House weighs bud­get with $1.5B in­crease

Pack­age will raise taxes on res­i­dents

The Washington Times Daily - - Metro - BY DAVID HILL

AN­NAPO­LIS | The House could vote as soon as Fri­day on a state bud­get that would in­crease over­all spend­ing by more than $1.5 bil­lion next year.

The cham­ber was ex­pected to give pre­lim­i­nary ap­proval Thurs­day to a $35.9 bil­lion spend­ing plan — com­posed of four bills — that would add rev­enue in part by rais­ing in­come taxes on many Mary­lan­ders and shift­ing some teacher-pen­sion costs to coun­ties.

The Se­nate ap­proved its ver­sion of the bud­get last week, which in­cludes more wide­spread tax in­creases than those adopted by the House.

House Democrats say their plan will help pay for roads and public build­ings and pre­serve cru­cial ed­u­ca­tion, health and safety ser­vices at a time when strug­gling res­i­dents need them most.

Repub­li­cans — who hold just 43 of the cham­ber’s 141 seats — say the state should make cuts of its own and is only hurt­ing tax­pay­ers who have had to trim their house­hold bud­gets.

“Spend­ing no more than we bring in is an idea whose time has come,” said Del­e­gate Her­bert M. Mcmillan, Anne Arun­del Re­pub­li­can. “Other states have done it and it’s time for us to do it.”

The House spent much of Thurs­day de­bat­ing its bud­get pack­age, which in­cludes bills ap­proved this week by its Ap­pro­pri­a­tions and Ways and Means com­mit­tees.

The pack­age notably would raise taxes on sin­gle res­i­dents mak­ing more than $100,000 and cou­ples mak­ing more than $150,000 and en­act a three-year shift that would even­tu­ally re­quire coun­ties to take up half the bill for cur­rently state- paid teacher-pen­sion costs.

The House com­mit­tees adopted mod­i­fied ver­sions of Se­nate pro­pos­als that would have raised in­come taxes on vir­tu­ally all earn­ers and shifted pen­sion costs over a four-year pe­riod.

House Democrats re­jected nu­mer­ous Re­pub­li­can-pro­posed amend­ments to the bud­get bills, many of which fo­cused on re­duc­ing spend­ing and elim­i­nat­ing tax in­creases.

Mi­nor­ity Leader An­thony J. O’Don­nell, Calvert Re­pub­li­can, un­suc­cess­fully pro­posed an amend­ment to keep over­all spend­ing at last year’s level, while other GOP law­mak­ers were de­nied in bids to elim­i­nate the pen­sion shift out of con­cern for coun­ties and cut fund­ing from state pro­grams.

While Repub­li­cans re­ceived lit­tle agree­ment from Democrats, they did have about a dozen sup­port­ers out­side the State­house who staged a brief tax protest by cir­cling the build­ing and honk­ing their horns dur­ing the House de­bate.

Po­lice quickly put an end to the protest, di­rect­ing traf­fic away from the build­ing and is­su­ing $60 tick­ets to at least two driv­ers for il­le­gal use of their horns.

“It just doesn’t seem fair that they get to do what­ever they want and the rest of us have to abide by the laws of eco­nom­ics,” said pro­tester and ticket re­cip­i­ent Carl Gar­rett of Millersville.

Democrats ac­knowl­edged dur­ing de­bate that these are dif­fi­cult times to raise taxes but in­sisted that the money will make it back to res­i­dents in the forms of im­proved in­fra­struc­ture, public ed­u­ca­tion, health care and safety.

House Ma­jor­ity Leader Kumar P. Barve said tak­ing fund­ing from im­por­tant pro­grams would hurt many res­i­dents and that the state should be there for them in hard times.

“When good times re­turn, we will be able to re­store so many re­duc­tions, level fund­ings and out­right cuts,” said Mr. Barve, Mont­gomery Demo­crat. “But for right now, I’m sorry.”

The House plan would raise $191 mil­lion in in­come taxes by hik­ing tax rates and low­er­ing the value of per­sonal ex­emp­tions for high earn­ers, but it di­als back on more than $400 mil­lion in in­come-tax in­creases ap­proved by the Se­nate. Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from both cham­bers could meet next week in a con­fer­ence com­mit­tee to re­solve dif­fer­ences in the plans.

Se­nate Bud­get and Tax­a­tion Com­mit­tee Chair­man Ed­ward J. Kase­meyer said he doesn’t ex­pect too much trou­ble in ne­go­ti­a­tion, as both plans have sim­i­lar ap­proaches to bal­anc­ing the bud­get.

He added that the larger hikes in the Se­nate plan would re­sult in a greater fund bal­ance for the state.

“At least their in­creases are in the in­come-tax area, so that’s a good thing,” said Mr. Kase­meyer, Bal­ti­more County Demo­crat. “I don’t think we’re that ter­ri­bly far apart, re­ally.”


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