Anne Arundel County executive candidate Robert R. Neall, who strongly opposes a local ballot initiative limiting property taxes, said yesterday he would "make a good-faith effort to make it work" if the measure passes and he is elected next month.

Neall predicted that Anne Arundel's voters would approve the measure by a ratio of 2 to 1 and said it would be wrong in the face of such public support to try "to sabotage" the tax ceiling's intent by "looking for loopholes" or immediately seeking new sources of revenue.

"If it passes by a margin of 2 to 1, what you say is the people have spoken," Neall said during a luncheon meeting with editors and reporters of The Washington Post. But Neall, who earned a reputation as a budget expert during 12 years in the House of Delegates, warned that there would be serious consequences for the county if voters approve the measure. "My buddies {in the Maryland legislature} have already told me, 'Don't come around here looking for some kind of escape hatch to circumvent this if your voters approve it,' " Neall said.

The measure would prohibit the government's property tax revenue from increasing more than 4.5 percent annually. Such an "artificial limit," Neall said, could significantly hamper the local government's ability to weather an uncertain economic climate with its programs intact.

At the same time, Neall laid the blame for the government's predicament at the door of the all-Democratic County Council, which includes his general election opponent, Theodore Sophocleus. The initiative, petitioned to the ballot by a citizens group, was "an emotional reaction to what the people perceive as insensitivity to their tax burden by the people who are in office now."

Neall said the council did not properly excercise oversight when it approved large budget increases proposed by County Executive James Lighthizer. "Jim Lighthizer molded them like clay," he said. "I haven't seen any evidence whatsoever, not only from Ted {Sophocleus} but from anybody who has challenged Jim and said why are we doing this or why don't we defer that."

In contrast, Neall said, his experience as house minority leader in a Democratic-controlled legislature and as a veteran of the state's savings and loan crisis has prepared him "to take stands that may be unpopular but are fair and serve the public interest."

Neall similarly charged that Sophocleus would be ill-equipped to make "difficult, controversial decisions" because he is basically "an advocate" who "wants to say yes."

On other topics, Neall said that he would promote commercial and industrial development in Anne Arundel, particularly near Baltimore-Washington International Airport. "One way to get around the tax cap is to diversify the tax base and I think Anne Arundel doesn't have enough of a commercial base," he said.

But Neall also said it was fair to characterize him as a slow-growth candidate, saying he would work to reduce the number of new housing units built.

He also pledged better cooperation with city officials in Annapolis, the county seat. He said that among his first goals for the next session of the General Assembly would be to secure funding for a long-stalled senior center in Annapolis and to increase state subsidies for police and fire protection in the capital.

Asked what distinguishes him from Sophocleus, Neall pointed to the length and diversity of his state government service, which included a stint as chairman of the governor's alcohol and drug abuse commission.

"If you compare our two careers, I think I'm better prepared for the next four years. I've been able to make difficult decisions," he said.