- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 6, 2000

ANNAPOLIS Maryland legislators are locked in a standoff over whether to repeal all or part of the state's inheritance tax a situation that could take the decision down to the wire on the only major new relief taxpayers hope to see approved this year.
House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., Allegany County Democrat, wants to eliminate the inheritance tax entirely but has proposed raising probate fees so that each of the state's 24 local registers of wills offices can remain self-funding.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. a Democrat who represents parts of Prince George's, Anne Arundel and Calvert counties wants to eliminate the levy only for spouses, children, grandchildren and parents who inherit.
Although neither side has said it would compromise, it could be difficult for legislators to let the promise of some tax relief die at midnight Monday, when the session ends.
"I believe the Senate position will prevail," said Mr. Miller, explaining that the state implemented the inheritance tax on non-lineal descendants in 1845 under the leadership of Gov. Thomas George Pratt to eliminate debt that was eroding public confidence.
Maryland did not apply the inheritance tax to direct descendants until 1935, when it used the money to help the state meet its obligations during the Depression, Mr. Miller said.
Removing a tax imposed during dire economic times would be appropriate and prudent, Mr. Miller suggested, at a time when the state has accumulated a $1 billion surplus but is reporting no revenue increases and growing concern that Internet commerce will shrink what it reaps from the sales tax.
But Delegate Anne Healey, Prince George's Democrat and vice chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said delegates would "definitely hang tough for a time."
"Eliminate it all but don't piecemeal it," Mrs. Healey said.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, will support whatever the legislature works out, his spokesman Mike Morrill said.
Last year, Maryland approved a bill lowering the inheritance tax for spouses and children from 1 percent to 0.9 percent and for siblings from 10 percent to 8 percent this year and 5 percent after July 1, 2001. Other heirs including nieces, nephews, cousins and unrelated people still pay 10 percent.
The House proposal would reduce state revenue by about $55 million; the Senate proposal by $15 million.

All but one of the legislators representing Montgomery and Prince George's counties have signed a letter urging Mr. Glendening to support extending Metrorail hours to 2 a.m. on weekend nights.
Last year the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority board, which governs Metrorail, decided to extend Metrorail's weekend hours by an hour to 1 a.m. for a trial period from Nov. 1, 1999, through June 30, 2000.
The decision to run trains until 1 a.m. was a compromise on the original proposal to operate until 2 a.m.
The only delegate who did not sign the letter was Richard LaVay, Montgomery County Republican.
Warmer weather and an increased promotional effort should increase ridership and benefit businesses, restaurants, commuters and travelers even more, the legislators said.
Extending weekend hours to 1 a.m. was estimated to cost the subsidized transit system an additional $2.1 million a year. Extending the hours until 2 a.m. was projected to cost an additional $1.8 million.
Yesterday, Metro announced that ridership was higher in March than in any other month. The agency said 15,232,909 trips were provided for passengers during March a 9 percent increase from March 1999.

The House of Delegates yesterday sent the governor an emergency bill creating a task force looking into problems a gas additive has been causing in Maryland.
On a unanimous vote, the House voted to concur with Senate amendments to Delegate Virginia Clagett's emergency bill creating a panel to examine the impact of the additive, called MTBE.
MTBE is added to gasoline in smoggy cities such as Baltimore and Washington to make cleaner-burning fuel, but it may cause cancer in people if it gets into drinking water.
State environment officials said MTBE has turned up in hundreds of private wells and dozens of Maryland's public drinking water systems.

The Maryland House and Senate approved a package of bills intended to provide more protection for frail elderly people who live in nursing homes.
The bills approved yesterday would require more frequent inspections of nursing homes. They also would give the state authority to move more quickly to correct problems that have the potential to cause harm to the health of patients.
They also would allow bigger fines, increase the number of inspectors and require nursing homes to begin to increase staffing levels.
Some of the bills need to be reconciled with Senate versions that passed earlier before they can go to Mr. Glendening's desk.

A measure that legislative leaders hope will lead to Maryland becoming the first state in the nation with a technology court cleared the General Assembly yesterday.
House Speaker Casper Taylor, Allegany Democrat, said if Maryland moves quickly, it could become a center for Internet business development by luring companies seeking a place where legal problems could be resolved by judges who are experts in technology issues.
The bill that passed the Senate yesterday now goes to Mr. Glendening to sign or veto. It calls on the chief judge of the Court of Appeals to consider setting up a business and technology division in the state court system.
Computer piracy would become a more serious crime in Maryland under legislation approved yesterday and sent to the governor for his signature.
The bill deals with computer crimes such as stealing software and hacking into computer systems to damage or alter information stored in computers.
The bill would make such crimes a felony with a prison sentence up to 10 years and a fine up to $10,000 if the damage exceeded $10,000.

Maryland's treasurer and comptroller asked the legislature yesterday not to take away their power to veto pay raises the governor proposes for his top aides.
With Mr. Glendening voting "no," Treasurer Richard Dixon and Comptroller William Donald Schaefer approved a resolution at the Board of Public Works meeting asking lawmakers to strip language dealing with pay raises from a bill now before the Senate Finance Committee.
It was the latest in a string of instances in which Mr. Schaefer and Mr. Dixon have banded together to outvote Mr. Glendening. All three are Democrats.
Under current law, if Mr. Glendening wants to increase salaries for any of the more than 600 employees in the executive pay plan, he must get permission from the board. State Budget Director Fred Puddester acknowledged under questioning from Mr. Dixon that the board had not rejected any raises, but he said some had been cut back or delayed for months.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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