Tax caps in the D.C. suburbs Where to cut?: Montgomery, P.G. voters decide which matters -- services or lower taxes.

November 02, 1996

NOWHERE IN MARYLAND is the debate over tax and spending policies more heated than in the Washington suburbs. Prince George's and Montgomery County voters will decide next Tuesday which is more important to them: Money for schools and police or lower local taxes?

Both jurisdictions already have voter-imposed property tax caps. But P.G.'s 18-year-old cap, known as TRIM, is starting to hurt. Schools and the police are in dire need of more money, but there is no flexibility under TRIM. County Executive Wayne Curry wants to repeal TRIM and raise property taxes to help pay for $63 million in new aid for education, police, fire, libraries and public health.

If he curries favor with voters on Nov. 5, this fiscal noose would disappear. But if P.G. voters reject the repealer, fearful of giving Mr. Curry unrestrained taxing powers, TRIM remains in place. That could force Mr. Curry to cut back further on spending across the board.

More alarming is another P.G. ballot proposal forcing any tax increase before the voters. That's an intolerable situation, one that would mock the notion of representative government.

Meanwhile in neighboring Montgomery County, a political gadfly again pushing a rollback of the piggyback income tax, which was narrowly defeated two years ago. But since then, new County Executive Douglas Duncan has brought frugality to Rockville. He reduced or ended nuisance taxes, revamped the bureaucracy, cut the payroll and kept the property tax lower than the rate approved by voters in 1990.

This year's proposed cut would cost $45 million next year, and $900 million over six years. Is it worth it? In a county where education consumes half of local spending, a $45 million cut would reverberate throughout the schools.

Most Marylanders are now wise to the ways of those promising easy tax savings by putting county governments in fiscal straitjackets. We urge voters to reject calls for irresponsible tax cuts or tax caps. But they should also hold county executives and council members accountable for their spending habits -- and toss from office those who disappoint.

Pub Date: 11/02/96

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