Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Two County Executives, Two Budgets

Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett and Prince George’s County Executive Jack Johnson both submitted tight FY 2010 budget recommendations to their County Councils. Both men had formidable challenges and dealt with them differently.

At first glance, Leggett’s job seems harder because he has to close a $587 million deficit while Johnson confronts a $113 million gap. But Montgomery County is projecting a slight revenue increase from $4.385 billion in FY 09 to $4.436 billion in FY 10 (up 1.2%) while Prince George’s is projecting a revenue drop from $3.182 billion to $3.068 billion (down 3.6%). This enables Leggett to close his deficit with a small increase in spending while Johnson has no choice but to impose absolute cuts.

We looked at thirteen line items in the two counties’ budgets that were roughly comparable to examine the choices made by the County Executives. (We also included debt service, which is a significant cost but not one over which the counties have much discretion.) These items comprise more than three-quarters of each county’s budget. Here are the changes from FY 09’s budget recommended by the County Executives:

Johnson’s greater difficulty can be seen right away: he has recommended an absolute decrease for every one of the above items except debt service. Leggett cut six items and was also able to cut debt service. But the difference in their relative priorities for targeting and protection is even more interesting.

Johnson’s cuts concentrate on health & human services (-11.5%), environmental protection (-8.8%), the sheriff’s office (-8.2%) and the corrections department (-6.7%). He spared (relatively speaking) the circuit court (-0.9%), the community college (-2.0%), fire & rescue (-3.1%) and libraries (-3.4%). Leggett’s targets are libraries (-6.1%), the state’s attorney (-1.8%), the circuit court (-1.3%) and health & human services (-0.7%). He spared the public schools (+3.0%), fire & rescue (+2.7%), Montgomery College (+2.7%) and the police (+2.7%). Leggett’s funding for fire & rescue depends on the County Council’s approval of an ambulance fee, a tactic he was warned not to employ by seven council members. Both County Executives cut their own budgets as well as their County Councils’ funding.

The two County Councils will, of course, have the final word on the budgets. But these sets of recommendations say a lot about what is really important to both Ike Leggett and Jack Johnson.