Voters in Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties did something that no one expected -- they voted down a chance to lower their property taxes.
"It really messes up my faith in the voters," said a disappointed Robert Schaeffer, who led the fight to limit property taxes in Anne Arundel County.
After learning the election results last night, he blamed an expensive radio and television blitz by his opponents -- a coalition that included the Maryland State Teachers Association -- for scaring away voters from his tempting tax measure.
The efforts of Schaeffer and his compatriots, however, did not appear to be in vain. The issue of government spending and rising property taxes dominated political debates in several counties. It even contributed to the downfall of at least one politician.
In Baltimore County, John O'Neill and Joseph Ingolia, two leaders of that area's tax revolt, smiled last night at what they said was the real victory -- the defeat of Democratic County Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen.
"While the tax question predominated, we were really after county government that responds to citizens," said Ingolia, who drafted the defeated charter amendment. "Roger Hayden, the new county executive, will be more responsive."
Baltimore County voters rejected a proposed 2 percent cap on the growth in annual property-tax revenue by a vote of 89,073 to 81,869, 52 percent to 48.
In Anne Arundel, residents voted 57,703 to 48,082, 55 percent to 45, against a charter amendment that would have limited the yearly growth in property-tax revenue to 4.5 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower.
Voters in Montgomery County approved one of the three tax limitation proposals on their ballot.
Support for the caps grew during the last year as homeowners watched rising assessments lead to large increases in their tax bills. The ranks of the tax rebels swelled with residents who believed government had grown fat and arrogant.
On the other side, environmentalists, teachers and government employees adamantly argued that the cap would strangle county governments.
More than $200,000 was spent in emotional television and radio ads in Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Montgomery counties urging people to reject the caps.
Schaeffer complained that the ads "were just about as low as you can get." He criticized the scare tactics used in an anti-tax cap ad that depicted a heart attack victim dialing 911 and hearing a busy signal.
Former Baltimore County Executive Donald P. Hutchinson, who helped lead the fight against that county's tax cap question, said that although the measure was defeated, the results of Baltimore County's election -- five of seven incumbent councilman were voted out of office -- should send a message to the new council and executive.
"Roger Hayden is going to have to pay attention to what happened these past eight months," he said. "The people in county government have been held accountable, and I think most of it was tax-related."