Mason's Rules

February 28, 1992

Baltimore County Councilman Donald Mason spearheaded the protest over property taxes in Dundalk that helped sweep him and others into office. He beat a drum against big taxes and bigger government for years. But now he says that if taxes must go up, why not raise the property tax?

Come again?

Mr. Mason's point -- theoretically at least a good one -- is that in spite of the recession, government hasn't drastically altered its mode of business. Politics and games still reign.

On the state level, the governor threatens to chop emergency helicopter pilots or drafts a "doomsday budget," with sacrificial lambs he knows will never be sacrificed. Locally, Mr. Mason has been one of two council members not to lend support to County Executive Roger Hayden as he seeks greater taxing authority. (Councilman William A. Howard IV is the other.) Mr. Hayden wants the state legislature to allow local governments to increase the piggyback income tax.

Mr. Mason, while praising Mr. Hayden's budget-pinching, feels this is the wrong tack. Don't let politicians increase the tax with the least political cost, he says. Make them raise the property tax -- the one they fear raising and the one voters hate and rally against -- if more money is needed.

Mr. Mason, of course, doesn't want to see the property tax rise, either. But a tax increase is a tax increase. He feels politicians will work harder to cut waste and to contract out certain services if the alternative would prove painful on Election Day.

Staring down a $14 million deficit this budget year and maybe triple that next year, Baltimore County, like its neighbors, may not be in a position to experiment with such intriguing theories. Moreover, neither Mr. Mason nor the other anti-tax candidates now in office have been quick to find all that so-called waste and fat oozing from Towson, as they charged during their campaigns.

But as food for thought, Mr. Mason makes an interesting point: As long as lawmakers devise muffled ways to raise folks' money, we'll pay for the politicians' peace.

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