Back on Track in Arundel

September 28, 1990

Now that Republican Robert R. Neall has registered his complaints about campaign irregularities in Democrat Theodore Sophocleus' campaign, the two candidates for Anne Arundel county executive are talking about important substantive issues -- the property tax cap referendum and government spending.

Both oppose the inflexibility, if not the intent, of the tax limitation proposal. If passed, the measure would cap yearly growth in property taxes at 4.5 percent or even lower if inflation drops. Both candidates favor tightening government purse strings, but neither wants an immovable cap. Mr. Sophocleus favors an informal lid on property tax growth -- 5 percent to 8 percent -- and oversight by a spending affordability committee. Mr. Neall proposes holding property tax growth to a 5 percent range, tough scrutiny of departmental spending and keeping spending below the county's annual growth in personal income.

It is encouraging that the candidates are back in the business of discussing Arundel's problems. Last week, both campaigns jumped the track, focusing on a charge of campaign finance irregularities. Mr. Neall discovered that his opponent had used the names of dozens of elderly citizens without their knowledge as campaign contributors. The state prosecutor is checking out Mr. Neall's allegations.

The Sophocleus camp parried by questioning a dummy corporation set up by Mr. Neall to lease equipment to his campaign and questioning $6,000 he received in "field expenses." Both candidates have denied any impropriety.

Mr. Sophocleus would do well to ride herd on an apparently errant campaign staff. Nonetheless, Mr. Neall's public accusations -- made just days after an unexpectly robust primary win by Mr. Sophocleus -- have drawn a mixed reaction from county activists.

It is regrettable that a pivotal county race started off so badly. Voters face an important job in choosing a successor to James Lighthizer and deserve the opportunity to make that choice based on the issues -- taxes, growth management, the environment and education. Now that both campaigns seem to have found their tread, we hope they stay on track.

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