Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson spent much of his first year in office attempting to build support for rolling back, if not repealing, the county's voter-imposed cap on property taxes.
"We need road repair, better code enforcement and cleaner streets," he said in his 2003 State of the Economy address. "But in order for us to make these improvements, we need to generate additional revenue."
Council member Thomas R. Hendershot (D) wants the property-tax cap repealed.
(Mark Gail--The Washington Post)
It was bold talk for a brand-new executive. His predecessor, Wayne K. Curry (D), was in the middle of his second term in 1996 before he tried to have the cap repealed. The ballot issue was rejected by 63 percent of voters.
As Johnson (D) serves his third year in office and turns his attention toward reelection in 2006, he has dropped any mention of the Tax Reform Initiative by Marylanders from his public remarks.
"I have no interest in repealing TRIM," Johnson said in a recent interview, explaining that the county's finances, lifted by rising real estate values, make it unnecessary. "We don't need the money."
Property owners in Prince George's pay $1.319 per $100 of assessed value in property taxes, one of the highest rates in the state (Montgomery County's rate is $1.06, which includes an urban district tax that Prince George's residents do not pay). The county's share, which funds basic services such as schools and public safety, has been capped at 96 cents per $100 of assessed value since 1978.
The balance goes to the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, the Washington Suburban Transit Commission and other regional services.
Johnson is correct that the county's finances have improved since he took office in December 2002.
Property tax assessments are up. Last month, he presented the County Council with a $2.15 billion budget, a $201 million increase over the current spending plan. While the majority of the new money comes from the state, $85 million of the increase is derived from additional property and real estate transaction taxes.
With revenue up, the county enjoys a $50 million surplus.
Projects such as National Harbor, the $2 billion hotel, office and entertainment complex along the Potomac River, and Karington, the $900 million planned community in Bowie, hold the promise of an even deeper revenue stream.
On top of that, last year the county's bond rating was upgraded from Aa3 to Aa2 by Moody's Investors Service, a signal to lenders of the county's improved fiscal health.
"Prince George's is in great financial shape," Johnson said in his 2005 economic address this month. "Our success has given us the financial wherewithal to fund our priorities of strengthening families and children, taking care of our seniors and creating opportunities for our young people."
Ronald Walters, a professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland, said Johnson's turnabout is not surprising as he looks toward running for reelection.