In 1990, when the county's piggyback income tax rate was 50 percent, the Montgomery County Council voted to place on the ballot a charter amendment limiting annual growth in county property tax revenues, not counting new growth, to 100 percent of the annual increase in the Consumer Price Index. The voters approved. For 11 years, the council adhered to the limit. Then in fiscal year 2003, the council voted to exceed the limit by $8 million, in FY 2004 by $30 million and now in FY 2005 it is considering $45 million. The camel's nose is in the tent; here comes the camel!
Now, our supersized county government has increased the piggyback income tax rate to 60 percent, a $150 million annual increase. It has also doubled the telephone tax, tripled the energy tax, increased sewer, water and trash rates, and given us new cell phone and development taxes. The county's budget first broke $2 billion in FY 1998 but passed the $3 billion mark only six years later in FY 2004, while inflation was at record lows and the population was increasing only 8.5 percent. I have been unable to find any other U.S. county where the rate of increase in the budget was six times the rate of increase of population growth during this period.
So, I have led a successful petition drive to place a question on this November's ballot, reenacting the County Council's own property tax revenue limit but eliminating its ability to override it (which it now can do with seven of nine votes).
While spending 10-hour days collecting the 15,000 signatures, I encountered a small but very aggressive minority bitterly opposed to any property tax limit. I would ask them if there was any tax they did not want to increase.
Inevitably, they would answer "no." The problem is that our group-think, spend-along-to-get-along county executive and council are all in this minority. They can govern only when revenues are rapidly increasing. If our question fails, they'll think they have a green light for more huge tax increases.
The county's FY 2002 budget had 9.8 employees per 1,000 county population, up from 8.9 per 1,000 in FY 1998. Mid-level school administration increased by 30 percent over four years. The county purchased clusters of $200,000 townhouses, subsidized rents and didn't even check to see if the residents are in the country legally. Council members have started mailing newsletters at our expense, spending as much as $14,000 for each mailing and $13 million to ensure they are on cable TV. They have spent more than $50 million trying to duplicate the Kennedy Center at Strathmore. Where are the announced plans to refinance the county's debt before interest rates rise? Where is the plan to conserve gasoline while prices are up?
County elected officials have spent us into a hole and want to tax us out.
To set the stage for more energy tax increases, undercut our ballot question and get headlines after exceeding the charter's property tax limits, they are talking about replacing 2 percent of property taxes with energy taxes. If property taxes are bad and energy taxes are good, replace 100 percent.
Then retirees could stay in their homes, the young could afford to buy, and lower-income residents would stop violating single-family zoning codes.
Contrast the recent words of council President Steven A. Silverman (D-At Large) that council members are "starting to prepare to do something they hate: Say no to people," with the words of Calvin Coolidge at his 1925 inauguration: "The men and women of this country who toil are the ones who bear the cost of the government.
Every dollar that we carelessly waste means that their life will be so much the more meager. Every dollar that we prudently save means that their life will be so much the more abundant."