Update: Memorial Day Mischief in Montgomery

taxesThe Montgomery County Council gave final approval Thursday to a $5.3 billion budget that included a massive property-tax increase. The tax increase—the largest, most regressive tax hike in seven years—was ratified by the Democratic-only Council in a 9 – 0 vote. The budget, which takes effect July 1, includes a nearly 9 percent boost in property taxes that will add $326 to the average residential tax bill.

The Council took only 30 minutes to pass the property tax increase. There was no discussion, no debate, no dissent. “We made all our speeches last week,” said Council President Nancy Floreen (D-At Large). In great haste on the “get away” day before the Memorial Day weekend, the Council unanimously—without deliberation or public input—passed the largest tax increase in almost a decade.

Council President Nancy Floreen had called the budget process “unprecedented” due to the enormous property tax increase which required a 9-0 council vote because it surpassed the county’s inflation-based charter limit. However, the tax hike—the “unprecedented” tax hike by Ms. Floreen’s own admission—did not deserve a public discussion or a say from the very people the Council is taxing.

There were public hearings in April on the budget, but it was unclear how taxpayers were notified or if the property tax increase was given an appropriate public airing. One Council staffer admitted that the Council had “issues and problems” when attempting to properly notify the public of its April hearings. In fact, a long-time Montgomery County tax advocate/gadfly told me that the tax increase was “submerged” in the whole budget process. And, when the Council did hold a preliminary vote—just a week ago—on the tax increase there was no debate, no public participation, and no contrarian views presented.

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The great farce is that the politically well-connected, unions, and lobbyists all had their opportunities to express support for the property tax increase. If you belong to a teachers union or if you travel in the same social circles as the Democratic Council members or if you are a progressive political activist, you had your voice heard. And here is the real danger of one-party rule: there is no diversity of thought or dissent so the majority of taxpayers are disenfranchised.

No one represented the taxpayers—not a single Council member spoke for homeowners; not one group pressed for the interests of working families. And the sad irony is that even if someone or some group did stand up for families and homeowners, the Council never allowed a genuine debate—no debate before the straw-poll vote last week, and no debate yesterday.

The people of Montgomery County deserve better from their elected officials.

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