Md. legislators ponder override on property-tax caps

If you live in Anne Arundel, Montgomery, Prince George’s, Talbot or Wicomico counties, charter amendments keep a lid on the amount of property taxes you pay.

In Anne Arundel, for instance, the yearly increase in total property-tax revenues is limited to 4.5 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. If assessed values climb fast, the revenue cap pushes the tax rate down to compensate.

That's over and above the better-known cap on taxes, the Homestead Property Tax Credit, which keeps the amount of assessed value that homeowners are actually taxed on from rising past a certain point each year. (The statewide maximum is 10 percent. Baltimore and Baltimore County both set their homestead ceilings at 4 percent.)

Anne Arundel's revenue cap -- enacted after overwhelming voter support -- has been in place for years. Now it and the limits in the other four counties are in the news, because state legislators are considering a proposal to allow for overrides of those charter-amendment caps to fund public education.

Colleagues Michael Dresser and Liz Bowie reported this week that some state legislators are saying tax limits "allow county governments to plead poverty while lawmakers in Annapolis are forced to make the hard choices to fully fund schools." (Here's the bill.)

Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold says residents would not take kindly to having their cap uncapped. But educators like the idea. (The Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County has a petition on its website to change the cap so it's whichever is the greater, not lesser, of 4.5 percent or inflation.)

What do you think of a limit on revenue -- or a cap on the property-tax rate, as in Prince George's County? So much of tax debates, property or otherwise, is about finding the difficult balance of raising just enough to fund good government services -- not so much that you chase people and businesses out of town or so little that you ... well, chase people and business out of town.

Anne Arundel's rate this year, by the by, is 91 cents for every $100 in assessed value. That's the lowest in the Baltimore region. Baltimore's is highest at $2.268, with Baltimore County at $1.10, Harford at $1.042, Carroll County at $1.028 and Howard at $1.014.

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