PG’s Baker to address budget woes

County executive to pitch $50M for economic development fund

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Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III will deliver a State of the Economy address Tuesday night to garner support for his plan to trim a $77 million budget shortfall and spend $50 million to entice businesses to move to the county.

Mr. Baker, a Democrat, thinks the county should spend the money to become competitive in the high-stakes game of bringing in businesses that will provide more jobs and grow the local economy.

However, he faces several major challenges, including getting the County Council to approve the plan and persuade business owners to come to a county with a high homicide rate and a previous administration long suspected of shaking down developers.

Though most counties would like to land a major businesses - as Northern Virginia did last year when Northrop Grumman Corp. moved its corporate offices there - Prince George’s is looking for a mix that includes small businesses and ones owned by minorities and women, said Prince George’s spokesman Scott Peterson.

“The county executive’s vision is based … [on] understanding all the different parts that businesses play,” he said.

The proposed $50 million Economic Development Incentive Fund provides help to businesses through loans and grants.

Mr. Baker, elected in November, succeeded County Executive Jack Johnson, a Democrat, who with wife Leslie faces multiple charges of bribery and extortion in connection with deals involving developers.

The county also had a record 26 homicides as of Monday.

Mr. Baker delivered his $2.6 billion general fund budget for fiscal 2012 earlier this month to the nine-member council, which is expected to make a final approval May 26.

Among the cuts Mr. Baker is proposing to trim the $77 million shortfall is $1 million less each for the county’s sheriff’s office and the Department of Family Services.

However, he has proposed a $3 million increase to the county’s Office of Homeland Security and $5 million increase to community college education.

“We do have questions and concerns about the budget,” said council Chairwoman Ingrid M. Turner. “We think the county executive has presented a great starting point, but … I hope the council comes up with a better budget.”

About the $50 million economic plan, she said only that the council is eager to bring more jobs to the county.

Mr. Peterson said the shortfall is largely the result of declining property-value assessments, which means less tax revenue is collected.

“What Mr. Baker is going to address … is that this county has relied way too long and way too much on property tax,” he said. “This county has grown and developed and become a growing residential home to 860,000 people. But with residential growth comes more government spending.”

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