While Prince George's County welcomed the property tax revolt in 1978, its wealthier neighbor to the west, Montgomery County, chased the antitax, antigovernment movement out of town.
Like Prince George's, Montgomery had a tax-limitation measure called TRIM on its 1978 election ballot. It would have rolled back assessments and property taxes. According to its supporters, the proposal would have forced about $30 million in immediate cuts in the county's budget, which was then around $550 million.
The proposal, which received twice the 10,000 signatures needed to get it on the ballot, was found to be widely popular--like its counterpart in Prince George's--in polls conducted for politicians and newspapers.
But where the Prince George's political establishment privately worried about the freeze but for the most part publicly supported it, Montgomery's leaders challenged the proposal.
"We knew that TRIM was way ahead in the polls and we presumed it would also pass and we were quite concerned about it," said Democratic Party chief Stan Gildenhorn. "There was some concern about how it would affect candidacies, but the feeling was pretty universal that it had to be opposed. It was reckless legislation."
Tom Stone, an aide to Democrat Charles Gilchrist during Gilchrist's successful 1978 campaign for county executive, said some campaign officials encouraged Gilchrist to mute any criticism of TRIM because a private poll showed a 60-40 split in favor of the measure.
"We felt it was the kind of issue you could lose on, it could really pummel you," Stone recalled. " But Charlie felt it was an inappropriate legal mechanism--we should cut back in government but through the actions of elected officials."
Gilchrist came out strongly against the measure and helped persuade the Democratic Central Committee to do so as well. On election day, the party's influential sample ballot, which was handed out to every voter, was marked against TRIM.
The outgoing executive, Republican James Gleason, also opposed the initiative, telling supporters to aim their fire at federal taxes because freezing local revenues was "kind of like biting the hand that's closest to you."
The Republican candidate for county executive also, for the most part, spoke against it.
In an effort to siphon votes away from TRIM, the Montgomery County Council put an alternative on the ballot that would have required a council supermajority to approve any budget that was increased by more than the area's consumer price index.
A coalition of union, business and school leaders and the League of Women Voters also worked against Montgomery's TRIM, passing out leaflets explaining projected harmful effects. On the other hand, in Prince George's, many unions were silent and some supported TRIM.
Montgomery's Fair Share Coalition spent hours examining the implications of the freeze, who would get hurt and how the utilities would benefit. In the six weeks between the primary and general elections, the coalition organized literature drops, aimed at senior citizens, school parents and others who would be affected.
The Montgomery TRIM proposal lost, 51.5 percent to 48.4 percent. The council alternative passed but has never been used because the county budget, even without a legal tax freeze, has not increased enough to require a supermajority vote.