In the first burst of television ads of the Anne Arundel County executive race, Republican incumbent John G. Gary started running segments yesterday accusing his opponent of being backed by liberals who want to raise taxes.
Democrat Janet Owens denounced the ads, which are running before and after news programs on three Baltimore television stations, as a misleading smear campaign that shows Gary is desperate.
Owens, a former director of county programs for the elderly who is supported by teachers and unions, called a news conference for 9 a.m. today to fight back against what her supporters call unfair attack ads.
"Attention Anne Arundel County residents!" the ads begin, with the words spelled out on the television screen. "Your taxes could be going up! Liberal special interest groups supporting Janet Owens for county executive want to remove the property tax cap and increase the local income taxes. Money she will spend on pay raises and perks."
The segment goes on to say that Gary has worked within the County Charter's restrictions on tax increases to hire teachers and police officers and buy textbooks for students.
"Move forward with John Gary," the ad concludes. "Or risk it all with Janet Owens."
The accuracy of the segments is unclear, because they do not specify which "special interest groups" supporting Owens want to lift the county's tax ceiling. Owens has said in public forums that she does not favor removing the county's restrictions on tax increases.
The amendment to the County Charter, approved in a 1992 referendum, imposes a formula on the county government that limits annual increases in property taxes to the rate of inflation or 4.5 percent, whichever is less.
In an interview with The Sun, George Shenk, Gary's campaign manager, said one group the ads referred to was the Anne Arundel Teachers Association, which has endorsed Owens.
The record shows that the teachers union lobbied against the tax ceiling in 1990 and 1992.
But association President Susie Jablinske said yesterday that the organization has not supported repealing the tax ceiling since its approval.
Jablinske said the organization opposed the tax limits because its members worried that the county's educational system could be hurt by financial restrictions, just as California's schools were damaged by the tax limits of Proposition 13.
"But we have not advocated lifting the tax cap or anything of that nature," she said. "So I'm afraid Mr. Gary's ad is misleading."
Owens said she is "opposed to raising the tax cap" and added, "The voters are absolutely clear that they do not want the tax cap raised. I don't know where he got this. What a smear. Good gracious, John, you must be worried."
Shenk said the ads are accurate because they do not claim that Owens supports raising the tax ceiling.
"The groups supporting her have come out and said they want to raise the tax cap," Shenk said. "And quite frankly, she should start talking about where she's going to get the money for all her proposals. Because she hasn't done that yet."
Shenk declined to say how much the ads cost.
"Let's just say it's a big-ticket item," he said.
Pub Date: 10/15/98