Balto. Co. tax talk may sound familiar

January 14, 1991|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Evening Sun Staff

As Baltimore County Executive Roger Hayden's new tax overhaul committee begins discussions, county taxpayers can be forgiven if they get a feeling of deja vu.

Last year at this time, the man Hayden defeated, Dennis F. Rasmussen, was making tax reform an issue. Like Hayden now, he criticized the property tax as unfair, regressive and overdue for replacement.

But Rasmussen also wanted more tax revenues. He made the mistake in 1990 of asking a skittish General Assembly for higher income taxes in an election year, with voters already angry about sharp property assessment increases. He paid with an election loss.

Hayden's tax committee hopes for a smoother course. Chaired by Larry M. Epstein, who ran unsuccessfully to unseat state Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein last fall, the panel expects by June to recommend ways to rearrange the county's tax system without raising taxes.

Ultimately, Hayden hopes, as Rasmussen did, to win General Assembly approval next year for his own tax changes.

The 13-member committee, advised by Fred Homan, the county budget director, and James Gibson, the finance director, plans a public hearing in early February, Epstein said.

The committee contains a broad spectrum of professions, ranging from accountants and lawyers to District Court Judge and former state Sen. John C. Coolahan, and tax protesters John D. O'Neill and Harold Lloyd. Even Carl Julio, a prominent developer and landlord and one-time supporter of Rasmussen, is a member.

Rasmussen was convinced last year that Linowes was not going to recommend higher taxes as part of its restructuring study. Baltimore County could not wait until 1991, he said.

He asked the 1990 legislature for authority to raise the county share of the state income tax in return for a periodic cut in the county property tax rate with the result being more revenue for the county.

Rasmussen got nowhere with the legislature, was scorned as "Taxmussen" by voters and soundly lost the election despite a war chest 10 times larger than Hayden's.

The Linowes Commission has since proposed $800 million worth of tax increases as part of its restructuring plan, and the governor hired Joe Adler, a former Rasmussen staff member, to help him lobby for the Linowes recommendations.

Perhaps if Rasmussen had taken the safer course, he might now be in a position to support Schaefer and Linowes in arguing that different and higher taxes are needed to build schools, replace federal aid, spur affordable housing and help poorer subdivisions.

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