ANNAPOLIS – Republican lawmakers critical of Gov. Parris Glendening’s new budget announced legislation Thursday calling for a tax rebate from the state’s surplus.
Delegate Janet Greenip, R-Anne Arundel, with the support of the Maryland Taxpayers Association, unveiled a proposed constitutional amendment to refund what she called “overpayments” to Maryland taxpayers.
“Our Constitution now allows any tax overpayments, what some might call a surplus, to simply be kept and spent the following year,” said Greenip, a member of the House Ways and Means committee, from the steps of the Maryland State House.
The bill, which has the support of more than 17 Republicans, would have to be approved by three-fifths of the Legislature to appear on the next general election ballot.
The announced legislation is a reaction to the governor’s record-setting $21.3 billion operating budget and $1.5 billion capital budget for the 2002 fiscal year. The budget forecasts a $25 million surplus.
“The governor and lieutenant governor are out of control. He’s overestimated all the revenues. He’s underestimated all the expenditures,” said Delegate Robert H. Kittleman, R-Howard, a co-sponsor of the bill.
According to the Maryland Taxpayers Association, taxpayers have paid the state an extra $1.3 billion over the last two years. The average household overpaid $680, and the bill’s supporters want to return the overpayments.
Delegate Martha S. Klima, R-Baltimore County, another co-sponsor, called the governor’s budget “excessive,” far surpassing limits set by the Spending Affordability Committee in December.
The committee limited spending increases to 6.95 percent, a level that would require a $240 million budget cut, said Klima. Even that figure is too high, considering personal income growth is expected to be only 6.2 percent, she added.
Glendening has cut at least 28 taxes since taking office, but feels it necessary to make one-time investments in what he considers the state’s priorities, said Michelle Byrnie, the governor’s spokeswoman.
“The governor believes that investing the state’s surplus in education, mass transit, and other initiatives to improve the quality of life for Marylanders is the best, most fiscally responsible way to invest the state’s surplus,” she said.
Glendening has cut taxes $2.6 billion since 1995, according to the governor’s office.
The February 2000 issue of Governing magazine gave Maryland an A minus for financial management, although the magazine noted the state has difficulty accurately predicting revenue.
The taxpayers association plans to generate public support with an advertising campaign, said Kenneth Timmerman, association president.
“Most people don’t realize they’ve been overcharged,” he said.
The legislation’s supporters are hopeful of enlisting bipartisan support for the bill, despite their minority.
Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Anne Arundel, is working to garner support from Democratic lawmakers, including Sen. Patrick J. Hogan, D-Montgomery, and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D- Prince George’s.
The governor’s proposal to create an Office of Smart Growth is one example of overspending, said Mooney, who favors keeping land use policies at the local level.
“It’s a horrible program. You should call it the department of growth disruption,” said Mooney.
Timmerman cited the $28 million allocation for construction of the Strathmore Hall Performing Arts Center in Montgomery County as another example of overspending. He also questioned its relevance to Smart Growth.
“It’s going to turn Rockville Pike into a parking lot,” he said.
Michael Steele, chairman of the Maryland Republican Party, calling the governor “Spend-ening” for his “unbridled spending,” praised the proposed bill: “This is a good solid first step.”