- The Washington Times - Monday, December 18, 2006

ANNAPOLIS — State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. yesterday said tax increases — including sales and gasoline taxes — need to be considered if Gov.-elect Martin O’Malley is to keep his campaign promises on education, transportation and health care.

“Somehow, someplace, somebody is going to have to pay for it, and it is going to be the Maryland taxpayer,” Mr. Miller, Southern Maryland Democrat, told reporters as he entered Loews Annapolis Hotel for a meeting with legislative leaders and Mr. O’Malley.

But Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, said he does not plan to propose higher taxes — although the Democrat-controlled legislature may offer its own ideas. He declined to pledge not to increase state sales and income taxes as did Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican who lost his re-election bid last month to Mr. O’Malley.

“I didn’t make that one pledge in the campaign,” said Mr. O’Malley, who is serving a second term as Baltimore’s mayor. “I don’t plan to introduce any taxes, [but] I want to keep an open mind. I hope we can all keep an open mind.”

He held the meeting yesterday with top Democratic lawmakers to draft an agenda for the General Assembly session beginning Jan. 10. He will be sworn in as governor Jan. 17.

Maryland’s embattled Republican leaders welcomed a tax debate said state Sen. Andrew P. Harris, a Baltimore County Republican and minority whip during Mr. Ehrlich’s tenure.

“If [Mr. Miller] wants to talk about raising the sales tax, let’s bring it on,” said Mr. Harris, who yesterday narrowly lost the caucus election for minority leader to Sen. David R. Brinkley of Western Maryland.

He said Mr. Miller likely proposed the tax increase in order to promote legalized slot-machine gambling as an alternative revenue source.

Mr. Miller championed legalized slots, which was a top priority of Mr. Ehrlich that was blocked for four years by House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel County Democrat.

Last year, Mr. O’Malley increased city taxes by $30 million, including a higher property-tax rate and new taxes on cell phones, telephones and energy.

Baltimore residents now pay a $3.50 per month tax on cell phones, a 12 percent tax on traditional telephone service and a 2 percent tax on energy.

The mayor had proposed $45 million in higher taxes, but the City Council trimmed the bill by $15 million.

At the time, Mr. O’Malley defended the increase by saying it would forestall cuts to “quality-of-life” services such as trash collection and policing.

As the governor-elect and Democratic lawmakers arrived at the hotel yesterday, they said legislative priorities would include increasing spending on public education and school construction, expanding access to health care and investing in new roads and mass-transit projects.

The agenda echoed many of Mr. O’Malley’s campaign promises.

“Progress is possible even with the big budget problems we face,” he said, referring to a projected structural deficit of more than $1 billion a year. “So many of these things are a question of how quickly.”

State Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, who Mr. Miller has appointed as Senate majority leader, said he did not anticipate major tax increases during Mr. O’Malley’s first legislative session.

“No one wants to send the message back home that the new governor wants to raise taxes,” said Mr. Kasemeyer, a Democrat representing Baltimore and Howard counties. “No one wants to look at [raising taxes] first.”

Still, he said increases in state taxes on sales, income, gasoline and tobacco are “in the mix” for addressing the long-term budget needs.

“We’ve got to figure out where we are going in the next three or four years,” Mr. Kasemeyer said, adding that he does not support raising gasoline or cigarette taxes.

After the Nov. 7 election restored the Democrat’s almost complete control of state government, some of the party’s top elected officials suggested increasing Maryland’s 23.5-cents-a-gallon tax on gasoline or increasing the cigarette tax from $1 to $2 a pack.

Mr. O’Malley has not endorsed either proposal.

Mr. Miller said a higher gasoline tax may be necessary to beef up the Transportation Trust Fund to stave off highway gridlock.

The Senate president also suggested raising the state sales tax, though he acknowledged it would be unpopular with voters.

“We know what needs to be done. It is a question of: Is there the political will?” he said.

Mr. Miller said the tax talk was not a reflection of the new governor.

“It doesn’t mean that because he is a Democrat he wants to raise taxes,” Mr. Miller said. “It means we have to look at everything.”

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