August 19, 2010

Montgomery County is battleground for swing votes

The state's largest, wealthiest and arguably most liberal jurisdiction is broke. County leaders wrestled to plug a roughly $1 billion budget deficit this year. Ehrlich has made the county a focal point in his campaign. He announced he would challenge Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley in Rockville, the county seat. His running mate, former Maryland Secretary of State Mary Kane, is from Potomac, one of the county's plushest communities.

Local council members - all Democrats - haven't done O'Malley many favors at home. As their own financial woes grew, they've routinely accused O'Malley of treating the county like a piggy bank. They often note that Montgomery County gets back roughly 17 or 18 cents in state aid for every tax dollar their residents pay, whereas Baltimore City gets $1.03 back for every tax dollar spent. While all say they'll support O'Malley's bid for re-election, several admit they hoped for more from a governor who grew up in their county.

Councilman Phil Andrews of Rockville, a Democrat who served as council president from 2008 to 2009, said O'Malley has done well as governor, but some state funding changes that occurred during his administration have hit Montgomery County hard.

"It's because he could have done better here and because the economy has been so tight that it has created an opening for a comeback from Governor Ehrlich," Andrews said.

Other county leaders accuse state officials of ignoring changing demographics, which include a growing number of poor, immigrant residents.

"I think he's completely taken us for granted," said former Council President Mike Knapp, a Democrat from Germantown who led the body from 2007-2008.

Their list of complaints includes a decision by leaders in Annapolis to create a state millionaire's tax, set to expire at the end of this year. Some Montgomery leaders believe the tax drove at least a few of their wealthiest residents to leave the county. According to county data, there were 851 fewer people filing tax returns with annual income of $1 million or more, a drop of 28 percent in the first year the state implemented the millionaire tax. SOURCE: Business Week

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