Montgomery County Executive Isiah “Ike” Leggett released his plan for $60 million in proposed cuts last week, after news the County is way short of its proposed revenues for the current year.
Leggett’s proposed cuts, most notably target schools – the largest part of the County’s budget – include a proposed $25 million cut to Montgomery County Public Schools and a $5.2 million cut to Montgomery College.
“There are very few options that are there, you don't go there unless you absolutely have to,” said Leggett of his proposed $30.2 million cut to schools.
In addition, Leggett also proposed a $3.8 million cut to police, a $2.6 million cut to the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission, a $2.6 million cut to fire and rescue services and a $4.4 million cut to the Department of Health and Human Services to make up for the revenue shortfall.
In November, the County Department of Finances discovered that the County was in a $120 million budget shortfall, after it incorrectly projected the current fiscal year’s tax revenues. Leggett said the bad projection in revenue is because of a change in federal tax law, which lowered the capital gains tax, a tax levied on the sales of stocks. Leggett said many of the County’s wealthiest residents, who pay high amounts in capital gains and make up a large share of the County’s income tax revenue base, waited to file their taxes until after the federal tax cut was passed in hopes to save money creating a $95 million shortfall for the current fiscal year. Combined with a $25 million shortfall, and the County’s current revenues are short $120 million.
“I don’t go into this saying automatically certain things are off, we’ll try to protect education as best we can and everything else,” Leggett previously said about his proposed cuts. “At least to the early stages of this we look at everything.”
Potential cuts to education have become a contentious issue.
Leggett said avoiding cuts to education, which makes up more than half of the County’s $5.4 billion operating budget, would mean even more significant cuts to other County services which have a much smaller budget than MCPS including police as well as fire and rescue.
“As usual, I think Ike [Leggett] and his team have done a good job of finding spending items that can be deferred or avoided without major damage to government that works well for its citizens,” said Council member George Leventhal (D-at large).
Leventhal said the Council will likely make changes to Leggett’s proposal, but said it works as a good framework for the Council as they will have the ultimate say about what gets cut.
Council members for the most part have been cautious to make commitments on what they want to cut and what they do not, saying for the most part they will wait for Leggett’s proposal and deal with it when the Council returns from its recess next week.
Council member Roger Berliner (D-1), whose term as Council President ended around the time the revenue shortfall was announced, previously said he does not want to cut the school’s budget.
“Are we going to reduce public safety? I don’t think so. The school budget has been pretty much established,” Berliner said. “Now you are looking at smaller pots of dollars of where you can make this up. So it looks like some agencies will need to do more.”
The Council is expected to take up Leggett’s proposed cuts when it returns from its recess Jan. 16.