- The Washington Times - Monday, April 2, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — Marylanders appear to have dodged tax increases for 2007, but the number of tax bills submitted this General Assembly session shows what is likely to come out of the State House in 2008 — or sooner.

“You name it: tax on services, gas taxes; if it moves, they’re going to try and tax it next session,” said House Minority Whip Christopher B. Shank, Western Maryland Republican. “If it was introduced this year, it was a trial balloon for next year.”

Lawmakers introduced 38 proposals to increase taxes this year, which would raise more than $3 billion in new revenue, according to a study by the Maryland Republican Party.

The most prominent taxes introduced this year included a 12-cent increase on the gas tax, a $1 increase on cigarettes and a $2-per-square-foot levy on new development to pay for cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay.

Three of the most sizable tax increases being considered — to increase the income tax and to increase and broaden the sales tax — lingered in the background through most of the session, but will be seriously considered with slot-machine legislation next year, or sooner.

Some of the other taxes floated this sessions were:

• A one-penny per dollar increase on the sales tax, expected to raise $717 million.

• An income-tax increase, expected to raise $14 million to $28 million.

• A sales-tax expansion to 43 services, from haircuts to interior designs, expected to raise $313 million to $658 million.

The state is facing an estimated $1.5 billion deficit next year, which has many leaders predicting a “doomsday” scenario when lawmakers return to Annapolis in January, or during a special session later this year. This year’s session ends Monday.

Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, asked for one year to review state government and find new efficiencies before increasing taxes or legalizing slot machines.

Mr. O’Malley hopes to trim the deficit by using a statewide management program known as StateStat to find cost-savings in government, but most lawmakers do not expect the program to close the entire $1.5 billion deficit. Mr. O’Malley has modeled the program after CitiStat, which he used as the mayor of Baltimore.

“I would like to spend the next year circulating ideas, creating some greater public discourse about the challenges we face and how we might be able to fairly address them in a way that makes us a stronger state,” Mr. O’Malley said last week.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., both Democrats, have abided by Mr. O’Malley’s request, though Mr. Miller has kept the issues at the forefront of public debate.

“It was a tentative agreement on the part of the governor and myself that we not move on revenues this year,” Mr. Miller said.

Mr. Miller introduced bills to increase the gas tax and legalize slot machines earlier this session. However, he said they were for discussion only and that he did not expect them to win passage.

Many observers expect slot machines to be legalized in next year’s session because Mr. Miller said that expanded gambling will be part of any “final solution” to next year’s tax package.

John Flynn, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party, said state Democrats are “flush with power right now, and this is going to backfire on them.”

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