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Tipping cap to prosperity

THE BALTIMORE SUN

VOTERS WON'T GET a chance to fix the county's tax revenue cap this year because the Board of Elections disqualified nearly 4,000 signatures in a petition drive that appeared headed for success.

That's too bad, because the drive sought to mend -- and not end -- the revenue cap.

Currently, the cap limits property tax increases to 4.5 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. The referendum sought to raise the limit to 4.5 percent or the rate of inflation, which is higher, a reasonable compromise that would have assured the county enough money to pay its bills.

Supporters thought they'd collected enough signatures for the referendum, but the county's election board disagreed: They threw out 3,995 signatures on technicalities. Now, Anne Arundel may have to face the music under current tax cap rules.

So far, the 8-year-old revenue cap has seemed painless. Schools are getting built and repaired. The school building repair backlog -- not including new construction needs -- has dipped from $168 million two years ago to $120 million and could drop below $100 million by the end of next summer, says Gregory V. Nourse, assistant schools superintendent for finance and facilities construction.

Also, police and firefighters got big raises this year. And County Executive Janet S. Owens has decided to construct libraries in Crofton and Odenton.

But the reason county projects are getting done and employees are getting paid is the prosperity Anne Arundel County and the rest of the country enjoy.

Maybe this record prosperity will continue for another two years, the soonest another referendum drive can occur. But we know that the economy is a cyclical creature. Eventually, it will turn. Sooner or later, the county will need some flexibility to provide needed services when times aren't so good.

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