Prince George's County Councilman Parris N. Glendening this week urged a halt to the petition campaign aimed at forcing a public vote on the telephone tax.
Glendening's resolution, if adopted by the Council, would commit the Council to submit the omnibus tax bill containing the telephone tax to a referendum in 1978. In return for that promise, Glendening hopes the petition campaigners wil not submit their final referendum petitions to the Maryland Secretary of State. The deadline is June 30.
The resolution also specifies that the Council would levy a telephone tax of 8 per cent on residential phones instead of a 10 per cent tax, with the remaining revenues to be generated by a business tax.
With the threat of a petition-launched referendum in sight, the county has said it will be forced to accept a property tax increase of 4 cents above last year's rate, instead of the 10 cent decrease planned.
Glendening offered the resolution as a compromise to the citizens group gathering the petition, the P.G. Citizens Against Nuisance Taxes (CANT). Glendening said he would like to keep the 10 cent property tax rate decrease "yhe Council worked so hard on these past few months" through budget sessions. The tax rate was contingent on receiving $6.8 million in revenues from the telephone tax.
Asked whether the CANT group would consider the compromise, leader Tim Maloney said, "it is a meaningless resolution.
"It has no effect on the law. The County Council has no authority to put questions like this on the ballot. The people of the county have been promised things before and then have seen Kelly change his mind. The citizens know that the only sure way to get this question on the ballot is by the petition drive."
Council member Francis B. Francois questioned the proposal to have the CANT members stop their petition drive. "They have a moral and legal obligation to the citizens who signed the petitions to submit them to the Secretary of State," he said.
The CANT group has been collecting signatures to put the omnibus taxing authority to a vote by the citizens since May 13. The authority allows the county to tax telephones, parking, commercial space, landlords and boat slips. The state General Assembly passed the legislation in May after county officials said they wanted revenues from sources other than the real estate tax. Maloney has said his group feels the taxing authority grants too much power to the county.
County Executive Winfield M. Kelly Jr. said he wants to use the telephone tax to "spread the burden of taxation to all users." Kelly aide John Lally said they wouldn't comment on the Council resolution but added "we know there is a concern there. We hope we have an opportunity to talk to them (CANT group) before they file those petitions."
County officials have been talking private with the petition leaders for weeks in an effort to persuade them to work out some alternative to raising the property tax rate. Kelly said he would like to see the questions go to referendum, but wants a chance to "prove" himself through an 18-month trail period when he could use thw tax.
Other citizens groups active in the community have said they would also like to see a compromise develop. Last week, leaders of a "Neighborhood Uniting Project - Alliance of Committees for Tax Savings" group, met with Walter Maloney, Tim's father and an ex-county attorney, who also rejected any compromise.