Voters in Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties put aside their anger over skyrocketing property tax bills last night and rejected proposals to limit increases in property tax revenue.
The defeat of the tax caps represented a dramatic change of heart for voters, who favored the limits by huge margins only a month ago, according to The Sun Poll. They were swayed by an aggressive advertising campaign mounted by tax cap opponents, who warned of dire cuts in government services if the measures passed.
In Anne Arundel County, the charter amendment failed by a comfortable margin.
In Baltimore County, the tax cap failed by a narrow margin.
Voters in Montgomery County, however, appeared likely to pass a charter amendment limiting property tax revenue increases to the rate of inflation.
Opponents of the tax caps, who included county officials, teachers and other public employees, breathed a sigh of relief at the outcome. They had faced an uphill battle in countering the tidal wave of anti-tax sentiment sweeping through the suburbs this year.
Their message that the quality of schools, roads, police protection and ambulance service would be threatened by any limit on property tax revenues did not seem to hit home until a coalition led by the Maryland State Teachers Association spent $225,000 on a series of television and radio ads.
In one of the more controversial radio spots, an elderly person in the throes of an apparent heart attack dials 911 for help only to get a recorded message putting him on hold.
Tax cap supporters in both counties denounced the ads as blatant attempts to frighten people. But support for the measures plummeted in the final weeks before the election, falling 21 percent in Anne Arundel County and 15 percent in Baltimore County, The Sun Poll showed.
Lillian Jackson, a retired teacher who lives in Severna Park, said she decided to vote against the tax cap after thinking about the consequences for the public schools and other government services.
"It hasn't been too successful in the places they've tried it," Mrs. Jackson said.
Anne Arundel's charter amendment would have limited growth in property tax revenue to 4.5 percent each year or the rate of inflation, whichever was lower. Baltimore County's would prohibit the government from raising property tax revenue by more than 2 percent each year.
Robert C. Schaeffer, head of the Anne Arundel Taxpayers for Responsive Government, said his grass-roots organization did not have the money to counter the advertising blitz by tax cap opponents.
"One of the things we discovered is what amateurs we are," he said. "We just had to sit here and absorb it. It was very frustrating."
Mr. Schaeffer is not sure whether he will work to get the tax cap passed in the next election.
"I've just spent better than a year doing this," he said. I can't do it again -- my wife would kill me. Yet I think it would be tragic to let it die."
The tax cap movement was the culmination of mounting disgust with rising property tax bills. Fed up with skyrocketing assessments, tax protesters had easily collected enough signatures to place the tax cap proposals on the ballot.
Ted Krocheski, 34, a computer technician for Channel 2 who lives in Dundalk, voted for a tax cap.
"I'm for schools and education," he said. "We need police protection. We need fire protection. But they have got to be more accountable."
Most people who voted against the tax caps did so out of fear of what it could do to their services and their quality of life.
"I want schools. I want roads, and I want policemen," said David Caplan, a 67-year-old salesman who lives in Pikesville.
"If they hadn't had police and ambulances out there at the tornado in Reisterstown, it would have been a disaster."