Tax-Cap Mania

October 07, 1990

Sponsors of measures to place caps on property tax levies in Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties are having a field day whipping the populace into a "no more taxes" revolt. Their approach is enticing, and dangerously simplistic.

Should voters approve these referendums on Nov. 6, the tax-cap mania could turn to panic when county residents confront the implications of these new restrictions.

Baltimore County's 2 percent tax cap referendum would mean a $20.3 million loss next year, a $13.5 million cut in pay-as-you-go construction programs and a $28 million reduction in bond projects. Yet with fuel-oil costs for schools and office buildings more than doubling and other inflationary pressures mounting, the county faces new bills of at least $50 million.

This double bind is compounded by Maryland's recession, which translates into falling receipts from real estate transfer taxes and the local piggyback income tax.

Anne Arundel County faces similar shortfalls. Its 4.5 percent tax-cap referendum is a bit more flexible, but it still means a $8.4 million loss next year. Combined with fixed inflationary costs, this cap would require government retrenchment. Parks, senior centers and schools would be hit hard. The impact would mushroom, creating a four-year revenue gap of $118 million.

Tax-cap sponsors have been quick to shout about profligate spending in Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties. Yet they have failed to detail how they would curb government costs.

How many county workers should be laid off? From which agencies? Which senior centers should close? What should be they cut from the schools? What construction projects would they cancel? How long would they deny county workers and teachers pay raises?

These referendums should be defeated. They are not needed. Elected officials have been judicious in their spending policies. Baltimore County already has enacted a 4 percent lid on property tax increases and a spending affordability limit. Anne Arundel's property 1990 tax rate is the same as it was in 1981. The county's only major new expenditure has been for better public schools.

All four candidates for county executive in Anne Arundel and Baltimore oppose tax caps as dangerously inflexible. So no matter who is elected, the winners will be chafing against arbitrary and inflexible fiscal straitjackets. They prefer self-imposed limitations on spending.

Voters have an obligation to examine these tax-cap proposals carefully. They are appealing on the surface. Everyone wants lower taxes. But at what price? Responsible citizens should be ++ satisfied only with answers, not demagoguery.

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