GOP is advertising its outrage over local tax increase

In newspaper ads, Republicans also target `out of control spending'

Howard County

February 04, 2004|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Howard County Republicans are so outraged by the large increase in local income taxes enacted by County Executive James N. Robey and the majority Democrats, they are advertising it in large, black print.

But the party's concern with what it terms "OUT OF CONTROL SPENDING!" in the ads, which have run in The Sun and several Howard County weeklies, ignores the spending decisions of a Republican president and GOP-controlled Congress. Those decisions are predicted to produce a $477 billion deficit this year, rising to $521 billion next year in President Bush's proposed budget, which calls for making federal income tax cuts permanent.

Even some conservatives in the GOP are beginning to complain. The Conservative Political Action Conference recently held a dinner to honor Republicans who voted against the president's Medicare bill - now expected to cost $535 billion over a decade instead of $400 billion.

"It's pretty darn hypocritical, I'd say," said Robey, a Democrat who is targeted in the GOP ads.

Wendy Fiedler, Democratic Party chairwoman in Howard, said the ad campaign is not really about spending. "They're campaigning for control of the [County] Council and the county executive's seat [in 2006]," she said.

Nonpartisan tax critic James Oglethorpe, president of the Howard County Taxpayers Association, opposed Robey's tax increase, but said both parties are at fault because they are constantly jockeying for political advantage instead of doing the right thing.

But Howard Republicans argue that local issues are the only ones proper for the local party to address.

"I don't think the Howard County Republican Party controls what happens on the national budget," said Del. Warren E. Miller, a Republican and former member of the party's central committee.

`Loyal' to Bush

"It would be absurd of me to criticize my president," Miller said. "I mean, I'm loyal. I voted for the president. I support him, and I want to see him re-elected."

Besides, noted County Council Republicans Allan H. Kittleman and Christopher J. Merdon, the federal government is fighting a war.

"I don't think there is a credibility problem" for the local GOP, said party Chairman Louis M. Pope, who said he ran last week's ads to alert taxpayers to the higher local tax deductions in their paychecks, starting Jan. 1.

Howard's local income tax rate rose from third lowest in Maryland to the 3.2 percent legal limit, which means a family of four with a median income of $83,100 will pay $521 more.

Robey proposed the change, and the County Council's three Democrats, who are listed with their e-mail addresses in the ad, voted for it. The council's two Republicans voted "no."

"We ran the ad to try and cut spending in Howard County," Pope said, because that is a local party issue. Republicans "by and large would like to see spending cut nationally," he said, but the deficit is short-term "because of the [Bush] tax cut," which he credited with sparking the economy. Pope added that he is sure the tax cuts will lead to long-term revenue gains.

Not surprisingly, Democrats are not buying that.

"You've got George Bush, who can't find the money to honor commitments to states on first responders, but he wants to spend billions to go to Mars," said Fiedler.

Oglethorpe said he thinks the ad "is fine," however.

"I agree that Bush has been a disappointment even for his own party, in some ways, for his big spending plans," he said.

But Oglethorpe does not expect the local GOP to censure the national party, even if it deserves it. "I don't think that's ever going to happen," he said.

"There are plenty of Democrats who don't worry about the deficit either. It's up to [both sides] as a crew down there [in Washington] to get together and do the right thing," he said.

No matter who is right, the ads have had little effect, according to the five County Council members.

Kittleman and Merdon said they had not seen the ads, though Merdon said he knew they might be coming.

But Kittleman said he has noticed the tax increase's effect. "I noticed it in my paycheck, which is $30 less," he said.

The three Democrats on the council said they have collectively received fewer than a dozen ad-generated e-mails from taxpayers, even though the ad says that Democrats are planning to raise taxes again - something they strongly deny.

"The part I find most disturbing," said Chairman Guy Guzzone, who represents the southeastern county, "is that in each one of those e-mails they mentioned that we are planning to raise taxes again. It was a complete fabrication. There is no one planning to raise taxes again."

Guzzone was referring to a line in the ad that says, "They [Democrats] are proposing additional taxes and an increase in your property's transfer tax." The latter is under consideration by the General Assembly, not the council.

But the other two council Democrats shrugged off the ads.

`It's to be expected'

"It's that season again. It's to be expected," said Councilman David A. Rakes of east Columbia.

And quipped Ken Ulman, who represents west Columbia: "I'm glad they're spending their money."

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