ANNAPOLIS – Carroll County lawmakers oppose Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s plan to increase taxes so much that some members of the all-Republican delegation are defiantly crafting bills to cut taxes further.
“I think he’s going overboard in his spending,” said Sen. Larry E. Haines, R-Carroll, of the governor’s plans to increase the cigarette tax by $1 per pack and boost the gas tax to pay for road and transportation projects.
The governor’s office defended the tax increases earlier this week, saying opponents of the gas tax hike should say which local transportation projects they would be willing to give up. Spokesman Ray Feldmann said without the increase, there would not be enough money to pay for all the necessary projects.
But Sen. Timothy R. Ferguson, R-Carroll, rejected the governor’s attempts to put the burden on the lawmakers.
“I think he can meet the transportation needs in Carroll County without raising taxes,” he said. “We have a [$250 million] surplus. The ball is in his court.”
Haines said the delegation was burned in 1992 when it was promised construction would begin on local projects if they supported the last gas tax increase. Decades-old projects have still not begun, he said.
“I represent a district that hasn’t had any major transportation improvements in over 30 years,” Haines said.
One such neglected project is the Route 30 bypass that would go around the Hampstead and Manchester area, said Delegate Nancy R. Stocksdale, R-Carroll. Getting the administration to agree to sponsor the project from the general fund will be one of her top priorities for this session.
Stocksdale lamented that when the Maryland Department of Transportation officials visited her district last year, they said the project had to meet the criteria for the governor’s Smart Growth plan. The program limits development that may lead to urban sprawl, dirty air and traffic congestion.
“To me, that means that we may never get it,” she said.
Other lawmakers said increasing taxes should be the last thing the state does in a period of such prosperity.
“The Carroll County delegation as a whole is pretty united in opposing tax increases because there is so much additional revenue in the state,” said Delegate Joseph M. Getty.
Getty said the state should immediately implement the 10 percent tax cut scheduled to fully take effect in three years.
Several of the lawmakers in the delegation plan to introduce bills to cut taxes even further. Haines plans to reintroduce a bill that would reduce the capital gains tax. Although the bill never made it out of committee in his previous two attempts, he says it may have a better chance this time because of the success of a similar tax cut passed by Congress.
Ferguson is working on a bill to reduce the personal income tax rates for family farmers or give them a tax credit.
Stocksdale, too, has a tax cut plan. Her bill would give tax credits to parents who send their children to private school. Modeled after a law passed last year in Minnesota, Stocksdale said it would be a way to give parents a choice without directly funding religious schools.
Haines also plans to introduce what may be one of the most contentious issues in the assembly: a law to ban partial-birth abortions. Plus he is also working on legislation to use money from the tobacco settlement for farmland preservation.
Getty, for his part, plans to reintroduce legislation that would allow police to notify school officials if a student is charged with selling drugs while off school grounds. Getty said the bill was inspired by an incident last year at a county high school in which a student died of a heroin overdose. The students who sold the drugs were allowed to return to school the next day because it happened off campus, he said.
Last year, the bill was voted down in the Judiciary Committee, but changes in the makeup of the assembly have made Getty more optimistic.
“On the committee, there are nine new members out of 22,” he said. “And it’s not an election year.”