2020 | Politics

Leggett, county leaders start campaign against tax, council structure questions on ballot

Petitioned questions on election ballot are “bad” for Montgomery, they say

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Former Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett speaks against two ballot questions at a press conference in Silver Spring on Monday.

Photo by Briana Adhikusuma

This story was updated at 12:52 p.m. on Sept. 14, 2020, to include additional details about other questions on the ballot.

Former County Executive Ike Leggett and other current and former county leaders on Monday morning announced a campaign to oppose two questions on the ballot this November.

The questions, referred to as B and D on the ballot, deal with county tax policy and the County Council structure.

Question B would not allow the county to raise property taxes above the rate of inflation. Question D would change County Council structure to nine district seats. The current structure has five district seats and four at-large.

Leggett, former U.S. Rep. Connie Morella, Council for Advocacy and Policy Solutions founder David Blair, and AQUAS Inc. CEO Carmen Ortiz Larsen announced the launch of the “Vote No On B & D” campaign committee at a press conference on Monday.

 “There is a great need in Montgomery County today and there will be for some time,” Leggett said, speaking outside of the Dennis Avenue Health Center in Silver Spring. “Therefore, we need flexibility, not an inflexible cap that would not allow you to raise one penny beyond the cost-of-living adjustment, even with nine council members voting in support of it.”

Leggett also said the county doesn’t need “parochialism.”

“We do not need all nine districts to be a single-member district in Montgomery County,” he said. “We need good governance and the way you do that is by having both at-large and single-member districts in Montgomery County.”

Robin Ficker, a frequent candidate, former state delegate and current candidate for governor, collected more than 13,500 signatures for a public referendum on the tax policy change. He attended the press conference with two other supporters, who held signs in support of the ballot question.

Before the press conference, Ficker and a woman stood in front of news cameras. When they were asked to move, Ficker said they were at the conference to “participate” and did not move. After being asked several times to move, another resident attending the conference grabbed the woman’s sign and tried to pull it away before Leggett asked him to stop.

Ficker and the woman didn’t move and the news cameras were moved aside before the conference began.

On this year’s ballot, voters will face two other questions that the County Council has proposed as alternatives to B and D.

On tax policy, the council’s proposal would remove the tax revenue cap and require all nine council members to approve a tax increase that exceeds the rate from the previous year.

Ficker authored question B and got more than the 10,000 signatures required to get the question on the ballot.

“We had a 9% property tax increase [in 2016]. We never want another one,” Ficker said after the press conference. “As a result of that increase, minorities were stuffed in apartments, housing was moved up into the unaffordable category, we had many foreclosures. These multi-millionaires are only too happy to see another 9% increase. That’s what they want. It’s not reasonable to raise taxes during a pandemic.”

On the council structure, the council proposal would add an additional two districts seats, making an 11-member council.

Question D, which would replace the council’s four at-large districts with district seats, was put forward by a group called Nine Districts for MoCo, which gathered more than 16,300 signatures. The group has said there is inequal representation on the council with the current structure and have pointed out that all four of the council’s at-large members – Glass, Gabe Albornoz, Will Jawando, and Hans Riemer – live in the down county area.

The county’s Charter Review Commission recently decided, in a 5-4 vote, to recommend keeping the at-large seats. The commission is required to review the county’s charter every other year and consider recommendations on how it might be changed.
Leggett told Bethesda Beat that “Vote No On B & D” doesn’t have a specific stance on the council’s proposals.

“I’m not opposed to those. I think they’re worth consideration,” he said. “But I think sometimes there may be some level of confusion and you can have unintended consequences. But to look at them, they are not bad because they still allow for some at-large members and you do not have that inflexible cap and may allow for at least some taxes to continue under the circumstances.

“But we know [questions] B and D are naturally bad for the county,” he added.

Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at briana.adhikusuma@bethesdamagazine.com.