How real is the threat of a tax increase on White Flint residents?
If you listen to County Councilmembers, not very. According to his senior staff, County Executive Ike Leggett agrees and won’t propose a tax on residents. Diane Jones called the proposal “very rough and virtually unvetted” (translation: she didn’t write it, and she’s in charge of the staffing on this issue for Ike).
Makes sense. The County is crying for money, and White Flint, even by the most pessimistic estimates, will generate $7 BILLION in additional tax revenue. And the infrastructure cost will be mostly paid by voluntary taxes on commercial development (the developers who will pay that new tax have already agreed). There’s no need to tax residents for White Flint infrastructure.
But the people actually writing the implementing legislation have no marching orders on this — yea or nay. And we hear that staffers are still rattling sabers. “We have to look at all sources of money, because the County can’t afford to invest in White Flint even if there’s a big payoff and the developers have agreed to pay the lion’s share.”
So what’s going on?
During the County Council’s deliberations on the White Flint Sector Plan, Council staffers continually tried to change the Plan to retain obsolete automobile-oriented mobility tests. Staff simply shook their heads at arguments that a New Urbanism, transit-oriented master plan shouldn’t depend on tests that measured success by how fast cars move through intersections.
But that was a different situation. The old PAMR and LATR “balance” tests were mandated by law, so Council staff was stuck putting square pegs in round holes unless the Council itself changed the law or exempted White Flint. Eventually, the Council exempted the area and the Plan moved forward.
Now, this tax proposal looks like staff political posturing. Maybe they’re trying to get the developers to kick in more money? Or maybe they’re trying to leverage something else? After all, the staff line throughout the financing debate has been that it would be “unfair” to develop White Flint when there are needs in other areas of the County. “We can’t put money in a rich area!”
The problem is that the staff is playing a pretty serious game of political “chicken” here. They’re gambling that they can get the developers to pony up for other things before the September primary elections, or that there aren’t enough White Flint residents who will get angry to make a difference in the elections, or that memories will be short.
But White Flint residents are already very loud against the residents’ tax proposal, and it would be a very heavy blow to lose developer support for the White Flint Plan over something that everyone already knows will get resolved. After all, the biggest concern over the White Flint Plan has always been that the County won’t follow through on its commitments for some other reason. And those other reasons have always involved soaking White Flint to benefit some other area. Just like the Executive staff proposed taking parking revenue from North Bethesda, supposedly forever dedicated to reducing congestion and increasing transit, and putting it somewhere else.
Everyone’s on vacation, and this will likely be resolved soon after people return in September. What politician is going to let staff decide the primary elections on the basis of an idea that’s already a non-starter? Not at a time when the County is still smarting from losing a big corporate headquarters to Virginia.
So why is Ike Leggett letting his staff increase the heat in an already-hot summer?