ANNAPOLIS – Prince George’s County Executive Jack Johnson praised the county’s 31-member legislative delegation Tuesday for fulfilling his eight-point agenda and securing $800 million in state funds for education, public safety and the Prince George’s Hospital Center.
“At the end of the session, Prince George’s County came out first,” Johnson said. “We succeeded at everything we set out to do.”
While the state’s budget increased 4 percent, funding for Prince George’s County increased 13 percent, said Sen. Ulysses Currie, D-Prince George’s, chairman of the powerful Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.
“That’s almost a history-making number that’s come back to Prince George’s County,” he said.
About $630 million went to education. The county received full funding of its share of the $1.3 billion Thornton school reform plan and will receive more next year from a formula that gives extra education dollars to high-cost counties. In addition, a new law dedicates up to 10 percent of local telecommunications revenues to school construction and renovation.
The General Assembly guaranteed almost $8 million in utility grants for the county, which will also benefit from grants to prevent car theft and a task force to study gang violence. Legislation also passed to aid the county’s homeland security initiatives and to permit criminal background checks of new employees.
In addition, the troubled Prince George’s Hospital Center will get $5 million through an agreement between Johnson and Gov. Robert Ehrlich Jr.
“We’re a family,” said Delegate Anne Healey, D-Prince George’s. “The strength of Prince George’s County is the people.”
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert, the chief slots backer in the Senate, joked that Johnson’s push to prevent Prince George’s County from becoming home to slot machines also succeeded. Miller, whose district includes part of Prince George’s, pointed out that Johnson politely failed to highlight point No. 4 on the county’s agenda: “Expansion of gambling should not be the only solution.”
Ehrlich’s slots proposal died when he and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel, could not agree on a slots and tax package – after significant prods from Miller.
Johnson said the county is family-friendly and was worried it was a target for slots parlors, and would have to share the potential benefits with the whole state.
“You should share in the burdens and share in the benefits,” he said. “We didn’t want Prince George’s County to have all the burdens.”
But Sen. Gloria Lawlah, D-Prince George’s, a slots proponent, warned Johnson and the delegation that if a long-term revenue source is not found next year, the county will be on the chopping block. The state faces a more than $800 million budget shortfall for 2006.
“We were looking under every rock to find a dime,” for the county this year, she said. “I just want the reality to set in that we will be working on a new funding source.”