In the end, the tax revolt in the Maryland suburbs petered out when a sophisticated advertising campaign, bankrolled largely by teachers, convinced voters that limiting property tax revenue "wasn't going to get the politicians -- it was going to get them."
"At that point, I really think voters directed their attention to the politicians and they elected candidates they perceived to be more fiscally conservative," said Carole Baker, a leader in the opposition to the Anne Arundel County anti-tax initiative.
The change of heart led to the defeat of tax limitation measures in Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties. And it was a factor in the ouster of Baltimore County Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen (D) and the victory of Robert R. Neall (R) in a close race for Anne Arundel County executive.
In Montgomery County, throwing out the incumbent county executive went hand-in-glove with adopting limits on taxes. Acting County Executive Neal Potter upset Sidney Kramer in September's Democratic primary while actively campaigning for Question F, a compromise limit worked out between county tax rebels and some County Council members.
Potter's support of the measure was partially an attempt to avert passage of two more restrictive limits on the ballot. Voters obliged Tuesday, rejecting the alternatives by wide margins.
"I would say voters acted in a fairly sophisticated fashion," Baker said.
Rosalie Silverberg, a Montgomery County League of Women Voters official who led the fight against all the tax limits, said Question F would have failed too "if it were the only question on the ballot. I feel quite certain we could have gotten through to the voters."
County Council member Bruce T. Adams (D), who also supported the compromise, said he "wasn't willing to take that risk."
Both sides in the debate about limiting tax increases credited a $250,000 broadcasting blitz opposing the limits with changing the minds of voters, who polls showed strongly favored the limits earlier.
The ads typically warned of cuts in the services many residents rely on, such as police, fire and schools. One television commercial depicted an elderly man dialing 911 and getting a busy signal after suffering a heart attack. "If this scares you like it scares us," a woman's voice said, "you'll vote against the cap."
The six-week blitz was a joint effort of groups in Montgomery, Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties and was spearheaded by the Maryland State Teachers Association.
"Their campaign traded on pure unadulterated fear," said Robert C. Schaffer, leader of the Anne Arundel County tax revolt. "It wasn't just the number of ads they ran. It was the message they sent out that was so despicably low."
Jane Stern, president of the Maryland State Teachers Association, denied that the commercials were unfair. She said the commercials were based on what ultimately had happened when other Maryland counties adopted limits on property taxes.
Teachers felt especially threatened by the limitation measures, Stern said, because they have seen other tax limits lead to massive layoffs and cuts in class offerings.
Tax limits have "proved to us to be the best way to do terrible things to school systems," she said.
Stern added that defeat of the toughest tax limitation measures should not keep local governments from searching for revenue sources that are more progressive than property taxes and would force "the wealthiest citizens of our state to pay just a little more."
She said the teachers groups will lobby the state legislature next year for a local income tax.
The teachers group endorsed Potter because of his commitment to find alternative revenue sources, Stern said.
Anne Arundel's Baker said the debate over the tax limits probably will spur citizens to get involved in that county's budget process.
But tax rebel Schaeffer said that involvement will be tempered by a lesson he learned in the past fight: "The message we got is that it is okay for citizens to take an interest in the process as long as you don't step on the big pros' toes."