ANNAPOLIS — Constituents have spoken, and they haven't minced words on the topic of the almighty dollar, says Sen. Charles H. Smelser, D-Carroll, Frederick, Howard.
A fiscal conservative by nature, Smelser's opinions on a controversial proposal to revamp Maryland's tax structure and generate additional revenue have been reinforced by numerous calls and letters to his office.
R. Robert Linowes, chairman of the Maryland Commission on State Taxes and Tax Structure, told the Senate Budget and Taxation CommitteeWednesday that prompt action on the panel's recommendations -- regardless of the recession -- is essential for Maryland's economic health.
But the pitch -- which includes changing the state's income tax rates, increasing the sales tax and expanding it to services, and applying a personal vehicle tax -- failed to influence Smelser.
"I can assure you, the calls and letters I'm getting are not only against (the Linowes Commission) but against all taxes," said Smelser, a budget committee member. "The last 10 years, our budget has been growing because times have been good. Now it's a different ballgame. I've heard from the people, and they say no new taxes. I'll do the best I canto accommodate them."
If approved as a package, the Linowes Commission proposals are expected to generate an additional $800 million in the first year alone, with more than half funneled back to counties. The commission estimates Carroll would receive $15.4 million in additional aid.
The proposal is designed to reduce all Marylanders' local property taxes and the income tax burden on the middle class while raising new money for poorer jurisdictions, especially Baltimore City, and improvements in education, transportation and infrastructure. Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who established the commission in 1987, has not introduced a bill incorporating its findings.
"We're faced with economic concerns and problems we won't be able to address until we take affirmative action," said Linowes, a Montgomery County lawyer. "Even under these circumstances, it's important we have the capabilities to respond to them. We've been ignoring them and getting away with it. Now it's coming time where you pay for what you get."
New taxes or tax increases are a last resort this year, said Smelser, adding he believes his first obligation is to cut government costs to balance the budget. He said he opposes the entire Linowes proposal.
"You don't tax your way out of economic problems," Smelser said."All you're doing is putting additional burden on people who may or may not have lost their job or didn't get a salary increase. I don't think those who earn under $40,000 are going to be held harmless and get a reduction in taxes. I don't buy all that."
Smelser's colleagues on the budget committee also expressed misgivings about some proposals.
Smelser said Maryland's current tax structure is sound, recommending that sales or property taxes be adjusted if a tax increase becomes necessary. He said he doesn't anticipate that any component of the Linowes report will be approved this year.
Other Carroll delegation members expressed views similar to Smelser's about the Linowes plan.
But several said the concepts could have merit and should be considered.