Election fact check: Did Steve Schuh really save Anne Arundel taxpayers $110 million?

Chase Cook dissects Steve Schuh's tax claims regarding $110 million in savings.

County Executive Steve Schuh has been touting a big tax savings number throughout his re-election campaign — $110 million in taxes and fees over three years.

But a closer examination by The Capital shows a more nuanced picture. More than half of those savings were based on existing programs and would have been accomplished by anyone sitting in the county executive seat. The rest was generated by Schuh or proposals he supported.


About $59 million of the tax savings claimed by the Republican from Gibson Island is the result of the county property rate tax cap, figures form the county Budget Office show. In both Schuh’s campaign materials and his fiscal 2019 budget message, he never mentions that his administration benefited from the cap.

Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh has announced a property tax reduction alongside funding for the public safety tax credit.

The three-decade-old cap ties county revenue to a formula written into county law, one that considers inflation, previous revenues and new housing revenue before setting the maximum possible property tax rate. The executive and the County Council can’t just raise the tax rate whenever they want, but they can lower the rate below the cap.


In all of Schuh’s budgets, the county has maximized the rate allowed under the cap. In fact, county Budget Officer John Hammond said, the county has been maximizing the rate since 2003.

A spokesman for Schuh’s campaign didn’t directly address the campaign statements.

“County Executive Steve Schuh promised to cut taxes and fees in each and every year of his administration, and he has done so,” said Megan Miller, Schuh’s campaign spokeswoman.

“He enacted the largest income tax cut in county history, reduced property tax rates four years in a row thanks to our property tax cap, adopted the largest fee cut in County history, and eliminated entirely several categories of tax. These actions have reduced taxes cumulatively by $110 million.”


“Mr. Schuh's opponent in the election has indicated that he is open to tax increases and refuses to pledge his support for our property tax cap.”

As the economy has recovered from the 2008 recession, the cap has pushed the tax rate down, but not fast enough that it resulted in big savings for property owners. Instead, it keeps property tax bills from spiking and protects those bills from political manipulation. Property tax bills didn’t rise as quickly as they could have without the cap.

Schuh’s election opponent Steuart Pittman said the cap and its savings belong to the voters, not the county executive office.

The Democratic candidate doesn’t advertise his tax plans on his campaign website. He wouldn’t commit to any promises on tax reform, but he did say he supports the tax rate cap “for now” because the economy is strong.

Annapolis under Mayor Mike Pantelides projected turnover among city employees to artificially lower expenses by millions of dollars over his four years in office. Changing that practice is one part of Mayor Gavin Buckley's first budget, a massive increase fueled by a 13 cent property tax increase.

“If we are in a crisis and we need revenue, I would encourage voters to consider a review of the revenue cap,” Pittman said. “I’m not afraid to have a conversation about the revenue cap and spending. We can’t predict what the future needs are going to be for the county.”

Pittman said he plans to review how much money the county is collecting in impact fees as well as auditing developments to see if they made or cost the county money.

County Councilman Chris Trumbauer, D-Annapolis, said he isn’t concerned with the aggregate amount of money the county executive has saved or its origin.

“Everybody is entitled to their own messaging,” Trumbauer said. “I’m more interested in the meaningful impact. He has proposed a .2 cent reduction in the property tax rate, which amounts to about 67 cents a month in savings for a $400,000 home. I would rather take the $1.6 million and put that toward what the county desperately needs.”

Councilman John Grasso, R-Glen Burnie, said Schuh should get credit for any savings during his term.

“If the ship runs into something, whether it is your fault or not, everyone is going to blame you for it,” Grasso said. “The minute you take the helm you are responsible, end of story. You get the good and the bad.”

The other $51 million

Schuh’s administration has won another $51 million in tax and fee savings that he either supported and enacted during his administration.

The biggest of those was an income tax reduction from 2.56 percent to 2.50 percent in 2015.

It has saved taxpayers $27 million over three years and, as Schuh has said, it is the largest aggregate amount in history, according to the county Budget Office.

The executive has promised to reduce a tax or fee each year he is in office, which he has done up to this proposed budget.

The largest of the fee cut was a reduction in the water and sewer connection fees in 2016. These have totaled $21.6 million in reduced revenues over three fiscal years as home builders and businesses pay less to connect to the county’s utilities.

Work on Tyler Heights, Edgewater and Richard Henry Lee elementary schools could start later this summer under a supplemental budget plan released by County Executive Steve Schuh Wednesday.

The executive also promised to reduce a tax or fee each year he is in office, which he has done up to this proposed budget.

Some of these fee and tax cuts were small and not all of them affected every county resident or business, such as ending the $1 per movie ticket tax.

Schuh has proposed a .2 cent rate decrease in the fiscal 2019 budget and has not proposed any other tax or fee cuts in that budget. It would save an estimated $8 on a $400,000 home compared to the new rate allowed under the tax cap.

The council is currently reviewing and tweaking Schuh’s proposed budget.

“We are fairly confident that tax cut will go through,” said Owen McEvoy, Schuh’s county spokesman.

Here’s a look at the $109.5 million in savings or reduced revenues — it is a matter of perspective — under the county executive.

  • Property tax rate reduction from fiscal 2015 to 2018: 94.3 cents to 90.7 cents per $100 assessed value: $58.8 million in savings/reduced revenues
  • Income tax reduction from 2.56 percent to 2.50 percent: $27 million.
  • Water/sewer connection fee cuts: $21.6 million
  • Movie ticket cut: $1.2 million.
  • Mobile home tax cut: $450,000
  • Occupancy permit cuts: $150,000.
  • Pet fee cuts: $150,000.
  • Athletic facility tax cuts: $120,000
  • Senior plus fee cut: $70,000.

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