Anti-Tax Measure Passes in Montgomery

Robin Ficker has been trying to curb county taxes for more than 30 years.
Robin Ficker has been trying to curb county taxes for more than 30 years. (Sarah L. Voisin - Twp)
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By Ann E. Marimow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 20, 2008

Montgomery County's anti-tax ballot measure prevailed yesterday by about 5,000 votes, after election officials completed a count of absentee ballots.

The results give sponsor Robin Ficker, a onetime legislator and Bethesda real estate broker, his first victory in a 34-year quest to curb county taxes. But the practical effect for at least the next two years, according to county officials, is largely academic.

Ficker's measure, known as Question B, is intended to make it more difficult for the County Council to exceed Montgomery's charter limit on property tax revenue. By the time council members take up the budget in the spring, the measure will require a unanimous vote to surpass the limit, rather than the current requirement of seven votes.

But County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) and the incoming council president, Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg-Rockville), have signaled that they have no intention of exceeding the limit, which ties increases in revenue to about the rate of inflation.

Council members will be up for reelection the following year and unlikely to seek an increase in property tax revenue.

Even Ficker, who has spent thousands of dollars to petition referendums since 1974, said yesterday that he does not expect the measure to change the behavior of elected officials. Instead, he hopes his success motivates others to challenge incumbents in 2010. Ficker's effort could inspire candidates who pledge, for instance, not to be the ninth vote on the council to exceed the charter limit.

"As evidenced by this vote, there are a lot of homeowners who feel their voices are not being heard," he said. "Someone is going to give these bipartisan homeowners a voice."

By Ficker's count, the measure prevailed in five of the county's eight legislative districts, primarily in the northern and eastern parts of the county.

Since the charter limit was established in 1992, the council has voted to exceed it four times, including last spring, when the council raised property taxes for homeowners by about 13 percent on average.

Council member George L. Leventhal (D-At Large) said the measure "increases the urgency of adhering to the charter limit, but we were feeling that any way."

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