More for less

January 18, 1991

Members of Howard County's Senate delegation are claiming they voted against a county hotel tax because their constituents are opposed to a tax increase. In fact, their refusal to sponsor the measure on behalf of County Executive Chuck Ecker will mean a big property tax increase.

The vote can be viewed as little more than partisan posturing: The decision by the Democratic members of the Senate delegation left the measure with no sponsor and, as such, robbed Ecker, a Republican, of his best alternative to gouging property owners. The recession, coupled with Reagan-era federalism, has taken a terrible toll on Howard's economy, which draws most of its revenue from piggy-back income taxes and property taxes, both of which have been depressed by the souring economy.

As a result, simply matching this year's $286.4 million budget would require a stunning 64-cent increase in the county's property tax rate. So, for the first time in years, spending will have to be slashed; Ecker is struggling to come up with a $270 million budget for fiscal 1992, a 6 percent drop from this year. But financing even a trimmed-back budget could translate into a property tax increase of 20 cents.

Ecker had hoped the proposed hotel tax would bring in enough new revenue to lessen the burden for property owners. But the defeat of the measure leaves him no alternative. Yes, Howard Countians will get the reduced government spending they voted for in November. But they will also get something they didn't expect: higher property taxes to pay for it.

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