Bill to Loosen Lid on Taxes Has Some Steaming

By Ann E. Marimow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 1, 2007

Taxpayer advocates are burning up about Del. Sheila E. Hixson's bill that could make it easier for the County Council to exceed Montgomery's charter limit on taxes, which was created to keep increases on property taxes in check. The measure would give the council the flexibility to override the limit with six votes, instead of the current seven-vote requirement.

Marvin Weinman, president of the Montgomery County Taxpayers League, said the county is already the "pocketbook for the rest of the state," paying more in taxes than it receives in state services. He is concerned that the council might be pressured this year to bust the charter limit because of new employee contracts.

Hixson's bill, he said, would make matters worse. "The place is in an uproar. It just doesn't make any sense," Weinman said. "Why would a county delegate want to create an option for higher taxes for Montgomery?"

As chair of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, Hixson (D-Montgomery) hears often from local government leaders seeking state aid. Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties, for instance, have strict tax limits that leave county leaders little wiggle room when revenue dips. Hixson said the bill is not a mandate, but a tool that could be used by counties such as Prince George's to make it easier to get around the local tax cap.

"They've been asking the state to provide some relief," Hixson said. "It's just a vehicle that could be used."

Hixson's bill doesn't appear to have much support in other corners of the county she represents. Council President Marilyn Praisner (D-Eastern County) said the state shouldn't be tinkering with what is essentially the county's constitution. "I'm always troubled when the legislature involves itself in something where the voters have spoken," Praisner said.

At a hearing on the bill last week, the administration of County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) also submitted a formal opposition paper, saying the measure "would upset the responsible and workable approach enacted by our voters."

Nominees for Elections Board

The leadership of the county's Board of Elections is all but certain to change hands -- and parties -- this spring with appointments announced by Maryland's new Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley.

O'Malley has renominated the one Democratic voting member of the three-person panel, Samuel L. Statland, and the Democratic substitute, Mary M. Carter-Williams, in addition to tapping John J. Sullivan, a lawyer.

The nominees are among 145 O'Malley has submitted to the Senate for approval.

The members of the board reached new levels of prominence last fall after the primary election was marred by human and technical errors. In the fallout, former county executive Douglas M. Duncan called for the dismissal of board President Nancy H. Dacek-- an appointee of O'Malley's Republican predecessor -- and the resignation of election director Margaret Jurgensen.

O'Malley has yet to announce his GOP appointments. But the county Republican Central Committee has recommended returning Dacek to the board as the one GOP voting member, in addition to three potential substitutes: Ann Patricia Buehrle-Hill, a current substitute; Lucia Nazarian, a former election board employee; and Eleanor Busch, a longtime GOP activist.

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