- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 20, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. yesterday said the state’s $1.2 billion budget surplus and widespread outrage over rising property-tax assessments bode well for his plan to cut property taxes next year.

“I think there is a lot of momentum [for a tax cut],” Mr. Ehrlich told The Washington Times yesterday.

In a speech last week to the Maryland Association of Realtors in Ocean City, he said he wants to work with Democratic legislative leaders to enact a cut in the state property-tax rate.

Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, has offered no details about his election-year tax-cut plan. Administration officials have said he would consider targeting a bigger share of the cut at low-income residents and first-time home buyers, instead of giving an across-the-board cut to all homeowners.

In April, the Board of Public Works — which, with the governor, consists of Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and state Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp, both Democrats — rejected Mr. Ehrlich’s 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proposal during the most recent legislative session, after the House of Delegates had passed a bill that would have rescinded a 4.8-cent increase in the property-tax rate in 2003.

When Mr. Ehrlich took office in 2003, 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.

This time, Mr. Ehrlich said, the state has squirreled away enough money in a special bond fund to pay for a 1-cent cut and has a budget surplus to help reduce the rate even further.

“We can put the money in the budget to do it, but obviously I have to get the support of Public Works — at least one other vote,” the governor said.

Mr. Schaefer and Mrs. Kopp were not available yesterday for comment.

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

Even with the board’s approval, Mr. Ehrlich would need the support of the Democrat-controlled General Assembly to achieve a property-tax cut.

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.

Democrats — including House Speaker Michael E. Busch of Anne Arundel, who has opposed the governor’s plans to legalize slot-machine gambling — have expressed an interest in Mr. Ehrlich’s tax-cut proposal.

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