Tax cap advocates take to the air

October 26, 1992|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Staff Writer

Proponents of the measure to cap property tax revenue finally began their campaign in earnest last week, airing ads on radio and cable television and starting an advertising blitz that is sure to heat up in this last week before the election.

The leader of the anti-tax movement sees his head start as a distinct advantage over his opponents.

"Whatever happens, if they blow out the airwaves from here on in, the fact remains: I was first," said Robert C. Schaeffer, president of the Anne Arundel Taxpayers Association.

A windfall of donations has enabled Mr. Schaeffer to buy 574 30-second spots on the county's three cable television networks. The ads are designed to win support for the tax measure -- which would cap property tax revenue increases at 4.5 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less -- and a measure to limit County Council members to two terms.

Mr. Schaeffer's television spots have been running on CNN since Monday, and starting tomorrow, will expand to the USA Network, the Discovery Channel and TNT. He also has bought radio time on WNAV and the WCBM morning show for three 60-second ads and has run ads in local newspapers.

Television time on CNN ranges from $10 per spot with Jones Intercable ($22 for prime time) to $4 per spot for TCI Cable Vision.

Meanwhile, the tax cap's opponents -- a coalition that includes the local Fairness for All County Taxpayers (FACT), plus unions representing state teachers and public employees -- will not begin airing ads until Wednesday.

"If the election is on Nov. 3, we'd better get moving," said Kathleen Lyons, spokeswoman for the Maryland State Teachers' Association. She acknowledged that money has been much more difficult to raise than in 1990, when a similar tax cap measure was on the ballot.

"We're scraping the barrel to come up with the money," Ms. Lyons said. She blamed the recession and the fact that more people are focused on the presidential race than on the property tax measure.

Still, she said, a major television advertising campaign will start next week. Late last week, tax cap foes were buying time on commercial television stations, although they declined to say how much.

"It will be significant," Ms. Lyons said. "It's going to take significant amounts of money to focus people's attention on this issue, and it's money we'd rather not spend. . . But we are prepared to do what we have to do. We can't let this win."

Mr. Schaeffer said the tables have turned since 1990, when he was heavily outspent by opponents.

Since a fund-raising letter went to about 20,000 county households Sept. 2, Mr. Schaeffer said, $300 to $500 in donations has been coming in each day. Mr. Schaeffer refused to say how much the AATA has collected -- he doesn't want to tip his hand, he said -- but at that rate, the number is well in excess of $10,000.

"I've spent 25 to 30 times what I spent last time," Mr. Schaeffer said.

He's hoping the result is that more people will get his message. In his television spot advocating the tax cap, that message is made dramatic.

First, a hand counts out $20 bills.

"In Anne Arundel County, if your property taxes continue to increase at the present rate, they will double every seven years," says the announcer.

Next, a picture of a house with a "For Sale" sign pops on the screen.

"How soon will you run out of money to pay these taxes?"

In the spot advocating term limits for the County Council, Mr. Schaeffer said he "got a little creative." A blazing sun appears on the screen, surrounded by outer space, with the number 2006 floating above. The opening strains of Richard Strauss' "Also Sprach Zarathustra," also known as the theme from the film "2001: A Space Odyssey," accompany the narration.

"2006. That's how long they'll be in there if the County Council's Question B passes," intones a solemn voice. "This is the career politicians' bill, Question B, as in baloney."

Creative indeed. But Carole B. Baker, the former councilwoman who is a founder of FACT, believes the impact of the ads will be blunted by FACT's television campaign.

"They basically say, 'Don't vote to hurt yourself. Be careful. The services you cut may be your own,' " Ms. Baker said. The anti-tax cap ads will run on the commercial networks, which FACT officials hope will bring greater exposure than cable.

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