The antitax movement that began in California last June moved some 3,000 miles to the suburban borders of the nation's capital yesterday as voters in Montgomery and Prince George's voted on measures to limit the property taxing powers of their county governments.
At issue in the two suburban Maryland counties were charter amendments, known popularly as TRIM, that were inspired by California's Proposition 13, drafted by political outsiders and eventually embraced by many, but not all, local candidates.
The Prince George's version of TRIM, endorsed by both major parties would freeze the total property tax levy in the country at the amount raised for the 1979 budget - approximately $140 million.
The Montgomery proposal, which had the backing of most local Republicans and the opposition of most Democrats, would cut the county's property tax rate by at least 35 cents - from the present base level of $2.60 to $2.25 per $100 of assessed valuation.
To their supporters, the TRIM proposals represent a local manifestation of a nationwide tax revolt, a statement that even here - where so many residents are part of a relatively recession-proof federal work force - the government must stop wasting money and taxing people out of their homes.
To their opponents, the measures are symbols not a tax revolt, but of a disturbing trend on the part of the middle and upper-middle classes to force the government to reduce programs for the poor, the elderly and the young - those who rely most heavily on government support.
The one thing that these groups agree on is that the tax discussion will not end with the passage or defeat of the charter amendments. Many supporters and opponents of the measures echoed the words of Michael Gildea, a Montgomery County labor leader opposing that county's TRIM, when he said: "Our purpose - win, lose or draw - will be to press for tax reform after the election."
Gildea was part of a Fair Share Coalition of labor unions, teachers, student councils, tenant associations, PTAs, senior citizens and civil rights groups that worked to defeat the Montgomery TRIM, along with the League of Women Voters and James P. Gleason, the retiring Republican county executive.
The movement for TRIM was led by the 1,200-member Montgomery Taxpayers League, local chambers of commerce, and the Republican party, including county executive candidate Richmond (Max) Keeney, who, after initially opposing the measures, did an about-face and endorsed the proposal in the last moments of his underdog campaign against Democrat Charles Gilchrist.
"You can tell the TRIM measure is based partly along class lines when you look at the list of contributors," said Gildea."The support for it came from Chevy Chase, Potomac and Bethesda and from a number of small corporations."
Karl Schlotterbeck, a leader of the Taxpayers League, countered that most of TRIM's opponents are motivated by their concern that they would not get hefty raises in their government jobs, rather than by any humanistic concerns that services would be denied to those who need them.
In Prince George's, where both county executive candidates endorsed the tax-freeze proposal, the main point of contention was what the county would do in the future to maintain a sufficient of services.
Democrat Winfield M. Kelly Jr. the incumbent, said he would go to the Maryland General Assembly and request that the county be allowed to impose what he called a "tier tax structure" - where rental units and commercial properties would be taxed at a higher rate than single-family homes. Then, he said, the tax freeze would apply only to the single-family homes.
His Republican opponent, Lawrence J. Hogan, said he was against the "tier tax" and promised that he could live with the tax levy freeze eliminating waste and duplication of services in the county bureaucracy.