Hayden and the Tax Protesters

March 25, 1992

That recent squabble between Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden and several of the "anti-tax" protesters who helped him win office ended in what participants described as a family feud. This is hardly a family squabble.

The tax protesters, testifying before a state Senate committee, tried to intimidate Mr. Hayden by charging he would have to "look for a new job" if he opposed them in supporting a bill to have the county assume the job of assessing property, a role now handled by the state. The county did, in fact, oppose the bill, in part due to the $4 million price tag.

Later in the week, Mr. Hayden turned the tables on his tax friends by playing for them a recording of their disparaging testimony -- as if to prove he knew what they were saying behind his back. A member of the group then whipped out a video camera -- yes, a video camera -- to document Mr. Hayden's anger, making him angrier still. He called his bodyguards to get them out of his office.

What are we to make of this? The exchange points to the problem of a politician siding with the anti-tax fanatics. They are never satisfied.

In the past year, Mr. Hayden pared the county work force by 1,000 jobs and instituted changes, such as self-funding health insurance, cutting supply purchases and reducing phone lines and car phones, to save millions. Meanwhile, due to state cuts, drooping revenues and greater social service needs, the county faces deficits of $14 million this year and $50 million next year. Mr. Hayden, despite his abhorrence of tax increases, is now discussing that very possibility. He is taking a responsible position as the county's chief executive.

But the founder of Property Taxpayers United finds that unacceptable. He continues to rail in a truly filibuster fashion: he complains that the county's full-time lobbyist attends law school in his spare time (we thought what a worker did in his or her off-hours was a personal matter) and drives a government vehicle larger than a compact (a second-hand Ford sedan). Having tasted success in 1990, some self-styled anti-tax leaders erroneously view themselves as ward bosses. Mr. Hayden described the anti-tax element in a speech last month as derailers of county government. His latest confrontation only confirms that judgment.

Mr. Hayden's former allies still have appeal with a considerable number of county residents who are angry about high taxes. But the tactics and trustworthiness of the anti-tax lobby are becoming more and more dubious. Mr. Hayden may now regret having ever signed a pact with them in the first place.

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