Tax rebellions fizzle in Washington suburbs

November 04, 1992|By Douglas Birch | Douglas Birch,Staff Writer

Tax rebellions in the Washington suburbs fizzled last night as voters in Montgomery and Prince George's counties rejected ballot initiatives that would have capped tax revenues.

With all ballots counted, Montgomery residents voted 3-to-2 against Question A, a measure designed to force county officials to repeal a recent increase in local income tax rates or face the loss of property tax revenues.

"The power elite consisting of the editorial writers, the politicians and the teachers union spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on this campaign, which we didn't have the resources to counter," said Bethesda lawyer Robin Ficker, who worked to put the measure on the ballot.

While the ballot initiative failed, he said, voters still are angry about the income tax increase. "We have lots of little George Bushes in Montgomery County who said they wouldn't raise taxes before the election and did after, and they're coming up for re-election in 1994."

Question D in Prince George's, a measure to cap the growth of property tax revenue at 5 percent per year, was also rejected. With 170 of 171 precincts reporting, voters spurned the measure by a 56-44 ratio, said Robert J. Antonetti Sr., county elections administrator.

"They put out a massive campaign against us," said Judy Robinson of Prince George's Citizens for Tax Reform and Term Limitation, which sponsored the measure. "We had $3,000, they had $300,000. They had television ads, sample ballots -- everything you can think of."

But she said the measure had succeeded in catching the attention of county leaders, who pledged to use other means to curb the growth of property taxes.

Montgomery's Question A would have cut property tax revenues by the amount of money raised by a recent increase in the so-called "piggyback" income tax rate from 50 percent to 60 percent. That would have translated into the loss of $55.5 million.

The "piggyback tax" is a surcharge of up to 60 percent that the 23 counties and Baltimore are permitted to add to the state income tax bills of residents. The tax is collected by the state comptroller's office and forwarded to local jurisdictions.

In Prince George's, Question D would have limited any increase in property tax receipts to the rate of inflation for the Washington-metropolitan area, or 5 percent, whichever was less.

Because the measure included new construction, it probably would have forced county officials to trim the property tax rate.

County Executive Parris N. Glendening had warned that passage of Question D would cost the county $14.6 million in fiscal 1994, $34 million in fiscal 1995 and $46 million in fiscal 1996.

Officials argued the measure could disrupt essential services in ways reminiscent of the Tax Reform Initiative by Marylanders (TRIM), of 1978 which froze property tax revenues. Until TRIM was modified in 1984, it forced cuts in police and fire services and led to teacher layoffs.

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