Slots and property taxes

February 01, 2005

If you're wavering about whether to support Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich's bill to legalize slot machines, here's one more reason - it just might hold down your property taxes.

With population in many Maryland counties surging, there's a need for new school construction. Washington County school officials recently announced they would have to build one new school each year to keep up with new enrollment.

In November, the Washington County Board of Education voted to more than double its capital funding request from $60 million to $171 million.

The state government pays a share of this, but much of it will come from Washington County's coffers. Even new fees on building and construction won't cover all of the costs.


Enter Ehrlich, who has placed an additional sweetener on his slots bill this year - pledging to devote $100 million of the revenues each year to school construction.

Divided among the 23 counties and Baltimore City, that amount wouldn't do the whole job, but over a 10-year -period, it would do a great deal.

Such a break for homeowning taxpayers is even more important now, given the sudden rise in state property assessments.

Since 2002, home values statewide have gone up by 5.2 percent. It was not quite that sharp an increase in Washington County, but in three years, 36 percent is a big jump.

Whether the full impact of that falls on taxpayers will depend on whether elected officials adhere to something called the Constant Yield Tax Rate, or CYTR.

By lowering the property-tax rate to the CYTR, the local government gets the same amount of revenue it did last year - even though assessments have risen - and tax bills don't increase.

But the county has other needs, including roads and other infrastructure that are in need of repair. Ehrlich's slots bill is a way to bring in new revenue without new taxes. It ought to be passed this year.

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