Baltimore-D.C. area rivalry continues Levitan targets 'disparity grant'

February 20, 1993|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Staff Writer

A Montgomery County senator thinks Baltimore should lose nearly $12 million in state funds. A Baltimore senator would like to see the city gain around $4 million.

It looks like neither will get his way.

And once again, the city's annual effort to get the state to pay for its state's attorney's office and Circuit Court appears unlikely to succeed in this legislative session, owing to the same old story: no money.

The well-established rivalry between Baltimore and the Washington suburbs continued yesterday as Sen. Laurence Levitan, a Montgomery County Democrat, pushed a bill that would trim $11.8 million from the "disparity grant."

The grant aids the state's poorest subdivisions, including the city and five counties. Baltimore, for example, is expected to pick up $30 million this year.

Current law requires the comptroller to make the grant to counties where the income tax, when figured on a per capita basis, yields less than 70 percent of the statewide yield. The payment is designed to help the political subdivision meet that 70 percent figure.

Meanwhile, Sen. John Pica, a Baltimore Democrat, has proposed another measure that would raise the disparity threshold from the current 70 percent to 80 percent by 1998.

That bill would grant Baltimore an additional $4 million next year.

The yield is based on a 50 percent piggyback income tax rate, in effect in Baltimore.

But Mr. Levitan, chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee, which heard the measures yesterday, thinks Baltimore should take on a greater tax burden rather than receive more state money.

The city and counties were given the ability in last year's tax bill to raise their income tax rates from 50 percent to 60 percent of the state income tax.

Both Montgomery and Prince George's counties have raised their rates to 60 percent.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke proposed raising Baltimore's piggyback tax rate to 55 percent, but withdrew the measure in December after City Council resistance.

In order to prod Baltimore and four of the five counties who have a 50 percent rate, Mr. Levitan's measure would reduce the disparity grant for those with a piggyback rate less than 60 percent.

It would chop 4 percent of the grant for every percentage point under 60 percent.

Therefore, the city's proposed $30 million disparity grant for next year would be reduced by $11.8 million to $17.8 million under the Levitan proposal.

Among the five counties, Allegany has a 60 percent rate, and Caroline, Dorchester, Garrett and Somerset have 50 percent rates.

Those four counties would collectively lose some $4 million, under the plan.

"I think that makes sense. It's a fair concept," Mr. Levitan told the committee. But Henry W. Bogdan, Baltimore's Annapolis lobbyist, opposed the measure, saying the city already has a high tax burden.

Although Mr. Levitan said he was encouraged that his proposal would survive, lawmakers doubted its chances and one political observer thought it was designed to "tweak" Baltimore, a rival for state dollars.

Mr. Pica conceded before the hearing that it would be difficult to get his measure through.

The Baltimore senator also pushed two others that would have the state pay for Baltimore's state's attorney's office and the city Circuit Court, at costs to the state of $9.7 million and $14 million, respectively, during the first year of operation.

Both measures have been brought up in the past two years and never got out of committee.

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