MOCO TRANSIT TAX-AND-SPEND BILL INCREASES PROPERTY TAXES
Background: Montgomery County residents discovered this weekend that without public knowledge or debate, the county last week asked the Maryland General Assembly to fast track a late-filed bill (MC 24-15) that would mean an end to limits on county property tax increases and wasteful spending without public input. The county’s House delegation voted to accept the proposal for internal review. The bill – which was submitted by the county executive on January 22, seven weeks after county bills were due – allows the county to create an Independent Transit Authority with broad tax-and-spend powers. The legislature must approve the bill before the county can act, and a public hearing is scheduled for Friday, January 30, in Rockville.
The ITA bill removes limits for increasing property taxes. If approved by the state legislature, the bill would give the county the required state authority to establish a self-governing transit body – the ITA – to be funded by an added property tax that would not be subject to the current County Charter limit on property tax increases approved by county residents in 2010.
The bill disenfranchises voters and gives private interests new governing powers. The bill removes policy and spending decisions from the county’s elected officials and puts them in the hands of a non-elected, five-member board appointed by the county executive. It permits a private body to set public policy, enter into contracts with other governments and private parties, and accumulate debt – without voters’ input or consent. The ITA board could use funds from tax increases for a bus rapid transit system, light rail, bridges, tunnels, and parking lots and garages, as well as property takings.
The bill is fiscally irresponsible. The bill increases spending to fund the new board, staff and operations. Moreover, it allows the county to move debt off its books and onto the ITA's books, freeing the county to further increase spending and debt. The ITA could issue bonds and incur debt without affecting the county's debt ceiling or bond rating. And the ITA’s debt would be guaranteed by future special taxes it could collect through the added property taxes. But the county would not require the ITA to submit a capital or operating budget for its approval.
The ITA bill process lacks transparency. The proposal is an end-run around voters and an abdication of responsibility by county leaders. The process leading up to the proposal’s late, expedited introduction was disturbingly secretive, raising suspicions of back-room deals driven by special interests. State legislators should not provide fast-track approval for a bill that gives private interests a blank check to shape the county’s future.
Stop the MC 24-15 tax-and-spend power grab now!