ANNAPOLIS – Eastern Shore lawmakers Wednesday cited income tax cuts, economic development and aiding the state’s horse racing industry as the most pressing issues they face in a new session of the state legislature.
On the opening day of the Maryland General Assembly, most legislators promised to reduce Maryland’s income tax rates, but they disagreed about how to pay for cuts.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening has proposed doubling the tax on cigarettes, while some legislators favor extending the state sales tax to cover services like medical care, laundry, child care and repairs.
“I feel certain we’re going to get some sort of tax cut — I don’t know what form it’s going to be,” said Del. Don B. Hughes, R-Wicomico. He added that increasing the tobacco tax or broadening the sales tax “is not going to fly” on the Eastern Shore since residents could easily start shopping in Delaware or Virginia.
Several legislators said they would prefer to save money by streamlining government agencies and continuing to reform programs like welfare.
“If the government can act as efficiently as private industry, a 10 percent tax cut is peanuts,” said Sen. Walter M. Baker, D-Cecil. “What I want to see is a tightening of the belt and better performance.”
Delegation members also promised to make sure their home counties get their share of the state fiscal pie.
Delegation chair Norman H. Conway, D-Wicomico, said he would fight for money to begin construction on a U.S. Route 50 bypass around Salisbury and to widen U.S. Highway 113.
“There are more cars, more tourists. We’ve encouraged tourism, and we’ve marketed successfully. Now we have to have the infrastructure in place to handle that,” he said.
“For us, economic development is also having in place the necessary ingredients to be attractive to businesses.”
Two Eastern shore legislators also plan to introduce bills to aid the horse racing industry, which has been hurt by the introduction of slot machines in Delaware.
Del. Bennett Bozman, D-Worcester, wants to decrease the minimum number of racing days a track must operate from 65 to 40 in order to give tracks more flexibility. Baker will propose making Maryland’s track purses competitive with Delaware by subsidizing them with lottery money.
“I feel we need to save the horse racing industry. We subsidize professional football and professional baseball, so why not subsidize an industry that contributes more to the economy than all those other sports put together?” he said.
Gambling remains a hot button in the minds of Eastern Shore legislators, who expect that issue to resurface during the session. Del. Adelaide C. Eckardt, R-Dorchester, who has opposed a move to put a casino in Dorchester County, said gambling remains a controversial issue to watch. Glendening has vowed to veto any legislation to expand legal gambling.
Sen. Richard F. Colburn, R-Dorchester, has also introduced a bill granting tax credits to businesses that teach English as a second language and another that would add drug trafficking to the list of crimes for which suspects can be charged with first- degree murder.
But most agreed that cutting income taxes, attracting businesses to the Eastern Shore and creating jobs were among their top priorities. Maryland has the fourth-highest income tax and the 6th lowest job growth rate in the country, according to government figures.
Many legislators hope an income tax cut will help solve those problems by putting money back in their constituents’ pockets and making the state more attractive to businesses.
“No one wants to locate in a state that’s sometimes been described as a tax hell,” said Baker.