Since Fairness In Taxation was formed by the "big bang" of 1989 property assessments in Montgomery County, its supporters have done six politically impossible things:
Driven the 1990 county tax rate down 16 cents.
Identified $30 million in waste in the county budget and led the county council to impanel a commission on budget efficiency.
Defeated in the primary three of four Democratic incumbents, who were backed by developers -- including county executive Sidney Kramer.
Set the stage for a tax on development that will be enacted in December.
Successfully called for establishment of an annual spending affordability limit to help the county live within its means. The council already has held a hearing on such a bill.
Secured enough signatures to put a tax-limitation charter amendment on the ballot but, after finding it contained two serious defects, abandoned it and crafted a new amendment, Question F, with the help of four council members.
What now remains before FIT vanishes on election day is to win enactment of Question F. What distinguishes it from three other tax amendments cluttering the ballot, and why does it merit support?
First, it's fair, generous and necessary to prevent thousands of county residents from being driven from their homes by oppressive taxation. It will limit annual tax increases on residential and business property to the area rate of inflation unless seven of the nine members of the new council vote to exceed this limitation.
Exempted from this limit are new construction, rezoned property and property within a development district that's being taxed to fund roads and schools. These exemptions will allow property tax collections to grow between 3 percent and 4.5 percent per year above the rate of inflation to expand county revenues.
Question F, therefore, poses no threat to valid county services. Neal Potter and nine council candidates recently agreed to a joint statement saying there was no basis to believe charges to the contrary.
At the same time, passage of Question F unveils a new political landscape in which all candidates pledge to cut the now-conspicuous waste from the county budget: duplicative services, overstaffed departments, wasteful procurement practices and other evidence of a careless attitude toward the taxpayers' money.
Recognition has grown, meanwhile, that it is unjust for homeowners and apartment dwellers to pay 80 percent of the county's bills and that if lean years lie ahead, property owners will have even less money to spend on proliferating county services.
Many aren't waiting to see if these changes really occur. The middle-income class is already beginning to bail out; one-third more homes are for sale in Montgomery County now than were a year ago.
Tax reform might, of course, be defeated by extremists. At one extreme, a well-funded coalition of developers and unions has formed to force homeowners to remain the county's cash cow and resist efforts to spread the tax burden. At the other pole, tax-busting die-hards could wreck tax reform by voting for more than one tax amendment (others are questions G, H, and I), thereby either dividing the vote or worse, enacting contradictory amendments that will nullify one another.
Question F is the amendment backed by FIT, a majority of the council and a projected majority of the new council. If it wins, we foresee an enlightened new era of county government. If it fails, and property taxes rise oppressively, there may be a new and far more restrictive tax amendment on the ballot two years from now.
-- Robert Denny is chairman of Fairness In Taxation.