Prince George's taxpayers yesterday handily rejected the TRIM Plus 4 charter amendment designed to thaw the county's 4-year-old freeze on property tax revenues. The defeat will leave one of the nation's most restrictive tax limitations on the books for at least two more years.
The proposal lost by more than a 3-to-2 margin. Plus 4 supporters, including newly elected County Executive Parris Glendening and several County Council members, predicted a certain reduction in county services.
The move to loosen the absolute cap on property tax revenues was born last spring after 507 teachers were laid off.
Teachers union officials said last night that more layoffs can be expected next spring. "Unless the county can come up with some new financing we're looking at several hundred more layoffs -- nobody's going to do well," said teachers union president John Sisson.
Paul Pinsky, a teachers union board member, said the effort to permit higher tax rates was unpopular. "People out there didn't want a tax increase during a depression. We couldn't convince them."
TRIM Plus 4 was designed to permit the county to collect slightly more revenue -- 4 percent more than the previous year's collections each year plus added tax revenue generated by new construction -- which its supporters said was crucial to the maintenance of basic services.
Opponents argued that any modification of the strict tax limitation was unnecessary.
The TRIM (Tax Reform Initiative by Marylanders) amendment to the County Charter was approved by voters overwhelmingly four years ago. It placed a limit of $143.9 million on property tax collections.
Taxes collected from new construction drove down the property tax rate for three years before they edged back up slightly this year.
Last spring the county found itself in a financial squeeze. While tax revenue remained frozen, federal aid was cut, state aid and interest income leveled off and other revenue, such as taxes from the sale of homes, declined--a situation repeated around the nation in communities with tax limitations in effect.
Property taxes account for 32 percent of the county's revenues.
The move to modify the tax limitation to permit tax increases within well-defined bounds followed after a $29 million budget cut forced the teacher layoffs and other economies in the schools including deferred cost-of-living raises for nonprofessionals, elimination of new textbook purchases and a one-third cut in athletic programs.
Nevertheless, politicians were reluctant to ask voters to raise taxes.
The County Council placed the TRIM modification on the ballot -- as Question K -- only after teacher and PTA groups collected 10,000 petition signatures.
The Prince George's Educators Association, fearing more layoffs next spring, made an all-out effort to get out the vote for TRIM Plus 4, using phone banks, radio advertising and thousands of bumper stickers, posters and front-lawn signs. The state and national chapters of the National Education Association contributed $70,000 to the effort spearheaded by what was until the layoffs its second largest local association.
Opponents of the TRIM modification argued that the money raised under it would be "excessive, unnecessary and will be wasted." A TRIM committee produced analyses by its group that it said proves that county departments, particularly the school system, kept up with inflation. Those that didn't, TRIM defenders said, failed to economize.
The Democratic Party officially favored Plus 4, the Republicans opposed it. Those who spoke in favor of it at forums generally included parents of school children and public employes.