- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 18, 2000

ANNAPOLIS Spending plans drafted by Democrats in the Maryland General Assembly would easily consume the nearly $1 billion projected surplus, but none would return much money to state taxpayers.

Party lawmakers, who control the House of Delegates, Senate and governorship, see the surplus as an opportunity to spend more on on a variety of ambitious proposals.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening wants to spend much of his $19 billion budget proposal and the surplus on education. His plan, most of which he will detail this week, commits increased spending on health care for the poor, cancer research, preserving open space, fueling the development of new high technology businesses in Maryland and expanding roads and mass transit, including extending a Metrorail line in Prince George's County.

Republicans are calling for more tax relief than their counterparts, but say the sort of GOP-sponsored tax-relief efforts under way in Virginia looking at a surplus of $2.4 billion over the next two years is almost impossible with Democrats in charge in Annapolis.

House Republican Whip Robert L. Flanagan said he expects Democrat-controlled committees will keep Maryland tax legislation from moving to the floor until after the budget is approved, which usually happens near the budget deadline, just a week before the session ends a hardball legislative tactic that makes serious tax relief efforts much more unlikely.

Republicans also were disappointed that only $800 million of the $2.7 billion Mr. Glendening announced he would add to the six-year transportation budget will go for roads.

"Our needs for roads are so much more," said House Republican Leader Robert H. Kittleman, adding that roads are what most people want and that, unlike mass transit, they don't require heavy operating subsidies.

For most of his agenda, Mr. Glendening has the support of two key fellow Democrats: House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.

Mr. Taylor and Mr. Miller have joined Republican leaders in calling for Maryland to enact the last phase of a 10 percent cut in its income tax next year, instead of in 2002, and to eliminate its inheritance tax.

Mr. Glendening, too, has joined legislators in backing an end to the state's inheritance tax a levy viewed as unfair double taxation that discourages families and businesses from locating in Maryland. But he has refused to support any other general tax relief until new revenue estimates arrive in March.

Legislative leaders especially Mr. Taylor, who lives in Western Maryland's Allegany County have some spending proposals of their own for the billion-dollar surplus, created by a record-breaking economy and low unemployment.

Mr. Taylor has argued that more revenue needs to be dedicated to the transportation fund. He also wants to increase economic development aid for Baltimore and distressed rural counties including spending about $3 million to subsidize commuter service from airports in Cumberland, St. Mary's County and Salisbury to Bal-

timore-Washington International Airport.

Sen. Robert R. Neall a fiscal conservative who recently changed his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat said there's never been a better time to cut taxes in Maryland and people will offer "all kinds of bills" after further assurance comes with March revenue estimates.

In his own Anne Arundel County, there's "no doubt" residents want lower taxes, said Mr. Neall, now the only Democrat representing his district.

But he said increasing income tax credits for the working poor is high on the list of powerful Senate Budget and Taxation Committee Chairman Barbara Hoffman, a Democrat who represents Baltimore and Baltimore County.

Legislators from Maryland's most populous and mostly Democratic suburban and urban districts said they believe their constituents are more concerned about education than reducing taxes.

And without help from the Democrats, significant tax relief won't happen, said House GOP Whip Flanagan. Because the Democrats will likely hold tax bills off the floor until after the budget is approved, they'll be able to argue that a tax cut will imbalance the budget.

"It forces us to put tax cuts in [future] years" rather than the next one, said Mr. Flanagan, who represents Montgomery and Howard counties.

So, although House GOP leaders expect to propose sizable tax cuts, any tax relief they win is unlikely to affect Marylanders' wallets until July 2001..

First, GOP lawmakers are looking to sales tax breaks that would reduce clothing costs and could draw nearby out-of-state neighbors to Maryland to shop.

Delegate Jean Cryor, Montgomery County Republican, already has a raft of co-sponsors for her proposal to exempt clothing and shoes from the state's 5 percent sales tax from Aug. 11 through Aug. 17 each year a measure that particularly would help parents' save on back to school shopping.

Similar tax-free-week bills passed the House by more than 16 to 1 margins in 1998 and 1999, but failed to get hearings in the Senate.

Senate Republican leader Martin G. Madden, who represents Prince George's and Howard counties, said that a proposal from Sen. Andrew P. Harris to exempt clothing priced below $100 from sales tax has gained substantial support in the Senate GOP caucus.

Delegate Kumar Barve, Democrat and chairman of Montgomery County's House delegation, said a few persons have called to say they support accelerating the tax cut and ending the inheritance tax.

But he said the "vast majority" including seniors at a Gaithersburg retirement home in his district's most Republican precinct have told him they want the state to build more classrooms.

"They are interested in their grandkids getting a decent education," Mr. Barve said.

Education also tops tax cuts on wish lists in Prince George's, according to the county's House delegation chairman, Rushern L. Baker III. Prince George's is struggling to improve students' academic performance and needs to build 26 new schools to move from a 25-year-old policy of busing for racial diversity back to neighborhood schools.

The Democratic lawmakers' plans to ignore traditional spending guidelines and allow the state budget to grow ahead of personal income indicators for the second consecutive year have drawn protests from fiscal conservatives.

But a broad contingent of Democrats continues to join Republicans in arguing that Maryland's commuters and commerce can no longer stand to suffer from failure to expand badly congested roads, particularly in the Washington-Baltimore corridor. Many of them would trade tax relief for new roads Mr. Glendening has refused to back, such as the Intercounty Connector, long planned to connect interstates 270 and 95 north of the Capital Beltway.

They are less pleased with the governor's push to lift subsidy limits on under-used mass transit.

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