Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III hopes his legacy can be summarized this way: high-quality education helped spruce economic development with low crime.
Baker, who says he’s “99 percent” sure he’ll make a firm decision on running for governor after the Maryland General Assembly concludes next month, will lead the county until 2018 because of term limits.
In the meantime, he continues to boost how the county’s proposed $3.8 billion spending plan funds for educational programs, public safety and the first full year of revenues from the MGM casino and resort at National Harbor.
However, he knows the county could still do better.
Domestic violence remains a stigma, which experienced the most domestic-related fatalities in the state for the past two fiscal years.
Although the county’s median household income at nearly $77,000 ranks just above the state figure, realtytrac.com still shows the county at sixth statewide in foreclosure rates at one in every 585 units.
There’s still some unknowns for the county such as whether a federal agency will relocate the FBI headquarters from Northwest to Greenbelt, or Landover, or decide its better suited across the Potomac River in Springfield, Virginia.
The 58-year-old Howard University graduate and member of Omega Psi Phi fraternity stopped by The Washington Informer on Friday, March 24 to discuss several topics, such as how President Donald Trump’s proposed budget could affect the county, proposed state legislation to create a task force to analyze the county school system, the $2.1 billion Purple Line light-rail project and Gov. Larry Hogan.
Here are some of his thoughts, in his own words:
The cut in the CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) funds could hurt us. The funding that is coming into that program we can’t make up for, so the federal cuts will have a direct impact on our programs that we offer in the communities such as housing vouchers that have an impact on the ability to provide services. We’re monitoring those proposals. Health care is the biggest one at the top of the list. We’ve seen how the Affordable Care Act, even with its flaws, has worked to the benefit of the state of Maryland and Prince George’s County. We’ve cut our uninsured rate in the county by 50 percent. We don’t have individuals going into our emergency rooms as their primary care physician, which means we have people we can target to keep them out of hospitals. We predicated the cost of operating the new hospital system based on the number of people in the county and in the Southern part of the state would have health care. For that to be potentially gone because of the changes in the Affordable Care Act would be devastating. That would mean the cost in maintaining the [new regional medical center in Largo] would go up. We need to make sure the Affordable Care Act stays in place. Maryland is one of places that benefited the most from the Affordable Care Act. With the Purple Line, it helps us with mass transit and keeps people out of cars. It’s good for economic development and it’s good for creating jobs. It can’t move forward without federal funds.
Prince George’s County has the second-largest school population in the state. Creating a task force [for House Bill 1571] is not necessary. Part of what we put in the [current] legislation when we gave the county more authority over its education system, which has worked so well that [Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh] wants the same type of authority where she can have a greater role in shaping the education system. A greater role comes greater responsibility. When I went down to Annapolis and asked for this new structure, what I asked for a greater accountability of me and the executive branch. It that legislation, it required we come back and update the legislature on how well it’s working. I think that’s the tool to use. We’ll report back and assess how is this unique situation where the county executive selects and makes a recommendation to the school board of who the superintendent should be? Part of that is to say is how do we meet the bench mark? I don’t have anything against the task force. It’s just unnecessary because the school board, the county and the superintendent all have to report back to the legislative body [in the state] on what’s being going on. So really the General Assembly sits as a task force in and of itself on how well the policy is working. You don’t need another one. There’s no reason for a local Prince George’s task force to come in and give recommendations when we have to report to the General Assembly.
The Purple Line helps us with mass transit and keeps people out of cars. It’s good for economic development and it’s good for creating jobs. For President Trump to tout that he is creating jobs, this is a job killer when you get rid of the Purple Line. It can’t move forward without federal funds. The [$900 million] has been in there on the federal level. If we would have moved forward when Gov. Hogan came into office, this would be a moot issue. The Trump administration is only going after programs that have not started. The funds were there. The Hogan administration did not move on this, so now we are in the position where we don’t lose out. We would have been passed this point if in 2014 when the governor was elected and just moved ahead with it. There’s no way Montgomery County or Prince George’s County can make up the difference. We’re opening up a Whole Foods in Riverdale on April 12. It will be the first one in the county. The Town Center in Suitland where we hope to break ground this year. We want to revitalize a great community there in Suitland. There is no reason for that area to not see the type of growth in the Washington area. We believed in that project so much is we are going to act as a master development through our Redevelopment Authority and our Revenue Authority. We will select our developers and getting a lot of interest. The attractive you are, the more your property value goes up. People are going to want to come in and we are starting to see that.