- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 30, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Even as Barack Obama and the Democratic Party won resounding victories in Maryland, voters in two of the state’s most liberal jurisdictions signalled resounding “nos” to tax increases Nov. 4.

In Prince George’s County, voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to increase the telephone tax. And in neighboring Montgomery County, they approved a charter amendment that will make it extremely difficult to increase property taxes.

The votes constituted embarrassing defeats for two of the most powerful liberal Democratic machine politicians in the state - Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett and Prince George’s County Executive Jack Johnson.

In Prince George’s, 72 percent of voters rejected Mr. Johnson’s proposal to increase from 8 percent to 11 percent the amount that residents pay on their land-line and cell-phone bills. Mr. Johnson wanted the additional revenue to fund schools, and tried to deny residents the opportunity to vote on the tax increase. The Prince George’s County Council disagreed with Mr. Johnson and voted to put the measure on the ballot. With the county facing an estimated $70 million budget deficit next year, Mr. Johnson, prohibited by law from seeking a third term, held a closed-door meeting with local and state legislators early this month in an effort to find new ways to expand the county’s taxing authority.

In Montgomery County, voters approved by a narrow 5,000-vote majority a measure known as Question B that will require the County Council to unanimously approve increases in property taxes beyond the rate of inflation. Under current law, seven of the nine council members must approve such tax increases. It was a stunning victory for anti-tax activist Robin Ficker, who for more than 30 years had lobbied unsuccessfully to limit county taxes - losing repeatedly in the face of lobbying campaigns against tax relief by county politicians, teachers and other public-employee unions and the editorial page of The Washington Post.

Four years ago, Mr. Ficker proposed referendum language identical to Question B, but the proposal lost by more than 60,000 votes. It appeared likely that in high-tax Montgomery County, Mr. Ficker would lose again this year.

For one thing, county voters time and again elect politicians who are proud to support higher taxes.

In Annapolis, the Montgomery County delegation (all 32 members are Democrats) routinely provides majorities for increased taxes. County residents voted overwhelmingly to send to Congress Democrats Chris Van Hollen and Donna Edwards - both of whom routinely push for higher taxes on “the rich.” Question B passed because many of the same people who voted for those liberal politicians decided they had had enough. Home values in the county have plummeted; credit is drying up; unemployment is worsening; and taxpayers were hit with a 13 percent property-tax increase on top of the $1.3 billion in higher taxes approved last year by the Maryland General Assembly.

Taxpayer unhappiness has increased. Five days before voters approved Question B, the County Council learned that 134 county police officers - more than 90 percent of county police officers who applied for disability retirement benefits since 1998 - had received them. By way of comparison, over the past eight years no Fairfax County officers have retired on disability. Federal authorities have launched an investigation. Taxpayers are signalling that even in bastions of liberalism like Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties, tolerance has its limits.

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