go to education. Together, these measures would provide for 100 more teachers and leave untouched the county's education programs.
Nonetheless, they add up to considerably less than what's needed to solve the county's money troubles. Mr. Glendening still means to lay off 100 county employees and ask all government workers to forgo annual pay raises. In the case of teachers, the county executive is effectively forcing the Board of Education's hand by supporting all but $28.6 million of the funds requested by school officials for next year -- the sum total of teachers' raises.
Though not without pain, this kind of bugetary triage represents a sensible response to tough times that should serve as a paradigm for his peers in other jurisdictions. Proposing new taxes when taxpayers seem unwilling to pay more takes a brand of political courage now in short supply in local and state legislative circles.
It is encouraging to note that Mr. Glendening's strategy has so far garnered strong support from the public. The ball is now in the county council's court, where approval seems assured. Prince George's has long played second fiddle to Montgomery County, its wealthier and far more fashionable neighbor. But the political response in Upper Marlboro to financial hard times is making the ugly duckling of the Washington suburbs look more and more like a swan.