2 Councilmen Propose Raising Piggyback Tax To 52%

April 26, 1992|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff writer

County Council Democrats C. Vernon Gray and Shane Pendergrass have filed a resolution that would raise the county's piggyback tax from 50percent to 52 percent.

The tax, which is the percentage of state income taxes collected for local use, would be retroactive to Jan. 1.If levied, the tax would be expected to produce $4,431,800 in additional local revenue.

The increase would add $39 to the state tax bill of an individualearning $50,000 with an adjusted gross income of $40,000.

Gray and Pendergrass want to use the money, if necessary, for public education. They pre-filed a resolution on Friday, to comply with the legal requirements for advertising a public hearing. The council would vote on the resolution June 1.

School Superintendent Michael E. Hickey supported the move. He said the school board still doesn't know how much money the county will be receiving this year from the state.

"I was disappointed that (County Executive Charles I. Ecker), in effect, let $4 million (in anticipated state revenue) supplant local money," Hickey said. "The new money would have helped us restore supplies,staff and training" cut in fiscal 1992.

Hickey said the school system might not be able to restore those cuts without added revenue. "Particularly in that sense, is the piggyback tax resolution welcome,"Hickey said.

Hickey also believes the increase can win popular support. He pointed to a recent statewide survey that showed 76 percentof the residents would be willing to raise taxes for educational purposes. Most preferred that increase to come in the form of income taxes.

Pendergrass said her co-sponsorship of the measure does not mean she will support a tax increase. She said she views the legislation as a safety net to be used only if necessary.

"I don't want to raise anyone's taxes at all, but I want our options open," she said. "I've said all along that if I have to do a tax increase, it will be only for education."

Gray, on the other hand, said he is convinced the added tax will be necessary and plans to support it. He said he prefers using piggyback to property taxes as a means of raising revenues.

"The piggyback increase will be very modest and will include renters as well as property owners," Gray said. "It will allow rentersto help pay for education."

Council Chairman Paul R. Farragut, D-4th, said that while the Gray-Pendergrass resolution "offers the possibility of flexibility," he wants "to see numbers from the state and from the school board before making a decision" about a possible tax increase.

Charles C. Feaga, R-5th, said he would vote against a piggyback tax increase. Darrel Drown, R-2nd, is on record opposing tax increase but could not be reached to comment on the piggyback tax.

Gray and Pendergrass say the impetus for their resolution came earlylast week when Ecker announced he had cut $4 million from the education portion of the fiscal 1993 budget he was sending the council. Thecouncil can restore money cut from the education portion of the budget. With the remainder, however, it can only accept or cut further what Ecker has proposed.

Ecker's proposal assumes the state will provide the school system with an amount roughly equivalent to the amount he cut. Gray and Pendergrass say that is not a certainty by any means.

"He's using smoke and mirrors," Gray said of Ecker. "The General Assembly did not intend for state income to supplant local money. If he wants to reduce school funding, he should do it straight up."

Ecker said that state money, combined with the $5.8 million he added to this year's education budget, will give the school system $10 million more in fiscal 1993 than it received in fiscal 1992. "I believethey can make do with that and still provide a quality education," Ecker said.

Gray and Pendergrass were particularly riled by an April 20 letter from Ecker to Hickey, suggesting ways Hickey could use the $5.8 million the county was adding to the school budget.

Ecker suggested the money be used to pay for 103 new positions and provide araise for all employees. He also suggested that a $550,000 surplus projected for fiscal 1992 in two revolving funds could be used for instructional supplies, materials and equipment.

Gray and Pendergrasssaw it differently. "The cuts may reduce teachers' programs and force teachers and other school employees to do without a pay increment,"Gray said.

School employees, like other county workers, did not receive raises last year.

James R. Swab, president of the Howard County Education Association, also thinks a 52 percent piggyback tax can win popular support.

Swab said he hopes the business community, "which has been thriving as a result of quality education, would support the piggyback tax."

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