Hayden is first to seek rise in piggyback tax Baltimore County executive unveils $1.15 billion budget

April 24, 1992|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

An article in the Friday Sun about the proposed increase in the piggyback tax for Baltimore County residents said that for someone earning $50,000 a year, the increase would total $83 annually.

That figure was based on numbers provided by County Budget Director Fred Homan, who assumed a net taxable income of $35,000, a figure which reflects the average net taxable income among residents with varying deductions in a recent year.

Currently, state income tax is 5 percent of net taxable income. The piggyback tax is half the state tax, or 2.5 percent. Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden is proposing to raise the piggyback tax from 50 percent of the state income tax to 55 percent, or from 2.5 percent of net taxable income to 2.75 percent -- a 0.25 percent increase. That equals $87 a year.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

Mr. Homan used the $83 estimate as a rough calculation of what an average taxpayer might owe. But that amount may vary depending on an individual's specific financial circumstances.

Rejecting the anti-tax protesters who helped elect him in 1990, Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden became the first local leader in Maryland to propose an increase in the piggyback income tax to balance next year's budget.

The executive's proposed $1.15 billion spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1 is less than 1 percent higher than the amount expected to be spent this fiscal year. It includes $23 million to $25 million expected to be generated by raising from 50 percent to 55 percent the local government's surcharge on state income tax.

For the second consecutive year, Mr. Hayden's budget provides no cost-of-living pay raises for county employees, although longevity and merit increases would be continued. Workers would pay an average of $200 a year more for health insurance as well.

The executive also left unchanged the property tax rate of $2.86 1/2 per $100 of assessed value. But the average property tax bill in the fiscal year that begins July 1 would rise $10 a year anyway because of assessment increases.

A proposed 35 percent increase in sewer service rates included in the executive's budget would cost the average homeowner an extra $48 a year.

Mr. Hayden's budget would allow replacement of most -- but not all -- of the teachers expected to leave their jobs before September. Overall, county schools would lose 166 positions, including 129 teachers. Because 3,700 additional students are expected in September, the reduction will mean larger class sizes.

No money was included for new police or fire recruits, though the police force is about 150 officers below its authorized strength of 1,500, and the Fire Department is down 97 positions.

School Superintendent Robert Y. Dubel called the budget "disastrous for schools." He said the piggyback income tax rise is "a lose-lose situation" because it won't appease the anti-tax crowd and won't provide enough to help education. And teachers association President Ed Veit said the executive's real message was: "Don't move to Baltimore County."

But the most controversial part of the proposal likely will be increasing the piggyback tax rate. To offset cuts in state aid, the 1992 General Assembly gave Baltimore City and the state's 23 counties the power to increase the piggyback tax rate from 50 percent to 60 percent of the state income tax.

Currently, a Baltimore County resident who pays $1,000 in state income tax pays another $500 to the county. Under Mr. Hayden's proposal, that person would pay a piggyback tax of $550. For someone earning $50,000 per year, the extra bite would equal $83 annually.

County Council members were cautious in their reactions to Mr. Hayden's budget proposal; none would commit to vote either for or against the tax increase. "Right now I just can't tell you where I am," said Charles A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a 3rd District Democrat.

But if the council does not approve the tax increase Mr. Hayden's budget is based upon, it must cut from the budget the money the tax increase would have produced.

Democratic Dundalk Councilman Donald C. Mason, the most ardent tax-cutting advocate on the council, said he would gladly cut the roughly $25 million the piggyback tax increase is expected to generate, "and more" if he and John D. O'Neill, his budget-cutting strategist, can find a way to do it.

But Councilman Douglas C. Riley, a 4th District Republican, said he has "grave doubts that we can cut $25 million out of this budget."

Meanwhile, Baltimore City leaders are watching closely. The city, like the county, is pressed for dollars. But with the property tax rate already creating a vast tax disparity, city leaders don't want to raise the piggyback tax if the county doesn't.

"Until the County Council takes some action on the proposal, the city will be studying its options," said Clinton R. Coleman, press secretary to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

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