General Assembly shirked its duty to taxpayers, poor, Linowes charges

March 31, 1991|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- The man who promises fairness to Marylan taxpayers and compassion for its poor says the state legislature "ran for cover" during this year's session, shirking responsibility to both groups.

R. Robert Linowes, the chairman of a commission that aske legislators to approve a new tax structure and $800 million in new taxes, predicted that Marylanders would not applaud a "myopic" performance by the 1991 General Assembly.

"The middle class is deeply concerned about education, abou transportation and about equity," he said. "If they have to pay something for it, they're willing to do it."

The Montgomery County lawyer cited his own persona experience as proof. The reaction to his plan from friends and business associates has been "inspiring," he said.

"I still get invited out to parties," he said with a smile. "I am not pariah. I was out to dinner last night and saw two people who live in Bethesda, both of them very wealthy. One of them said, 'You know, that tax issue has certainly caused an uproar, but there is a need to help people, and we've got to do something.' "

In an interview Friday, with only eight days left in the 199 legislative session and his tax proposals already dispatched to summer study, Mr. Linowes also said he would ask his commission to consider dropping its call for a 2 percent personal property tax on automobiles and boats. Perhaps the least popular aspect of a controversial package of proposals, the personal property tax was to have generated money to improve state highways. But that plan did not gel as expected, he said, and the tax may now be expendable.

He chastised the legislature for "posturing" in opposition to taxe throughout the legislative session and then passing $95 million worth of new levies when the need could no longer be denied.

"I think the legislature is feeling the pressure," he said. "That' evident based on the actions they've taken over the last few weeks."

If Assembly members were concerned about the views of voters he said, they should have adopted his proposal, because it offers not only a fairer and more progressive taxing

system but performance and accountability provisions.

Instead, he said, "we're back to the old game of taking th money and spending it. We should make sure that if you tax the people, the money should be spent properly. They're not doing that."

Mr. Linowes said the legislature's decision to eliminate the 4 percent exemption in the state's capital gains tax was "conclusive" evidence that government prefers the stop-gap approaches over well-thought-out plans. Because the tax produces a large local dividend for wealthy Montgomery County, he said, it tends to perpetuate the alarming disparity between the wealthy and poor counties of the state. The Linowes commission had made reducing that overall disparity a major objective.

"They could have handled it so that it would not add to th disparities. And it may be possible to overcome with a minor modification, but in the meantime it's there, and it's always harder to take something away," Mr. Linowes said.

He agreed with those who say the proposal almost certainl must pass during next year's Assembly session -- or find itself on the shelf permanently. Gov. William Donald Schaefer will have but two more years in office. His power could wane, and the Assembly will begin to focus on the election of 1994.

Mr. Linowes said he doubted that the abiding spat between th Assembly leaders and the governor killed his commission's report this year. "The legislature was so consumed by the idea that the last election was an anti-tax election that even if they were kissin' cousins, they wouldn't have acted on it," he said.

At the same time, a cease-fire between the governor's office an the legislature might help, he said. "Self-control was not one of the major ingredients of this session," he said. "People say the governor should lower his rhetoric and lower his volume. I think that applies to the legislature even more. It takes two to fight."

The commission chairman said he believed that Governo Schaefer gave the plan as much support as he could. "He didn't want it to appear as if he were trying to drive it. What the governor wanted to do was give the legislature an opportunity to look at this package and make up its mind, to look in an objective manner, don't prejudge.

"But when we found a number of legislative leaders saying without even having read the cover of the report, that it was dead on arrival, that was very disappointing and very frustrating," the chairman said.

The Linowes recommendations' summer-study fate is often cover for utter rejection. In this case, legislators said they want to PTC pass the program -- probably next year after they have considered it more carefully.

Mr. Linowes looks upon these optimistic forecasts wit skepticism. He will declare victory, he said, when the votes are counted and the proposal has passed.

Meanwhile, he rejected the idea that his criticisms would b regarded as antagonistic by the Assembly. "I just don't respect the lack of respect they have for the people of Maryland," he said. "Am I going to say 'I love you,' when I know you're not acting responsibly? Am I supposed to be a hypocrite in that regard?"

He acknowledged that his view is rooted in the Assembly's initia response to the commission's two-year study.

"I have respect for the responsibility of legislators, but I don' have respect when they run and hide and when they don't face up to the responsibilities for which they were elected. They weren't drafted. They ran for those offices. When you run for an office, along with it goes certain responsibilities," he said.

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