- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Signing a pledge disavowing tax increases is a commonplace practice for congressional Republicans, but Charles County commissioners’ president candidate Tom deSabla believes this election marks the first time local GOP hopefuls have united behind such a promise.
Referring to themselves as The Pledge Team, deSabla and fellow Republican commissioner candidates Mike Bakir, Steve Mattingly and John Young each has signed a five-tiered pledge aimed at primarily tax and budget reform.
“The idea was that the voters would have a team of people all on the same page. I don’t think we’ve ever had that in the county,” deSabla said. “We’ve had some people calling themselves a team and putting out literature, but the idea what that the voters would have a team of people, all committed in writing to cutting taxes.”
The pledge includes a promises to “reject any and all additional tax increases, because Charles County already has the highest property tax of any county in the state,” as well cut the local property tax back to its fiscal 2012 rate of $1.0025 per $100 of assessed value.
The county’s current property tax rate of $1.205 per $100 is the highest of any county in the state, exceeded only by Baltimore city’s rate of $2.248 per $100.
Young, who is running in District 4, said his family has lived in Maryland since the 1630s, but high taxes have begun to chase them out of the state.
“That’s the only reason I’m running,” he said. “I’ve got family members moving out the state because they can’t afford to live here because of the taxes, and I’m getting tired of it. It’s outrageous.”
When he’s shared the pledge with voters, Young has found they tend to like the idea of lower taxes.
“A lot of people are for that, on both sides of the aisle, Republican and Democrat,” he said.
The four candidates also have promised to implement zero-based budgeting, where every budget cycle begins at $0 rather than building on the previous year’s “baseline” budget.
“We need to budget differently. We need to budget from a zero base, not from a baseline where you take last year’s spending and add to it,” deSabla said. “We think that leads to runaway government spending. Well, we know it does.”
Running in District 3, Mattingly said the tax cuts promised in the pledge can be achieved “by getting the budget under control, and then each year do zero-based budgeting and get rid of some of these budget issues that don’t really serve the citizens.”
For instance, Mattingly said he downloaded the entire county budget and found a $400 provision for one month’s worth of bottled water.
“So we really need bottled water? We can’t go to the water fountain and get a drink?” he asked. “Isn’t that something we can do without until things improve and revenues are better?”
The pledge also includes ideas on relieving school overcrowding — such as encouraging dual enrollment by providing high school students full-ride scholarships to also attend the College of Southern Maryland — and promises to begin the comprehensive plan process anew as well as reject unfunded mandates from the federal and state governments.
Lastly, the pledge seeks to grow the local economy via lower taxes, streamlined permits, commonsense code enforcement, looser regulations and “good environmental stewardship.”
Bakir, running in District 2, views the pledge as a good start but believes it comes up short in addressing the county’s business climate and lack of jobs.
“We need more businesses, more jobs so we don’t have to keep going to the neighboring counties and the nation’s capital and other places looking for jobs,” he said.
The pledge includes a cut in the local income tax rate from the current 3.03 percent back to the 2013 rate of 2.9 percent. It also calls for an immediate 15 percent cut in the commissioners’ pay and for the county-owned SUVs driven by the commissioners to be sold.
“We don’t want any part of excess,” deSabla said. “We want to be leaders who lead by example, and we don’t think the commissioners need county vehicles.”
The Pledge Team previously included a fifth member, but former District 1 candidate J.T. Crawford dropped out of the race citing other commitments, and the district’s current GOP nominee, Charles Lollar, has not decided whether to officially sign on with the pledge.
Lollar said he has been consumed with building a platform and has yet to review the pledge but emphasized that he has no intention of raising taxes.
“I don’t see a need currently to raise taxes. In fact I see more of a need to control the money we have coming in and spend in the way we need to,” he said. “I intend to run a campaign for us to win and have not made a decision or stepped toward making any pledge. It’s going to be hard enough to win in this county as a Republican. I want to make sure I’m carrying the banner for every citizen in Charles County, without having to raise taxes.”
Like Lollar, deSabla and the rest of the Pledge Team are well aware of the inherent disadvantage that comes with running as a Republican in Charles County, where Democrats hold a 2-to-1 voter registration advantage.
But deSabla believes many Democratic voters want what he and the Pledge Team are promising.
“I have faith that Democratic voters will not in perpetuity vote for tax increases, and I don’t believe that Democratic voters really want a county with the highest tax rates of any county in the state,” he said. “I don’t believe Democrats want that, and I believe they will vote for common sense. I believe they are intelligent, good people and that they will vote for commonsense logic.”