ANNAPOLIS – Key Howard County lawmakers said as the General Assembly session opened Wednesday that they would support an income tax cut this year, as long as it doesn’t require a sales tax increase.
Many have described Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s proposed 10 percent cut over three years as a political ploy to win popularity. Others believe an income tax cut is necessary, but aren’t sure how to pay for it.
“The dynamics this year are much different than I’ve seen in my six years,” said Sen. Martin G. Madden, D-Howard. “A lot of political ambitions cross currents with the needs of the state.”
House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany, outlined those needs during the opening session.
Taylor advocated reducing Maryland’s personal income taxes and broadening the sales tax. He said Maryland has the fourth- highest income tax burden in the country, sixth-lowest job growth rate and fifth-lowest sales tax base.
While Taylor did not provide specific numbers, he says reducing the income tax rate will give Maryland a competitive edge over competing states. But at the same time, Taylor wants to apply the sales tax to consumer and business services, such as child day care, advertising and photofinishing
Del. Elizabeth Bobo, D-Howard, is skeptical.
“I’m not ready to jump on that bandwagon. I think the sales tax is a tax that hits all segments of the population,” she said.
Bobo says lawmakers need to “find a way to reduce the state’s income tax without reducing or eliminating necessary programs…I refuse to do it by taking it out of the mouths of the poor.”
Taylor also proposed campaign finance reform, including computerizing campaign finance reports and prohibiting fundraising during legislative sessions.
“None of us should be raising funds while the key decisions are being made,” he said.
Lawmakers also confront Glendening’s list of new programs. The governor wants to provide:
* Free college tuition to middle-class students with a B average.
* State-funded health insurance for uninsured pregnant women and small children in families earning less than $39,000 a year.
* $170 million to slow urban sprawl.
* A five-year, $254 million increase in aid for the Baltimore school system.
Glendening plans to pay for these programs by doubling the state’s 36-cent tobacco tax.
“He has laid out a very ambitious and expensive program that arguably many of them might have some popular appeal,” said Sen. Christopher J. McCabe, R-Howard. “We’ll have to have hearings on a lot of his initiatives, but we have to be fiscally responsible.”
McCabe, like many other legislators, wants to help Baltimore schools, but isn’t sure giving money is the solution. Lawmakers also are calling for more accountability and better governance by school administrators.
Aside from Glendening’s and Taylor’s proposals, Howard County legislators will be considering legislation initiated by their delegation.
Madden is re-introducing a bill that would impose a $250 fine for anyone convicted of domestic violence in Howard County. The money would be used to fund programs designed to reduce domestic violence in the county. The bill was vetoed last year after now retired Chief District Judge Robert F. Sweeney spoke out against it.
Madden is also proposing a $200,000 bond bill that would ask the state to transfer 100 acres along the Patapsco River for use as a Howard County youth camp facility. The land is near Bonnie Branch Road and College Avenue in Ellicott City.
Del. Shane Pendergrass, D-Howard, is proposing a local bill requiring applicants in zoning proceedings to state whether they are conducting business with elected officials. The bill arose after a controversy earlier this year when a Howard County councilman voted for a zoning amendment needed by developers to whom he had done business with. However, he never disclosed the information to other members.
She is also sponsoring a statewide bill that would require candidates for elected positions in professional non-partisan organizations to disclose campaign contributions.
Despite a full and contentious agenda, Howard County delegates are looking forward to the start of the 1997 session. Glendening got the ball rolling with his proposals, and state Del. Donald E. Murphy said Taylor quickened the pace with his opening address. “That speech by Taylor was very frank. Most people dance around the issues. He wants to raise sales taxes. He said that,” Murphy said. “It kind of put a chill effect on some folks…Last year everything involved the stadium. This year it’s going to be the tax cut.” -30-