Tag Archives: property taxes

Prince George’s bloggers sound off on proposal to raise property taxes


One blogger likened the buzz around Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III’s proposed property tax increases to “a plague of locusts.”

A frequent yet anonymous county political commentator dubbed the budget plan a “tax rip-off.”

And, of course, Change.org has a 300-signature petition going against the administration’s request to the County Council to raise revenue to pay for a $1.9 billion education budget.

The council’s vote is not until June, but the rancor surrounding Baker’s bold proposal is inciting furious debate in the blogosphere, community discussion boards and e-mail listservs where many Prince George’s County residents digest news about their government. The online posts are written by community activists and can be influential.

In southern Prince George’s County, for example, the Indian Head Highway Area Action Council maintains a large e-mail list that is distributed to 25 homeowner’s associations and civic groups from Accokeek to Forest Heights and beyond.

President Archie O’Neil wrote a policy statement for the group questioning the school system’s past expenditures and assertions by elected officials that more money will translate into better schools.

“There is a great possibility of having diminishing returns, if more funding is added to the education budget. There are socioeconomic issues we must address prior to increasing our school budget…Higher taxes will destroy Prince George’s County…”

That message reached Chris Bullock, president of the Simmons Acres Homeowner’s Association in Accokeek, who said the subject comes up often at their meetings: “I think people feel taxed-out,” he said. “We are all a little leery.”

Capitol Heights resident and attorney Bradley Heard has dedicated two recent posts on his blog the “Prince George’s Urbanist” to what opponents have described as Baker’s “brazen and unlawful attempt to circumvent voter-imposed property tax cap known as TRIM.” A third is coming.

The 1970s-era tax cap has been modified a few times in its history, but the core principle persists: Property taxes cannot be raised without voter approval. Detractors like Heard and Hyattsville activist Judy Robinson maintain any tax increases should be approved by voters — as outlined in the county charter — but a 2012 state law, S.B. 848, appears to have given the County Council the revenue-raising authority. Here’s what the state Attorney General’s Office had to say:

The Office of Attorney General has consistently advised that the referendum requirement and other charter limitations on the power of a county council to impose taxes does not apply when the council is acting pursuant to an authorization in a public general law enacted by the General Assembly.” (emphasis added)

In other words, state law supersedes county law.

But the legal view is separate and apart from what count taxpayers are saying, often angrily, during public meetings being held in each district. Council member Mary Lehman (D-Laurel) had to interrupt a recent Q&A event at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Beltstville to demand civility after some residents began to batter administration officials with accusations. Many residents are echoing Heard’s arguments about public distrust, the burden of struggling homeowners and the wisdom of “dramatically increasing” property taxes in a county where many are still recovering from the housing foreclosure crisis and the recession. As he wrote in one post:

“Baker is betting that his ‘let’s educate our children’ argument will eventually persuade a wary public and council to support his move. But raising taxes to increase school funding isn’t the right move for Prince George’s County at this juncture…While there may well be occasions when the county may need to raise taxes for the greater good, even if it risks alienating some people, now is not one of those times.“

Prince George’s County’s grass-roots activists are few but vocal. Their campaigns — over issues such as taxes and term limits — are consistently underfunded. But they have a history of winning, by convincing the electorate they are on the right side. Baker knows it. He was on the losing end of the most recent battle — over term limits.

But being a lawyer by training, the county executive said he is ready for this next debate and is convinced that residents with the right information will understand the urgency of his proposal. He is trying to head off the opposition’s contentions and persuade his constituents that “15 cents” (the proposed property tax increase from $0.96 to $1.11 per $100 of assessed value) is “not a tax increase” but “an investment,” through a series of live roundtable discussions. Schools chief executive Kevin Maxwell will be with him, making the rounds to explain the specifics of the education spending strategy to skeptics.

Baker made the pitch to a roomful of business and government leaders in his “state of the economy” speech on Thursday:

      My friends, it’s time for us to put up or forever hold our peace. We either want the best schools or we don’t. It is just that   simple! This is our moment … Now is the time.

via Arelis Hernández -Washington Post pgcps_logoPRINCE-large

Ten things to know about TRIM in Prince George’s County.


Prince George’s County’s enduring prohibition on raising property taxes, or TRIM (Tax Reform Initiative by Marylanders), has survived for more than three decades — despite many efforts by politicians to nullify it. Elected officials who believed the cap bankrupt’s the growth potential of the Washington suburb have won a few victories over the years in changing the terms. But voters have consistently reaffirmed the core principle at the ballot box: keep government small and do more with less. Most recently, a 2012 state law seems to have given County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) and the County Council power to raise taxes above the limit for the sake of education  — something he plans to exercise with his FY 2016 budget. Is TRIM dead?

Here are 10 things to know about the much-maligned and enduring government charter rule:

  1.  TRIM came into existence in the late 1970s after California’s Proposition 13, which rolled back and froze property taxes, triggered anti-property tax sentiment across the country. Taxpayer rage over the way public officials used public money swelled just as Ronald Reagan made his ascent to the White House. In Prince George’s, Larry Hogan Sr. (yes, the father of the current Maryland governor), was elected in 1978 on an anti-tax message. He would be the last Republican to serve as county executive.
  2. Before TRIM came to voters, Prince George’s had been transforming from a rural outpost to a suburban refuge for less-affluent whites from Southeast Washington. The transformation sparked unrestrained and unorganized development across the county that became expensive to maintain. Allegations of corruption surfaced, and scandals over the zoning process erupted. The aftermath sent a county commissioner, the head of the planning commission and several developers to prison — fueling anti-government feelings that persist to this day.
  3. It was Maryland Democratic state senator William J. Goodman who wrote the referendum that gave birth to TRIM, because he believed Prince George’s was over-taxed. Along with former state delegate David Bird (D), Goldman assembled a team to fight for capping property taxes at the level collected in 1979.
  4. Originally, the tax cap froze the dollar amount of property taxes — not the tax rate. In other words, Prince George’s government could not collect in property tax more than the amount of revenue raised in 1979 (irrespective of inflation and home values): $143.9 million.
  5. Prince George’s entered another growth spurt, and, by 1984, thousands of new residents had settled there. Two years into his first term, then-county executive Parris Glendening (D) said he was frustrated by budget deficits and constrained by the tax cap. The county needed revenue, he said, but had few, if any, options. Glendening convinced residents to remove the revenue ceiling, modifying TRIM so that the total amount collected could increase if property values escalated and the tax base expanded.
  6. As a result of Glendening’s media blitz campaign, called “Freeze the tax rate,” the County Council was authorized to levy taxes on 40 percent of the value of real property at a rate of $2.40 for each $100 of assessed value. Revenues increased by about $6 million to $8 million.
  7. Proponents and opponents of the tax cap have persistently fought to defend and destroy the measure in court. In 1991, the courts allowed Prince George’s government to bypass the limit and raise the rate to cover a budget shortfall and pay off pre-TRIM debt obligations.
  8. Some politicians avoided the intense debate over TRIM altogether — especially if they had more conservative constituencies — but were finding it increasingly difficult to fund government services, such as schools. Other special taxes were created, and some costs shifted to the state and agencies, such as the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, which were exempt from caps.
  9. Prince George’s first black county executive, Wayne K. Curry, declared the county had outgrown TRIM. Upper-class and middle-income African Americans from Mitchellville and Lake Arbor largely and quietly led a well-financed repeal effort. They thought more money would improve schools where the majority of students were black. But Hyattsville activist Judy Robinson fought back in 1996 with her Truth iN Taxation organization, and voters — black and white — overwhelmingly upheld TRIM. Curry conceded defeat: “The voters of Prince George’s have spoken … they have called for a smaller, leaner government. And that’s exactly what they will get.”
  10. Under a new computation model that assesses value at 100 percent rather than at 40 percent, the tax cap became 96 cents per $100 of assessed value in 2001. It has stood, unchanged, ever since.

The current debate over TRIM mirrors those of the past. It’s a conversation about government spending, mistrust and keeping up with the neighbors, such as Montgomery and Fairfax counties. In an interview, former delegate Bird, who now lives in Howard County, said he was chagrined to see Prince George’s cap in danger again: “It remains one of the few checks the public has on government. It would be a shame if you don’t let voters decide.” But to Glendening and other elected officials trying to balance Prince George’s annual budget, TRIM is one of many reasons the county struggled to make progress improving schools and attracting sought-after businesses.

>>> Washington Post images1


Legislator fights against Baker’s tax hike.

Rushern Baker - Appears to be driving corruption to new heights

Rushern Baker – Appears to be driving corruption to new heights and going around the law in a major way.

ANNAPOLIS – In response to complaints from citizens about County Executive Rushern Baker III’s budget proposal, Senator C. Anthony Muse has drafted legislation to cap property tax increases unless the school system cannot fund its maintenance of effort (MOE) requirement.

The county must find a way to generate revenue without working around a cap on property taxes created by an initiative, the Tax Reform Initiative by Marylanders (TRIM). The tax cap exists in the county’s charter mandating that any proposed property tax increase be approved by citizen vote, Muse said.

“What I did was craft a bill with what I think is a win-win situation,” Muse said. “All of us, including the county executive, campaigned on the promise that we would not overturn TRIM. The citizens would have to do that. So my word is on the line with everyone else’s.”

Muse said he also crafted the bill because of the loophole Senate Bill 848 created for the property tax raises. The bill gives the county government the authority to raise property taxes under specified circumstances in order to meet the county’s per-pupil funding requirements.

“This is not what we intended Senate Bill 848 to be used for, which (citizens) are interpreting removes TRIM,” Muse said.

Muse said his bill is a win-win for both the county government and his citizens because in a circumstance where MOE funding cannot be reached because of an economic downturn, the bill would allow the county to raise taxes to a level that would help them meet the requirements, but no more than is required.

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Senator introduces bill to limit Pr. George’s property tax increases.


Senator C Anthony Muse

Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George’s) on Wednesday proposed a state law that would block an attempt by Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) to raise property taxes for the first time in more than three decades.

Senate Bill 939 would forbid the county’s “governing body” to set a property tax rate higher than limits enshrined in its charter — which means a 1978 voter-imposed cap of $0.96 per $100 of assessed value.

Baker announced this month that he had found a way to circumvent the tax cap, using a 2012 state law that permits full funding of any school spending plan approved by the County Council. He wants to raise property taxes by 15 percent to help fund a $1.9 billion education budget that, he says, would help bring county schools up to par with those in more affluent neighboring jurisdictions.

Muse introduced his bill at the end of Wednesday’s legislative session in the State House. Most bills were submitted weeks ago, at the start of the legislature’s annual 90-day session.

“It would not allow property taxes to be raised indefinitely and in an unlimited way,” Muse said in an interview. “This bill will give citizens a sense of ease that taxes will not go up without restraint.”

>>> Read more Washington Post


Prince George’s budget plan includes tax hike, layoffs and furloughs.

Controversial Proposal would help pay for education reform in Prince George’s County…


Despite PG County’s already heavy tax burden, Mr. Rushern Baker III proposes real property, personal property and telecom tax increases against the governor Larry Hogan’s wishes not to increase taxes in Maryland. 

Facing rising costs and flat revenues, Prince George’s County is preparing to lay off over 100 employees and furlough 6,000 others, while asking county residents to tighten their belts in the form of increased property taxes to help pay for education reforms officials say are needed to move the school system forward.

“The proposed FY 2016 budget includes the financial resources necessary to support higher educational achievement,” County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) said in a letter outlining his objectives in the $3.6 billion budget. “The outcome of this investment will be a county school system that will be most noted for rapidly improving its schools by implementing high quality educational programs and rigor for all students.”

Baker presented his budget to the Prince George’s County Council on Friday afternoon. The council must pass an approved budget by June 1.

The school board approved a $1.93 billion budget Feb. 26, challenging county government to meet their request for program expansions and improvements school system CEO Kevin Maxwell said are necessary to improve the system, including expansion of pre-kindergarten, arts education, digital literacy and peer teacher review.

To fund the $135.7 million increase over last year’s school budget, Baker’s chief budget officer Thomas Himler said the county is turning to a bill passed by the General Assembly, Chapter 6 of the 2012 Laws of Maryland. Chapter 6 allows counties to raise property taxes higher than the caps set in their charter, so long as those funds are used only for education.

To compensate for flat revenues and increasing costs of doing business, Baker is proposing layoffs for 110 county employees.

“We haven’t identified what those 110 positions are yet, that’s part of the next few months’ process,” Himler said.

In addition, all county employees paid through the General Fund — over 6,000 employees — will be required to take five days of furloughs, Himler said.

Himler said the layoffs and furloughs are expected to save the county $15 million.

“With revenues not coming in and us having higher expenditures, year after year, this budget was tough, and there were some tough decisions,” said Baker spokesman Scott Peterson.

The budget does include a $48 million increase for public safety, including 100 new police recruits and 35 new officers in the fire department.

Baker’s budget raises the county’s real property tax rate from $.96 to $1.11 per $100 of assessed value, and raises the personal property tax rate from $2.40 to $2.78 per $100 of assessed value. The rate increases are expected to generate $115.7 million, according to the budget proposal.

>>> Read more Gazette. 

Council2015Prince George’s County Council members