- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 25, 2012

ANNAPOLIS — Freshmen House Republicans on Wednesday blasted a proposal by Gov. Martin O'Malley to increase several taxes during this year’s General Assembly session.

The 15 first-term delegates criticized the governor and other Democrats for considering tax hikes on gas, cigars, income, digital products and other items, arguing the increases will overburden residents already struggling to make ends meet in tough economic times.

They also released a survey showing that 96 percent of recently polled Marylanders think they are taxed too much or just enough, which the GOP delegates said proves bipartisan voter opposition to any tax increases this session.

“Maryland families are struggling,” said Delegate Kathy Szeliga, Baltimore County Republican. “Today they’ve sent us here with one message: We cannot afford to pay more taxes and fees.”

Mr. O'Malley proposed a budget last week that includes a tax increase on non-cigarette tobacco products, an effective doubling of the so-called “flush tax” and income tax hikes on the top 20 percent of earners.

He is also expected in coming weeks to propose that lawmakers in the Democrat-controlled Assembly raise the state’s 23.5-cents-a-gallon gas tax to help fund transportation projects.

The governor’s other proposals include charging a 6-percent sales tax on online music and apps and repealing some tax credits for the telecommunications and coal industries.

The GOP delegates paid for a poll this month by Gonzales Research and Marketing Strategies Inc. to gauge public thoughts on tax increases.

The poll, which surveyed 808 registered voters, found 63 percent said their families pay too much in taxes.

The sentiment was most prevalent among Republicans, 80 percent of whom said they pay too much, while 56 percent of Democrats also said they are overtaxed.

Among all respondents, 33 percent said they pay “about the right amount” and 4 percent said they pay too little.

Democrats say tax increases are necessary this year to fund infrastructure, create jobs and trim a $1.1-billion structural deficit.

However, Republicans argue tax hikes will only hurt the state and have compared this year’s session to the 2007 special session in which lawmakers approved about $1.4 billion in new taxes to close a then-$1.7-billion structural deficit.

“Here we are several years later in the same predicament,” said Delegate Justin D. Ready, Carroll Republican. “The issue is an unwillingness to prioritize and get spending under control.”

GOP lawmakers said they are working on an alternative budget to the governor’s that would remove the tax increases and drastically cut state spending.

While Republicans have often accused the Assembly of overspending, Democrats have accused Republicans of not providing specific cuts or realistic alternatives.

“What services are you prepared to give up?” said Delegate Samuel I. Rosenberg, Baltimore Democrat. “Should the government cut funding for schools, which means less updating of equipment?”

House Ways and Means Committee Chair Sheila E. Hixson, Montgomery Democrat, said tax increases are needed this year to pay for education, transportation and programs that improve the state’s quality of life.

She argued that sharp cuts to those programs would upset and inconvenience residents far more than tax increases.

“If we cut $1 billion worth of programs, the public would be less than impressed,” said Ms. Hixson, whose committee is in charge of vetting tax proposals before they reach the House floor. “Obviously, we have to go to other sources to find out what we can do.”

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