- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 31, 2005

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is optimistic about his plan to cut the state property-tax rate, despite strong resistance from key Democrats, an administration official says.

“The governor has made clear that the time for property-tax reduction has arrived,” Ehrlich spokesman Henry P. Fawell said Friday.

Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, has said the projected $1.7 billion budget surplus and widespread outrage over increasing property-tax assessments will give the proposed tax cut momentum in the General Assembly, which convenes Jan. 11.

However, the plan has already met opposition from leaders in the Democrat-controlled legislature.

“I will recommend that we not try to reduce the property tax this session,” said state Sen. Ulysses S. Currie, Prince George’s Democrat and Budget and Taxation Committee chairman.

The election-year tax cut also lacks early support on the Board of Public Works, which sets the property-tax rate.

Mr. Ehrlich serves on the board with Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and state Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp, both Democrats.

“It is too soon to reduce the tax,” Mr. Schaefer said. “The state has many needs, particularly in school construction, education and health care.”

Mrs. Kopp agreed with the comptroller, saying the surplus “should be used to address significant [budget] cuts taken in recent years.”

Mr. Ehrlich’s success in getting a property-tax reduction will depend on his ability to get a budget passed that pays for the cut, then secure at least one other vote on the Board of Public Works to change the rate.

The Maryland Constitution calls for property taxes to pay the debt service on bond issues. Any rate reduction must be subsidized by the budget and approved by the legislature.

Analysts estimate that every 1-cent reduction in the tax rate would cost the state about $43 million.

Mr. Ehrlich’s previous attempts to lower the property-tax rate have failed.

In April, Mrs. Kopp and Mr. Schaefer voted against his proposal for a 1-cent per $100 valuation across-the-board property-tax cut.

The state Senate killed a similar tax-cut proposal during the 2005 legislative session.

Mr. Ehrlich has offered no details about his new tax-cut plan.

However, administration officials have said the governor would consider giving a bigger share of the cut to low-income residents and first-time home buyers, instead of giving an across-the-board cut to all homeowners.

The governor has said he wants eventually to repeal the 4.8-cent property-tax increase he supported in 2003.

When Mr. Ehrlich took office that year, the Board of Public Works approved his proposal to increase the property-tax rate from 8.4 cents per $100 of the value of a property to 13.2 cents to help close a budget deficit inherited from Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat.

Mr. Ehrlich has since presided over a budget turnaround from a nearly $2 billion deficit to a $1.7 billion surplus.

“The governor hopes his opponents in the legislature will not let politics get in the way of tax relief for the citizens of Maryland,” Mr. Fawell said. “This is a great opportunity for bipartisanship in the legislature.”

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