Richmond M. (Max) Keeney, who opposed Montgomery county's tax cutting charter amendment throughout his primary campaign for Montgomery County executive as a "meat-ax approach" to reducing government spending, endorsed it yesterday "because I think this is what the people of this county want."
The Republican nominee changed his mind on the amendment, called TRIM, this week before the election he said, because he became convinced it could be implemented "without hurting essential services."
He ticked off a list of $47 million in spending cuts and fee increases he said he would recommend to the county council to reduce "fat and duplication" if the amendment passes.
"I have this strong feeling TRIM is going to pass," Keeney said at a press conference. "I came to the decision, gosh it's do-able, it's workable, it's achieveable.
TRIM, or Ballot Question E, would roll back property taxes to $2.25 for each $100 of assessed value - a minimum cut of 35 cents - and would severely restrict the County Council's ability to raise new taxes in the future.
Keeney's Democratic opponent, state Sen. Charles W. Gilchrist, who has consistently opposed TRIM while advocating a reduction in government expenditures, labeled Keeney's announcement a "desperation move."
"I think the last thing the people of this county want, whether they are for or against TRIM, is to elect somebody who waffles at the last minute in an effort at political gain ," Gilchrist said.
Keeney has been in an awkward position on the issue ever since his party's central committee endorsed the ballot question and the Democratic organization opposed it.
Montgomery Democrats have a 2-to-1 voter registration lead over Republicans, and local polls have shown Gilchrist with a comfortable lead.
Karl Schlotterbeck, the head of the TRIM movement in Montgomery, said at the press conference that he was "tremendously gratified that at least one of the candidates for executive has taken the time and effort to show how the government can be trimmed. We like this 'can-do' philosophy. We're fed up with 'can't do.'"
Keeney criticized TRIM's opposition, including "some of our elected and appointed officials," for using "bogeyman" tactics in their counterattack. "It seems to me the establishment is for the status quo and I'm not. . . There is no need to frighten people that government spending reductions will be hurtful."
Keeney said he would achieve the savings this way:
By charging nonresident students tuition to attend county schools - $3 million.
By severely restricting the travel of county employes - $1 to $2 million.
By decreasing government jobs by 5 percent a year, which is the approximate natural attrition rate - $4.5 million. (He would exclude police, fire and educational personnel).
By raising fees 5 percent for such things as recreation, adult education and Ride-On bus service - $3 million.
By "imposing systemwide reductions" in the number of school administrative, instructional support and maintenance jobs and by cutting the cost of furniture, equipment and travel - $6.1 million. "I resent the merest hint at any reduction in the number of classroom teachers, in custodial staff, in teacher aids or any other cut that would directly touch a child," he said.
By improving the joint administration of programs such as purchasing, accounting, transportation and insurance - $6 million.
By imposing a hiring freeze on 560 current vacancies, exempting public safety - $9 million.
By reducing this year's budget deficit from $21 to $8 million. He did not say how.
By reorganizing 27 governmental agencies into five "controllable service divisions" - $6 million.
Norman Christseller, a former county council president and co-chairman of the Fair Share Coalition opposing TRIM, called the list a "last-minute desperate effort of a losing candidate to try to fool the public into thinking he can make these reductions without devastating public services."
In reviewing Keeney's plan, Christeller said he "doesn't know much about the budget" because he proposed some reductions in jobs not funded by property tax revenues.
The coalition of labor, civil rights, senior citizens, teachers and other county employes, has stood behind County Council estimates that $47 mum effect of TRIM and the existing million in cuts - the combined mini-deficit - would necessarily curtail police, library, fire and educational services.