Vote Yes on Tax Cap

Like many others in Montgomery County, we Republicans for many years have resisted supporting tax-limiting charter amendments in the hopes that our elected county officials would exhibit some degree of fiscal discipline. However, this year, because of a confluence of factors, we have unanimously endorsed Charter Amendment A on the November ballot. Here's why.

For the past 10 years, the county executive and the County Council have allowed the operating budget to increase at an annual rate of 6.3 percent despite the fact that the growth index has only increased by 4 percent. As a result, Montgomery County's FY 2005 operating budget of $3.3 billion is a whopping $647 million above the growth index and growing.

The principle funding mechanism in Montgomery County is the property tax, which increases for individual homeowners because they have paper gains in the value of a fixed asset but in reality do not have a corresponding increase in disposable income. Two groups in particular are adversely impacted by this reliance: first-time homebuyers and older residents on fixed incomes. Many other jurisdictions have come to realize that the property tax isn't the fairest basis for local taxes. Montgomery County should join them.

The capping of the property tax will not, as some suggest, leave Montgomery County without recourse in the case of a budget emergency. We have other taxes that can be levied in such cases, but the decision to do so would be used sparingly because of the strength of the constituencies affected. The introduction of that level of fiscal discipline would be welcome.

The introduction of fiscal discipline would have the added benefit of forcing our elected officials to become better negotiators of labor contracts with public employees. During the past several years our county workforce has received increases in wages and benefits that surpass the private sector in the greater Washington metropolitan area.

The introduction of fiscal discipline also has the added benefit of forcing our elected officials to do a better job in overseeing our public construction projects and to make sounder decisions. We need this form of checks and balances on the county purse strings before committing Montgomery County taxpayers to projects such as the Strathmore Hall concert center. This project was envisioned to be primarily supported by the private sector but will now probably cost our taxpayers an annual operating subsidy in excess of $10 million a year.

Opponents of Question A are using scare tactics and relying on labeling Question A as simply another Robin Ficker amendment, with all that name implies. We Republicans believe the facts are a great antidote to the scare tactics. We also believe that even Robin Ficker can be right on occasion.

Steve Abrams

Chairman

Montgomery County Republican Party Central Committee

(Abrams is a candidate for the District 2 seat on the Montgomery County Board of Education.)

Smoking Ban a Good Thing

While I sympathize with restaurant owners for their perceived loss of revenues resulting from the smoking ban, their economic welfare must be weighed against the known physical effects of both primary and secondary smoke on their patrons. ["Impact of Smoking Ban Still Hotly Disputed by Some," Extra, Oct. 7]. After years of equivocating, even the tobacco industry accepts the medical data showing not only the long-term but even near-term deleterious effects of smoking, including shortened life span and lung cancer.

Our society has made a decision that health concerns outweigh economic interests. While I appreciate that alternative venues can be found by smokers in other counties and jurisdictions to indulge, the bottom line is that the individual diner in Montgomery County should not be exposed to premature death for the convenience of those who smoke. To ban smoking in public confined places was a wise and necessary decision.

The economic impact of the decision should be factored as one of the concerns in running a business for a restaurant owner. If the business is not viable without smokers, then alternatives should be chosen by the owners of restaurants.

Nelson Marans

Silver Spring