Delegation Clear: No Tax Boost

Legislators Say Increase Opposed

January 08, 1992|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff writer

Finksburg dairy farmer Gary R. Brauning II realizes that educators, social program advocates and other groups are lobbying hard for tax increases to solve the state's financial problems.

But the Farm Bureau president says they represent the views of a small minority, not the largest Carroll constituency -- the working middle class.

"I haven't talked to anyone who wants higher taxes," Brauning emphasized to Carroll lawmakers at a recent Farm Bureau legislative meeting. "They can't handle it. Maybe the delegates and senators haven't heard that from enough people, with the loudmouths who want to raise taxes. Cut what you have to cut, but don't raise taxes."

On that point, Carroll's six legislators agree wholeheartedly. To a man, they say they oppose any tax increase in the 1992 General Assembly sessionto bail Maryland out of its financial hole (well, almost any increase -- they might support a county hotel tax).

Budget and taxation issues are expected to dominate the 1992 session, which begins today, as the legislature addresses the latest $225 million shortfall in thecurrent budget year and a projected $1.2 billion shortfall for fiscal 1993. The county commissioners are waiting for the decisions so they can form their own plans.

A number of Carroll educators have written letters urging the legislators to find ways to avoid cuts in education and further reductions in local aid. The county Board of Education supports making the tax system more equitable -- and thereby raising more revenue.

But Carroll legislators say the talk they hear on the street, at meetings and in their offices is nearly unanimous in support of Brauning's views.

Tough choices that could lead to thousands of layoffs at the state and county levels, elimination of government programs and reductions in previously untouchable areas such as education and police protection -- or alternatively, tax increases-- promise to make the next three months unpleasant, say Carroll legislators.

"I'm sure before the session is over, I may not be very popular," said Sen. Charles H. Smelser, D-Carroll, Frederick, Howard,a member of the influential Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. "Ididn't go there 33 years ago to win a popularity contest. I'll continue to do what I think is right."

Smelser said he is committed to "downsizing" government. The other Carroll legislators support that position.

Smelser is evaluating the budget, department by department, position by position.

"There's too much bureaucracy," he said. "We've built so much in, it's so much more difficult to reduce. As far as I'm concerned, everything is on the table."

That means that mandated programs, such as welfare and the previously established increases in state aid for education, could be adjusted.

A $623 million tax increase plan has been proposed by the Budget and Taxation chairman that would extract more income tax from those earning more than $100,000, raise the sales tax from 5 percent to 6 percent, repeal some sales tax exemptions and apply the tax to additional services and increase the gas tax by 5 cents per gallon.

But Carroll legislatorssay they consider those measures unwise in a recession.

"People can't tolerate any more taxes," said Delegate Donald B. Elliott, R-Carroll, Howard.

Delegate Lawrence A. LaMotte, D-Carroll, Baltimore, is the one delegation member who says he could be swayed to support atax increase, but only if the general public demonstrates an about-face on the issue.

He says that the "social contract" -- the implicit agreement in which citizens entrust government to improve the quality of life and assist the downtrodden -- has been broken.

"We've got a group that doesn't care about anything except themselves," he said. "They wouldn't want a tax increase under any circumstances. I think that group used to be a lot smaller, but now a growing segment could care less about the poor, the sick, the environment."

But somesee many government programs as a waste of their hard-earned money. People like Bob Logue, owner of Bob's Welding in Taylorsville, who challenged the legislators at the Farm Bureau meeting to "do something about all these people with all these food stamps."

"If we didn't give all this money away

to these people, maybe we wouldn't need atax increase," he said. "Let them get out and work a little."

Though they will be overshadowed by budget decisions, other important issues will be debated, among them redistricting.

Carroll legislators are pleased with the new boundaries for state representation recommended by a governor's advisory committee. They expect the governor tosubmit a plan today that creates an entire senatorial district within the county and adds one more delegate with a Carroll residence.

They say they don't anticipate the plan being changed by the legislature, which has 45 days to do so.

"This plan gives us a little moreinfluence," said Delegate Richard N. Dixon, D-Carroll.

The redrawing of the 47 districts takes place every 10 years following the latest census.

The majority of the Carroll delegation also is expectedto oppose a Schaefer administration measure to ban the sale or possession of certain "assault" weapons.

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