AFTER ALL THAT TALK-and some of that action by voters-that ushered in the spirit of Proposition 13 around this region last fall, how are the local governments are coming to grips with TRIMs and things? Has any budgetary tightening around the beltway caused much citizen discomfort? Or has a new spirit of cost-consciousness been good. for governments and tax bills? The answers are beginning to roll in as local budgets roll out-and the reactions of taxpayers will run the gamut, since one voter's budgetary "fat" is another's "muscle."
The most interesting experiments along these fiscal lines are in suburban Maryland. For starters, there is Prince Georgehs County, where voters have stuck themselves with a ceiling on property tax collections. County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan-who had made more than a few campaign promises himself about cost-cutting-has been confronted with a rough test. Ever since TRIM was enacted, county officials and attorneys have been sorting out its legal ramifications. For example, bond specialists raised a question in January about whether the country could even borrow money to build any new hospitals, schools or libraries-since the charter requires that bonds be backed by "unlimited taxing power."
While Mr. Hogan and others were pondering that one, there was a question about how the precise ceiling on property tax collections should be calculated, and whether it affects taxes raised by Prince George's on behalf of bicounty agencies that include Montgomery County. As for citizens, many have been lavish in their praise for TRIM-while seeking lavish spending for their pet projects. At public hearings on the school board's preliminary budget earlier this year, witness after witness pleaded for better financeing of programs for the handicapped, or for the talented and gifted, or against the closing of under-enrolled schools. And this weekend, as citizens have been getting their first look at the county's latest budget proposal, they can see that a 3 percent increases in pay have been called for-amounts not at likely to sit well with the five unions of clearical and blue-collar workers.
In Montgomery County, where voters defeated a TRIM proposal that would have imposed a reduction of property taxes, county exevutive Charles W. Gilchirst is trying to prove that the government can keep up services with little increase in tax bills. He's getting a few breaks, too. For one thing, because property assessments continue to rise rapidly in the county, Mr. Gilchrist can lower the property tax rate and still reap a healthy revenue yield. Also, the county has a healthy one-time windfall from high investment earnings and a tax surplus.
With or without restrictions imposed by the voters, the governments throughout the region do seem to be pinching their pennies more than they have in the past, and that can be therapeutic. Personnel costs in particular deserve-and are undergoing-close scrutiny. Similarly, if cost-consciousness results in more cautious, down-to-earth approach to the construction of new hospitals, schools and other facilities, it's time.