Prince George’s can’t fix problems without gas tax

(WTOP/Paul D. Shinkman)

WASHINGTON – The chief executive of Prince George’s County said Friday that serious local issues can’t be fixed unless the government considers additional taxes.

The gas tax has not been raised since 1992, County Executive Rushern Baker said on WTOP’s “Ask the Executive” program on Friday, offering his support for increasing that tax. The county must repair its roads and make other infrastructure improvements to attract and keep businesses, he says.

“Unless I have money, these problems can’t be fixed,” Baker says. “We have to have the resources to do that.”

During the program, Baker also discussed convincing the Redskins not to break their lease in the county, and courting the FBI to establish a facility there.

The county executive stressed a difference between the gas tax and other potential sources of revenue, such as a bag tax and speed camera enforcement — which the The Washington Post reported brought in twice the expected revenue. Those are more about changing behavior, Baker says.

Area residents wouldn’t have to pay 5 cents per bag by bringing their own, he says. The county is also proposing a 10-cent return for those who do. Drivers can also avoid paying for tickets by not speeding, he says.

“The message is we want you to be safe,” says Baker. “You wouldn’t be spending the money if you drive within the law.”

Currently, there are no financial penalties for not paying speeding tickets on time. The county executive says he would like to change that.

For more on Baker’s plans to recover underwater mortgages and foreclosures, the new jobs included in his budget and the future of gambling in the county, check out our live blog:

10:57 a.m., speaking about no pay raise for county employees:

We wanted to send a message that we’re happy with their work. They will get a one-time bonus we’re working on now. We’ve indicated to the school system we’d like to see them get raises.

10:56 a.m., speaking about the Redskins training facility:

I have a great working relationship with them and the D.C. mayor. We have no indication they’re going to violate their lease with us.

10:55 a.m., speaking about Internet gambling:

I haven’t really thought about that. We’re going to provide a physical place to go, so D.C. may not have to worry about that.

10:54 a.m., speaking about the FBI looking for a new headquarters:

We’re badgering our federal counterparts to get them to come to Prince George’s. We’re preparing the county at the sites we think will be attractive, so we’re improving infrastructure there.

They have not given us any timeline.

10:51 a.m., speaking about table-game gambling:

The idea is to bring in a high-end resort to Prince George’s at National Harbor. We think that could bring in $40-$50 million to the county.

That would give $20 million to education and public safety, and millions toward housing stabilization.

Not just gambling, but live shows, high-end restaurants and retailers.

You can’t do it at Rosecroft because you can’t guarantee it would outlive if someone opened up a slot machine facility in Virginia or D.C. This project would be different because it’s more than just gambling.

10:40 a.m., speaking about bag tax and gas tax:

The idea if you bring your bag to the grocery store, it is a 10-cent return to you, depending on how many bags you use. That is a part of the proposal we’re sending to Annapolis.

The idea is not so much to raise revenue, the idea is to get people to behave differently.

The bag fee is about cleaning up the environment. If we don’t do that, we’re putting more responsibility on agencies like public works.

The gas tax is different. We must have roads fixed. We must bring businesses here, and we have to have resources to do that. We have not raised the gas tax since 1992.

“Unless I have money, these problems can’t be fixed.”

10:37 a.m., speaking about increasing firefighter staff:

Our planned increases (see below) are not nearly enough.

10:35 a.m., speaking about councilmembers having county-issued cars:

There is an option given to councilmembers that they can lease, but they have to pay toward the vehicles they use. That’s because of the places they go and the work they do on behalf of their constituents.

Just like in any government, there are official vehicles they use. In this case, each councilmember still has to pay a certain amount out of their own pockets for use of it.

10:34 a.m., speaking about home values:

They’ve gone down about 50 percent in the last five years. It’s the market, and foreclosures have a lot to do with that.

10:32 a.m., speaking about the state shifting pension payments to the counties:

We don’t account for that in this budget. I have to present my budget by the 15th of March. “We don’t know what the shift is going to look like.”

The Senate is proposing something that would offset these costs for the first two years. The House is considering a three-year shift.

I don’t have these revenues. I can’t pay for that, now I have to go back and cut from education and public safety.

10:30 a.m., speaking about budget cuts:

It’s not focused on cuts but spending priorities. There are some great needs throughout the county, like Dept. of National Resources, we won’t be able to hire any more code enforcers. We’d like to have more public health officials, and to our education system, though it won’t be nearly enough to make an impactful change.

10:26 a.m., speaking about transportation funding:

What we’re doing now is not nearly enough for what we need. We’re spending $32 million right now on traffic, but we need more for sidewalk repairs, new lights.

That’s why I support the gas tax.

There are projects we’ve carried the load on from the state. Part of our support was based on counting on that funding coming back.

10:24 a.m., speaking about the county budget:

We’re putting more money into education. Unlike many other jurisdictions, we are not fighting the “minimum of effort,” the lowest amount needed.

Even though enrollment has gone down, we’re going to keep the funding at the same level. That’s about a $21 million increase.

We’re also adding about 150 new police officers, about 50 new recruits for the fire department, about 20 new corrections officers, and 15 new county-funded positions for our state’s attorneys.

10:22 a.m., speaking about taking foreclosures of the market:

We are looking at that. We slate about $11 million in housing stabilization from the gaming bill we’re currently considering, particularly for teachers and first-time homebuyers.

There is a hotline the Maryland attorney general has set up: 1-877-462-7555

10:21 a.m., speaking about no penalties for not paying speeding fines:

We don’t double our fines if you don’t pay within a certain period of time, but that means you can’t re-up your driver’s license.

This is about safety, not about revenues which is why we don’t double it.

10:17 a.m., speaking about a county councilmember charged with unsafe driving:

I think she did a good job of accepting responsibility, asking to be treated like a regular citizen.

I think she’s learned from her mistakes. She’s done a good job serving her constituents.

10:13 a.m., speaking about projected revenue for photo enforcement being double what was anticipated:

We’re analyzing it. We did a small pilot for red-light cameras and expanding it. We’re pleased the outcome won’t be just additional revenues but also increased safety.

Local drivers can expect to see more of this.

Safety is “really the main reason we went forward.”

Most of the money will go toward public safety, either the police department or the attorney general, and back to the roads.

“We are now, at the county level, picking up the maintenance of state highways. Revenues, wherever we get them, is going to be used for that.”

As the parent of three eligible drivers, two of which have received these tickets, “it really is about safety.”

“The message is we want you to be safe. You wouldn’t be spending the money if you drive within the law.”

WTOP’s Paul D. Shinkman contributed to this report. Follow Paul and WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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