Friday, March 2, 2007

Bill would let counties to overturn charter limits on property taxes

Hixson-McIntosh bill is seen by some as meddling in local affairs; Montgomery doesn’t support the effort

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Lawmakers around the state say the sponsors of a bill that would make it easier to overturn voter-supported property tax caps are out of line.

The measure — sponsored by House Ways and Means chairwoman Sheila E. Hixson and House Environmental Matters chairwoman Maggie L. McIntosh — would allow Maryland’s nine charter counties by a two-thirds County Council vote to set property tax rates higher than authorized by their charters.

‘‘If we are going to have charter government, we need to let the charters work,” said Del. Anne Healey (D-Dist. 22) of Hyattsville, Hixson’s vice chairwoman.

If the bill becomes law, it would make way for counties with hard property tax caps, such as Prince George’s, Anne Arundel, Talbot and Wicomico, to override those limits.

And it would make it easier for Montgomery County to exceed its cap by lowering the required votes from seven to six of the county’s nine council members.

‘‘There are people who think Prince George’s County should not have TRIM [a 1978 voter-imposed tax cap] and they are trying to get it repealed,” Healey said.

Prince George’s County voters in 1996 rejected a proposal to let a two-thirds vote by the council lift the cap and added a provision that requires most tax or fee increases to be approved by voters.

‘‘The voters of Prince George’s County have been very clear they want a property tax cap and that should be respected,” Healy said.

She said some people have complained that the county should not get state aid because of TRIM, but countered that that Prince George’s has continued to meet its local funding matches for schools.

‘‘I would not like to see Prince George’s County be a part of that legislation,” said Del. Carolyn J.B. Howard (D-Dist. 24) of Mitchellville and a member of Ways and Means. ‘‘Our voters have expressed their opinion on that matter three times, and I’m going to support the voters.”

Prince George’s County has taken no position on the bill, said John E. Erzen, a county spokesman.

Montgomery County government opposes the bill, county lobbyist Melanie Wenger said.

Montgomery’s council has voted to exceed the cap three times in the last five years.

Neither Hixson (D-Dist. 20) of Silver Spring nor McIntosh (D-Dist. 43) of Baltimore returned phone calls for comment.

The bill has not gone to a vote, and Healey said she is not sure it will get out of Ways and Means.

If it does, it will meet some bipartisan opposition on the House floor.

Del. Barbara Jeanne Haddaway-Riccio (R-Dist. 37B) of Easton said she was surprised that the sponsors have not talked to her about it since it affects two counties in her district, Talbot and Wicomico.

‘‘Any attempt to try to raise property tax, to me is unacceptable,” she said, noting that voters have made it clear they are ‘‘adamantly opposed” to lifting the cap.

Neither would it get the vote of Del. Rudolph C. Cane (D-Dist. 37A) of Hebron, who also represents Wicomico.

‘‘There’s no way that I could support it,” he said.

If it got to a floor vote, Cane said he would push an amendment to exempt Wicomico.