Re-elect Rasmussen

October 24, 1990

Baltimore County is at a precarious juncture, with its fiscal future up for grabs and the war of images in full swing. Across the political landscape -- from Dundalk to Owings Mills -- Republican challenger Roger Hayden accuses County Executive Dennis Rasmussen of setting a prodigal example. Indeed, some of Hayden's politicking hinges on accusations that the incumbent has sold taxpayers down the river for a fancy new office and a Lincoln Town Car.

This kind of stuff is nonsense, but it plays well in a year in which incumbents are being routinely knocked off by voter cynicism and frustration. Moreover, the rhetoric has become so twisted that the accusations themselves have become the issues.

The irony in all this is that the root of dissatisfaction is rising property taxes, which are a result of assessment increases that are not the county's responsibility. Rasmussen's response has been low-key and uninspiring, but he deserves more credit than anyone else for launching efforts to take the pressure off homeowners. It was Rasmussen who initiated the container tax, asked the General Assembly to let the county increase its share of the piggy-back income tax, and successfully pressed for a 4 percent assessment cap on homes that goes into effect July 1.

More than that, although Reagan policies forced the county to absorb $50 million in federal cuts in the last four years, (which translates into a whopping 22 cents on the tax rate), the rate itself remained stable. And the county managed to open new senior centers, family resource centers, add a new Department of Environment, an Office of Substance Abuse and pump an extra $120 million into the education budget. Overall, the operating budget increased by just 3.95 percent this fiscal year, while inflation hit 5.4 percent. By any measure that's prudence.

Roger Hayden is an appealing challenger. But like other born-again politicians, who rode to recognition this year on a wave of anti-incumbent sentiment, he offers little in the way of tangible proposals for bringing the county to a better day. Rasmussen, on the other hand, may no longer be the down-home Essex boy he once was, but he listens to Baltimore Countians and responds with a cautious, populist sense of what's achievable. With tougher economic times ahead, Rasmussen's fiscal and political skills become especially valuable. We endorse his re-election.

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