Some tax rebels have expressed guarded optimism at their chances of seeing the Maryland Court of Appeals approve efforts to lower property taxes through the ballot boxes in Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties.
Although they lost decisions in two circuit courts, the rebels appeared buoyed after arguments in the Court of Appeals yesterday afternoon. The court's ruling, which may come within days, also could affect tax limitation measures in Talbot and Prince George's counties and proposed caps in Montgomery County.
The volume of noise in the courtroom grew as several judges fired pointed questions at an attorney representing opponents of the tax cap amendments, to the obvious glee of several tax rebels.
"I think we have a better than average chance of voting on this thing in November," said John R. Greiber, the attorney for the Anne Arundel Taxpayers for Responsive Government, which proposed the tax rollback in that county.
Judges in Baltimore and Anne Arundel circuit courts ruled last month that the tax limitations usurp the county councils' authority to set tax rates. The decisions were appealed, and the cases heard together.
Greiber argued yesterday that the county executive, not the county council, really plays the largest role in proposing the tax rate -- a statement that the other side disputed. He also said the tax cap would ensure the executive's accountability to the voters.
The Anne Arundel amendment would roll back the amount of money the county could collect in property taxes to 1988-1989 budget year levels -- an estimated $30 million cut. It also would allow yearly increases of 4.5 percent, or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower.
Baltimore County's amendment would roll back property taxes to 1989-1990 levels and allow no more than a 2 percent annual tax increase. A tax increase above 2 percent would have to be approved by at least two-thirds of all registered voters -- a provision that came under intense fire in court yesterday.
"The two-thirds provision is impossible to achieve," said Roger D. Reddon, an attorney for the opponents of the tax cap amendments in both counties. "You're never even had two-thirds of the voters show up."
At least one judge appeared to agree, and even the attorney for the Baltimore County tax revolt group conceded that the two-thirds provision was poorly conceived.