Delegates Approve Excise Tax

Money To Be Used For Road Construction Or Major Repairs

November 24, 1991|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff writer

The county's General Assembly delegation last week tentatively agreed to sponsor legislation that would allow the county to collect excise taxes from developers and use the money to build or improve major roads.

The tax is tied to a complex adequate facilities plan that County Executive Charles I. Ecker intends to bring before the County Council in January.

The tax, which Ecker expects will bring in $6 million annually, would be put into a "development road improvement fund."

It would be withdrawn only if the county matches it at a rate of 2 to 1. Use ofthe money would be restricted to major capital projects.

Sen. Thomas M. Yeager, D-13, and Delegate Virginia M. Thomas, D-13A, said at a legislative work session Thursday night that they reserve the rightto change their votes on the tax bill if the adequate facilities plan does not move ahead as quickly as expected.

A committee of government officials, civic leaders and developers has been working six hours a week since December to develop an adequate facilities plan.

It expects to provide a written draft and a video presentation of itsproposal at a press conference the second week in December.

Afterward, the committee plans to share the proposal with various groups in much the same way as the Planning and Zoning Department has done with its plan for comprehensive rezoning of the western portion of the county.

The committee will refine its proposal in late December sothat Ecker can present it to the council in January.

If the council follows its usual routine, it will conduct hearings on the proposal in the middle of January and vote on it the first Monday in February.

The county cannot collect an excise tax without first getting permission from the General Assembly. Yeager's continued support is crucial, since sponsorship of a local bill requires a majority vote of both the Senate and House delegations.

The Senate vote Thursday was 2-1, with Sen. Charles H. Smelser, D-4, in the minority. The House vote was 5-1, with Delegate Donald B. Elliott, R-4B, opposing the measure.

Earlier, the delegation accepted a Yeager amendment that would prevent the tax bill from taking effect until adequate facilities legislation has been adopted by the council.

The delegation also accepted a "sunset" amendment that would end the county's excise tax authority in two years. The purpose of the amendment was to allow the bill to take the form the committee wanted.

Thomas had sought to amend the bill in several ways. Her chief concern was to exempt developers of housing for low- and moderate-income individuals or families.

An excise tax of $1,400 to $2,800 a unit "is one more nail in thecoffin of affordable housing," Thomas said. "I don't see any harm" in making an exception.

Committee members disagreed. They said thatto make one exception opens the way to others. They want the tax imposed without exception on all commercial and residential construction.

Members also said they intend to include an affordable-housing solution in the package presented to the council.

"This 'trust me' attitude concerns me," Thomas said. "My amendment guarantees not charging a tax" on developers of low- and moderate-income housing. "It isan unreasonable fear that the list (of exemptions) will grow."

Delegate Martin G. Madden, R-13B, told Thomas, "Ginny, I'm as concernedas you about low- and moderate-income housing. But I really think weshould give the committee flexibility. If we don't like what they do, we can take it away from them in two years."

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