Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker guaranteed the county’s deficit would decrease and investments would be made for the future.
The proposed $3.8 billion fiscal 2018 spending plan, an increase of nearly $131 million, or 3.5 percent over the current budget, has a projected deficit of $4 million compared to $64.2 million in present financial plan — the smallest shortfall since Baker was elected in 2010.
The biggest chunk of the budget — nearly $2 billion — was earmarked for education, accounting for 61 percent of the county’s $3.2 billion general fund.
“We as a county have to make lifelong learning investments,” Baker said while presenting the budget at the county’s administration building in Upper Marlboro. “We did not fixate on past history. We dreamed of a better future and created a way to get there.”
Although school officials requested more than $2 billion, it could receive plenty of financial support.
According to budget figures, the MGM casino resort at National Harbor could bring in $34.2 million in revenue with at least 50 percent going to education, one of the main agreements for the entertainment company to build its complex in the county.
Three major initiatives are being proposed for education:
• About $10.7 million would focus on services and programs to increase graduation rates at Bladensburg, Central, High Point and Northwestern high schools. Bladensburg and Central each had a 74 percent graduation rate in the 2015-16 school year; the other two schools fell below 70 percent.
• A second plan would use $1.7 million for 500 high school graduates to receive a scholarship toward tuition and other fees to attend Prince George’s Community College.
• Finally, a $113,200 “Books from Birth” program managed by the county’s library system to provide 7,200 books for children ages 5 and younger.
Prince George’s Public Schools CEO Kevin Maxwell, who attended the budget presentation, said only 37 percent of children within that age range showed early-childhood readiness to enter kindergarten two years ago.
“I can’t tell you how excited I am the library system is going to have the books for [children ages] zero to 5,” he said. “To have kids come into the school and only 37 percent of them have the skills … to be able to do kindergarten work that’s a real challenge for us … as educators.”
Baker reminded officials earlier Wednesday that some of the proceeds from MGM goes not only to the state but also to two other casinos in Baltimore and Anne Arundel County based on a hold-harmless agreement.
Thomas Himler, the county’s deputy chief administrative officer for budget, finance and economic development, estimated about $3 million would come from video lottery terminals, commonly known as slot machines.
One aspect of the budget that could affect Prince George’s is the 69,000 residents who work for the federal government. President Donald Trump released a blueprint of his fiscal 2018 budget on March 16, with cuts to various agencies that include $6 billion, or 13 percent, from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Himler said the county receives about $84 million in federal housing funds that helps provide 5,000 vouchers for residents.
“That’s real impact to a lot of people,” he said.
The county council will now review the budget, which could be approved as early as May 25. If approved, it would go into effect July 1.