Prince George's tax trap TRIM: Cap on property tax rate stifles school aid but supporters want to tighten it.

September 01, 1996

FOR THE PAST 18 years, Prince George's County residents have had a voter-imposed cap on their property tax rate. Now the fallout from that misguided step is becoming clear. Political leaders want to remove the cap, but others want to make the cap even tighter.

Thus the stage is set for an emotional brawl in Prince George's as the controversy heats up this fall. On the one side stand County Executive Wayne Curry, most other elected leaders and much of the county's business community. On the other side stand local activists who helped enact TRIM as a ballot question in 1978.

Taxation is always a tough matter for politicians to address. Everyone wants low taxes. But everyone also wants good government services. The idea behind TRIM was to make P.G. a low-tax haven in the Washington suburbs. And it has, to a degree. Property taxes, on average, are far lower than in Montgomery. But there are hefty user fees and nuisance taxes to make up for the cap on the property tax rate.

Still, the county can't find money to attack its two major problems -- poor schools and a high crime rate. This has helped discourage businesses from moving into Prince George's the way they do in Montgomery, and it has kept housing values low, too. That means Montgomery -- with twice the total tax base -- can actually impose a lower tax rate than its neighbor, thus defeating the purpose of TRIM.

Backers of TRIM see it differently. They are fed up with government taxation and feel overextended. They want to broaden the cap, so that any higher local tax levy would first need voter approval.

That is a sure way to cripple local government's ability to meet emergencies and the changing needs of its citizens. And it is a sure way to frighten away business. Officials in Upper Marlboro would have little choice but to sharply reduce services.

This will be a keen test of voters' desires. Better services or lower taxes? The tax cap has done more harm than good in Prince George's. That's our assessment. Voters will render theirs in November.

Pub Date: 9/01/96

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.