ANNAPOLIS -- Efforts to muster General Assembly support for a proposed restructuring of Maryland's tax system may have hit a low water mark: The Schaefer administration admitted yesterday it couldn't even get legislators to sit down and talk about it.
Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg said he was rebuffed earlier this month by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, D-Prince George's, when he asked Mr. Miller to name four senators to join him for informal talks on the Linowes commission findings.
House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, who has publicly given a thumbs-down to the Linowes recommendations this session, nevertheless agreed to appoint four delegates from the House fiscal committees to meet with Mr. Steinberg and their Senate colleagues.
Mr. Steinberg said Mr. Miller's refusal to appoint senators caused him to cancel the meeting and, as a result, had hampered efforts to draft legislation based on the Linowes findings.
"What concerns me is that in order to have the process operate efficiently, you have to get a consensus on the problem," Mr. Steinberg said.
"That's what we wanted to do with a small number of people so we could have a dialogue back and forth."
The report of the commission headed by R. Robert Linowes, a Montgomery County lawyer, recommends broad changes in the tax system to place a greater tax burden on the rich and aid the state's poorest subdivisions. The recommendations, which include increases in personal and sales tax rates, would raise $800 million in new revenue the first year alone.
Senate President Miller said picking senators for the administration was "not my prerogative" and said Mr. Steinberg was "free to meet with any senators" on the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee to discuss Linowes findings.
Mr. Miller also questioned why the lieutenant governor was pointing a finger at him when the administration hadn't even offered a Linowes bill three weeks into the 90-day session.
"This isn't a case of 'Profiles in Courage' on the part of the administration," the Senate president said. "This isn't their finest hour."
Mr. Steinberg, to whom Gov. William Donald Schaefer has assigned the task of steering any Linowes legislation through the General Assembly, said yesterday that he thought a meeting with lawmakers could still help him devise a Linowes bill that addresses some of their concerns.
Even without that meeting, the governor may yet offer the legislature a comprehensive tax restructuring bill.
Administration officials said they would wait until after the unveiling of the governor's budget Friday to make that decision.
The administration's hope is that deep cuts in state programs caused by declining tax revenues will give legislators a strong incentive to embrace Linowes-inspired tax increases.
Meanwhile, Mr. Linowes found little in the way of a positive reception from legislators on the first day of a two-day splurge of House and Senate briefings.