City senators may oppose gas tax rise Lawmakers seek swap for more state funding

January 31, 1991|By William Thompson | William Thompson,Evening Sun Staff

City lawmakers are threatening to oppose any increase in the state gasoline tax unless the General Assembly supports other tax increases to bring financial aid to Baltimore.

The senators said they planned to introduce a bill in the Senate today to raise about $556 million in new revenues.

After talking with Sen. John A. Pica Jr., D-City, about the delegation bill late yesterday, Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg said he plans to announce, possibly today, the Schaefer administration's intention to file a tax bill based largely on the Linowes Commission report. That report recommended increasing income taxes and the state sales tax to raise about $800 million in new revenues.

Steinberg said Pica's bill would not jeopardize any administration measure and could serve as a "vehicle" to gain support for new taxes in the General Assembly.

The bill drafted by Pica and other city senators would raise about $556 million, largely by expanding the state sales tax. All local jurisdictions in Maryland would get some of that money and Baltimore would benefit from increased school funding and reduced property taxes.

In return for support from other jurisdictions, Pica said city lawmakers would back an administration proposal to impose a 5 percent sales tax on gasoline.

However, if the city's tax bill fails, or the legislature refuses to provide more state aid to Baltimore through other measures, then city lawmakers say they will oppose the gas tax, which generally is seen as desirable in suburban Washington and other areas where new roads are needed.

"You help us and we'll help you. You don't and we won't," Pica said in explaining the strategy.

Of the strategy, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, said, "Baltimore City is in desperate straits. By my way of thinking, they're entitled to take desperate measures."

"I think Pica and his crowd are doing well," said Del. Paul E. Weisengoff, D-City. "We've got to show people how sick the patient is."

"The city's needs are greater than the [state's] transportation needs," said Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, D-City, who added that she would trade her support on the gas tax measure for Pica's bill. "We're kind of in a box and we can't wait any longer."

City officials recently completed a financial plan warning that Baltimore faces massive cuts and shortages unless it receives more state aid. The report says the city will face deficits in the coming years, beginning with a $54.1 million deficit for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Pica's bill is based in part on the Linowes recommendations. It would expand the state sales tax to a wider array of services to raise about $335 million.

About $119 million would come from revoking sales tax exemptions on such items as newspapers and dietary pet foods.

And the bill would raise another $102 million by revising state income taxes and raising them for some taxpayers.

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