- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 4, 2002

ANNAPOLIS Leaders in Maryland's House of Delegates oppose a Senate plan to partly finance a massive increase in education funding by raising the state cigarette tax by 34 cents per pack.
Delegates said that while the tobacco-tax increase would pay for much of a $72.7 million increase in state aid to education next year and a $147.8 million increase in 2004, it would fall far short over the long run paying less than 6 percent in 2008 when aid to local schools would increase by $1.3 billion.
The Senate approved the plan on a 30-17 vote yesterday, avoiding a threatened filibuster and a warning by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. that the Senate would have to stay in session over the weekend.
Led by Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, a Baltimore Democrat and chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, two Senate committees crafted the plan Friday, angering some Senate conservatives and House members.
The House will offer a counterproposal that would send state dollars to the neediest schools. The extra funding would mirror the Senate plan but would limit it to the 2003-04 budget years.
The House Ways and Means Committee is expected to vote on the Senate bill today.
Critics in both chambers say that the Senate plan is fiscally irresponsible. They also object because they say it ignores the recommendations of a statewide panel and gives about $80 million annually to Montgomery County public schools to win Montgomery lawmakers' votes.
"I support the tobacco tax and I support education, but I don't support injustice and inequality, and that's what this bill represents," said Sen. Walter M. Baker, upper Eastern Shore Democrat.
Although Montgomery County is Maryland's second-wealthiest jurisdiction, county lawmakers argue that it needs the money to help educate the state's largest number of non-English speaking and special-education students.
"It's a good bill, if we had the money to do it," said Senate Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus, lower Eastern Shore Republican.
Mr. Stoltzfus suggested backers of the plan were playing a shell game of sorts with voters by bragging that they preserved the final phase of a 10 percent income-tax cut, yet setting the stage for a tax increase after the November election.
An impasse could jeopardize the bill because little time is left to work out differences before the General Assembly adjourns at midnight Monday.

A bill was introduced on the Senate floor yesterday that would allow Sunday hunting in Maryland for the first time since Colonial days.
That bill could be voted on today. On Tuesday, a Senate committee defeated a proposal to allow landowners to kill black bears that damage their property.
Carroll County won an exemption from Sunday deer hunting that the bill already grants to suburban counties, including Montgomery, Prince George's, Anne Arundel, Howard and Baltimore counties and part of Frederick County.
Sen. Larry E. Haines, Carroll County Republican, asked for the exemption to save the day for people who, during hunting season, only have Sunday to use woodlands for recreation and to ensure that they and others nearby don't have to hear or fear gunfire on "a family day."
Several senators from outer-suburban and rural areas said they will seek exemptions for similar reasons.
The Farm Bureau opposes Sunday hunting, and senators said, if the provision passes, more farmers will begin posting their land to keep hunters off completely.

Legislation to encourage water conservation was approved by the state Senate yesterday and is close to final passage in the legislature.
But environmentalists say the bill was significantly weakened by amendments added in the Senate.
The original bill would have required the state's largest municipal water-supply systems to develop plans to conserve water and to encourage conservation by their customers. But the Senate amended the bill at the request of county and municipal governments so it applies only when state funds are used to expand or build treatment plants.

The House refused yesterday to strengthen state laws dealing with assaults on police officers.
The amendment proposed by Delegate Janet Greenip, Anne Arundel County Republican, would have made any assault on a police officer a felony with a maximum sentence of 25 years.
Opponents say it is already a crime in Maryland to assault anyone and serious assaults carry the same penalty proposed by Mrs. Greenip. They say her proposal would allow someone to be put in prison for 25 years for simply touching or brushing against a police officer.
Mrs. Greenip's amendment was rejected by a two-vote margin.


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