Why a Tax Cap in Arundel?

October 20, 1990

Does Anne Arundel County really need a charter amendment to shave a penny or two off its property tax rate?

That, apparently, will be the net effect of the much-debated referendum capping property tax levies. A glitch in the language of the proposal, it seems, creates a loophole that will all but wipe out the savings promised by tax rebels.

Under the original interpretation, annual increases in levies on all property -- including new construction -- would be held to the lower of 4.5 percent or inflation. The wording, however, fails to include levies on new construction. That, along with the 4.5 percent increase the measure permits, effectively allows a yearly increase of about 10 percent -- ironically the rate at which property taxes have risen since the early 1980s.

The net result will be a penny or so reduction in the tax rate, now pegged at $2.46. For the average homeowner, that means a saving of about $10 a year on his property tax bill, a far cry from the $245 promised by tax revolutionaries.

Robert Schaeffer, the organizer of the Anne Arundel tax revolt group, says he agrees with this analysis of the tax cap's impact. But he has failed to explain how his promise of a 20 percent cut in property tax bills got whittled to $10. Moreover, the referendum will do nothing to curb what tax rebels say is profligate waste and excessive government spending.

The battle cry of "lower property taxes and cut government fat" touched a raw nerve with thousands of voters. Now they are learning the truth -- that the tax-cap proposal will do neither.

Voters should reject Question D. Anything as blatantly ambiguous as this has no place on the ballot, much less on the county's books. It points out the folly of trying to adopt living-room legislation. The proper way to lower property taxes is by electing county officials with the courage to reduce the tax rate, not through ill-crafted ballot measures.

At best, voting for this ludicrous measure means a penny or two off the tax rate, a savings hardly worth the trouble and certainly not worth a charter amendment. At worst, a court could decide in favor of the original interpretation, depriving the county of $118 million in revenue -- and services -- over the next five years.

A vote AGAINST is the only sensible way to go.

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