Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker has changed his position on the Linowes Commission report and says he now supports its recommendations to revise the state's tax structure.
Ecker said yesterday that the tax changes could funnel more money into the county's public school system at a time when local revenues are sagging.
He said he originally opposed the report because he thought it proposed reducing the funds Howard County would receive from the state.
Although poorer jurisdictions would gain more through the plan, Ecker said, Howard County would still benefit. Howard is one of the nation's 10 wealthiest counties but recently has run into unaccustomed financial problems.
The Linowes Commission, appointed by Gov. William Donald Schaefer and chaired by Montgomery County attorney R. Robert Linowes, has proposed several measures that would increase state taxes and reduce local property taxes.
In particular, the plan would increase the state sales tax from 5 to 5.5 percent and impose a 2 percent personal property tax on autos and boats.
If enacted by the General Assembly, the plan would raise about $800 million in additional revenue next year. Almost 60 percent of that would be returned to the counties.
"I think what we have to do is give Linowes a fair hearing," Ecker said. "We have to be concerned about the education of students all across Maryland."
Prince George's County Executive Parris Glendening and Montgomery County Executive Neal Potter also have given some support to parts of the Linowes report. But, in this area, Ecker is one of the few local officials outside Baltimore City to support the proposal.
Howard officials estimate an $18 million budget shortfall for the current fiscal year and say the next budget will be in worse shape. Without additional money, county departments and public schools will have to tighten their belts.
County schools Superintendent Michael E. Hickey has asked for a 12 percent increase next year. But Ecker said he would not be able to provide that much.
Ecker said he is reluctant to raise state taxes, but said "property taxes will have to be raised anyway" to fund the school system.
Many Howard Republican officials have opposed the Linowes Commission proposals, saying it would hurt residents in the affluent county by imposing higher taxes the wealthy and lowering taxes for middle- and low-income families.
Asked whether he is concerned that supporting the report might make him less popular in Howard County, Ecker said: "Well, it's going to make me unpopular if I have to raise property taxes."
Del. Robert H. Kittleman, R-14B, said he understands why Ecker supports the report, but said the state legislature will not support higher taxes.
"He's got a problem -- a huge, huge deficit to face," Kittleman said. "I can sympathize with him but we have different jobs."