A majority of Montgomery County Council members said yesterday it was "likely" they would withdraw their day-old request that the county legislative delegation introduce a bill to raise Montgomery County's income tax.
Their statements came after 24 hours of intense Political pressure from party officials and candidates who complained of the "bad timing" of the council's request. It came 10 days before a primary in which every council and legislative seat is up for election, and in the midst of what many party officials fear is a brewing revolt over property taxes.
"There's nice people, said one Democratic Party official of the council members who favored the tax change, "but they're dumb politicians."
Several incumbent legislators and county executive candidates asked the council to retract their tax proposal. Among them was State Sen. Victor Crawford, who is running for reelection in the populous 20th Legislative District which includes Silver Spring and Wheaton. Crawford announced publicly that we would not support any council or legislative candidate who backed an income tax hike this year.
In the Democratic executive race, planning board chairman Royce Hanson, whose slate includes council member Neal Potter, an architect of the income tax request, asked Potter "to quiet this thing down." State Sen. Charles Gilbrist, another conte* nder in the Democratic executive race, complained that the proposal would "place two loaded guns at the temple instead of one."
And council member John Menke, the third Democrat in the executive primary battle, said he was "flabbergasted" at the timing and would move at the council meeting Tuesday to withdraw it. Menke was not present at the two council sessions when the council decided to ask for the bill.
The brouhaha began late Thursday after Council President Elizabeth Scull, facing a Sept. 1 deadline imposed by the delegation for receiving requests for new legislation, submitted the income tax proposal as part of the council's legislative package.
Despite weeks of behind-the-scenes efforts by Democratic Party leaders to kill the income tax proposal during an election year, a partial council consensus was reached twice in the previous week to submit the tax package.
In its income tax proposal, the council sought authority from the legislature to increase the county's income tax from a piggyback tax of 50 percent of the current state income tax to 75 percent. A majority of the council has said it believes the income tax is a more equitable tax than the property tax.
The council said that at least 65 percent of the increased revenues would be shifted to property tax relief, so that the current $3.60 property tax rate on each $100 of assessed value could be lowered by as much as 43.
Just two months before, the council had reduced the property tax rate by eight cents as the county Taxpayers' League began circulating petitions for a ballot referendum to roll back the property tax rate.
The taxpayers' League petition drive was successful and, in November, Montgomery voters will have the chance to vote on a proposal to roll back property taxes 35 cents.
In light of this property tax dilemma, several Montgomery delegates and senators charged that the income tax measure was an attempt to put the political burden of coming up with new county revenue in the laps of the legislature.
"You might call it our political hurricane," Del. Lucille Maurer said yesterday.
Earlier this summer Acting Gov. Blair Lee III expressed adamant opposition to the income tax proposal during a meeting of county party leaders in his office. Lee is counting on substantial electoral support from his home base of Montgomery County in his gubernatorial race against Theodore Venetoulis, Harry Hughes and Walter Orlinsky.
Despite Lee's sentiments, the independent-minded County Council decided in principle, to ask the county delegation to introduce the tax bill next year.The council has attempted to have the bill introduced for the past several years even though a majority of the county's delegation has opposed it and predicted it would never pass the legislature.
In 1975, Lee testified against the bill in committee, and it was killed with the aid of Montgomery senators. Last year, at the last minute pleading of its delegation leaders, the council agreed not to submit the income tax bill.
This time, Potter insisted, the idea was not to force the bill through but to "open the subject to discussion" and meet the Sept. 1 deadline.
"They're very finicky about that deadline," said Potter. "If they'll agree to discussing property tax relief later, I'm willing to wait."
But Potter also conceded that "if our property tax relief proposals had been dealt with, the (Taxpayers' League) proposal would have less of a chance."