ANNAPOLIS – Several Southern Maryland legislators — many General Assembly leaders among them — are reluctant to embrace House Speaker Michael E. Busch’s recently proposed $1 billion tax package.
Conservative Democrats, such as those in the delegation, have the most at stake in supporting the tax plan — voting for the measure could become a political liability for legislators who support the measure.
Busch, D-Anne Arundel, unveiled a tax plan Monday that includes a 1-cent sales tax hike earmarked for public schools, a boost in vehicle excise taxes from 5 to 6 percent and an income tax rate increase from 4.75 to 6 percent on Marylanders with incomes above $200,000.
Delegate John F. Wood Jr., chairman of the Southern Maryland delegation, said he would vote against Busch’s proposal because he is reluctant to accept the new taxes and his constituents are displeased with the proposal.
“I don’t think (Busch) has any concern with what we think in Southern Maryland,” Wood said. “I think he’s doing what he thinks he wants to do and that’s it.”
Wood, D-St. Mary’s, said his region is not quick to support tax or fee increases. In this case, support for the broad tax package may be too much to ask.
“It’s somewhat being rejected,” he said. “A billion-dollar tax package is nothing to take very lightly.”
Majority Whip George W. Owings III, said he will not vote for the tax increase and thinks the bill could stall in the Senate if passed by the House.
“I think the bill is going to pass out of here,” he said. “I think the Senate President has already spoken as to its acceptance or lack thereof in the Senate.”
Delegate Van T. Mitchell, D-Charles, Wood, Owings and the late Delegate Howard Peters “Pete” Rawlings, D-Baltimore, last year proposed a temporary 1-cent sales tax increase that would have generated between $600 and $700 million.
Unlike Busch’s permanent tax hike, last year’s proposed increase would have lasted three years and the funding would have been evenly split for transportation and education.
Owings said he supported last year’s proposal because it was temporary and introduced at the right time — the beginning of the Legislature’s four-year term.
Now, he said he would not support a bill to produce $1 billion in new taxes while cutting $348 million in state property taxes.
“If we’re raising taxes, why are we giving money back?” Owings said. “To me, personally, it’s somewhat of a contradiction. But I’m not going to try to second-guess the speaker.”
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert, a Southern Maryland Democrat himself, isn’t hesitating to question Busch’s initiative.
Miller has said the measure will have a hard time passing the Senate and that it’s “an exercise in futility” given that Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich has vowed to veto it.
Minority Whip Anthony J. O’Donnell, R-Calvert, said voting for the tax proposal would indeed create a large political liability for legislators from his region.
“I wouldn’t want to support this huge tax increase and run for re-election in Southern Maryland,” he said.
Most Democratic delegates from that region won handily in the 2002 elections, according results on the State Board of Elections Web site.
House Appropriations Chairman Norman H. Conway, D-Wicomico, said the political risks may be exaggerated for rural Democrats who support the tax increases.
Owings said his region’s legislators must choose to do what they think is right.
“Unfortunately, people tie everything to politics,” he said. “The last time I checked there are 188 people in Annapolis and they’re elected by their peers to do the right thing.”