By Marla Shepard and Sheila Hotchkin
ANNAPOLIS – Tax cuts and education funding dominated discussion among legislators from the Washington, D.C., suburbs at the opening of the 1997 session of the Maryland General Assembly Wednesday.
Governor Parris N. Glendening’s proposed 10 percent income tax cut ranked high on many lawmakers’ agendas. While some have already taken a strong stance on the issue, many want to know how the cuts would be paid for.
“I really have to see that budget to see where all this is coming from,” said Del. Joan B. Pitkin, D-Prince George’s, who has opposed tax cut proposals in the past.
Glendening is expected to unveil his budget next week.
Both the governor and House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., D- Allegany, devised tax cut plans that will be introduced in the upcoming session. The governor’s plan is a straight 10 percent income tax cut, while Taylor’s plan consists of a combination income tax cut and sales tax increase over several years.
“Both plans are very laudable, but both are proceeding in opposite directions,” said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George’s. “The question is what’s best for Maryland.”
Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s, said the loss in programs resulting from an income tax cut would hurt taxpayers more than the tax cut would help them.
But Del. John S. Morgan, R-Prince George’s, disagreed and said programs would not suffer, while the money saved by Maryland taxpayers could be significant.
“What we’re talking about is a couple hundred dollars per year in people’s pockets, which is an excellent college fund,” Morgan said.
But Pinsky countered, “I just think it’s pandering to the Chamber of Commerce.”
But as much as the talk was of taxes, the top item on the suburban lawmakers’ agendas was school construction. Prince George’s and Montgomery counties both have fast-growing school- age populations, legislators said.
“Montgomery County is desperate for school construction funding,” said Sen. Jennie M. Forehand, D-Montgomery. “The Baltimore City school settlement can’t be resolved until all counties are made whole financially.”
Under the settlement, stemming from Baltimore lawsuits against the state, the governor will ask legislators to approve sending $254 million to Baltimore City schools. The proposal has raised eyebrows of legislators from other areas of Maryland, where many say needs are just as pressing as in Baltimore.
The education funding agenda extends to social security payments for teachers. Prior to 1990, the state matched local social security payments for teachers and librarians. The state ended its contributions after the recession in the early 1990s, and the burden shifted to the counties.
“When the state cut social security payments in 1990, Montgomery county lost $27 million,” Forehand said. “When the school system has to pay more for social security, you’ve got less money to spend.
“The state is throwing additional money at jurisdictions for education. Giving them the money [for social security payments] will take care of it.” Said Miller: “We’re getting to the bottom of the purse and it’s just a question of who gets what.” -30-