Brown's piggyback pique Carroll County: Commissioner's quick draw is poor form and bad fiscal policy.

February 13, 1997

THE ONLY GOOD THING to say about W. Benjamin Brown's scheme to roll back the piggyback income-tax rate is that it was mercifully tabled for further study by the Carroll County Commissioners.

Commissioner Brown didn't do his homework; he didn't even ask others to do it for him. He didn't discuss his notion with colleagues or give school officials a hint in a meeting two days before announcing his populist political balloon. He didn't have any idea about legalities, such as a public hearing requirement, or when the reduction could take effect.

No wonder fellow commissioners Donald Dell (who voted with him in 1995 to raise the county's "piggyback" income tax from 50 to 58 percent of the state income tax) and Richard Yates (who embraces any tax cut or budget reduction) told Mr. Brown to shelve the idea until basic questions could be answered. Raising for public debate the idea of returning the piggyback rate to 50 percent might be acceptable, even if it is a bad idea. But trying to ram this decision through in four days -- without facts or discussion -- was patently irresponsible.

Mr. Dell voiced the obvious objections. It is a premature move if the county doesn't know how to replace this $7.5 million a year for schools. An 11-person study committee created by the commissioners to examine the county's school needs will take time to come up with decidedly difficult answers.

Mr. Brown's reason for rolling back the piggyback is that the state has failed to respond to Carroll's efforts to spend more of its own money for school construction. The state contributes to the construction and renovation of public schools, yet Carroll leaders feel they have been snubbed in seeking funds for approved school projects and have waited years for reimbursement on other schools already built.

Issuing municipal bonds is Mr. Brown's preferred alternative, although that is a costlier approach than direct funding. Additional tax money would be needed in any case to pay interest and principal on bond debt.

The current 58 percent piggyback rate expires in 2001. That's precious little time to help pay for the six more schools Carroll needs to accommodate enrollment growth. Reopen discussion on construction funding, certainly, but let's not buy Mr. Brown's piggyback in a poke.

Pub Date: 2/13/97

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