'Snack tax' repeal likely to get Assembly approval

March 12, 1995|By Bruce Reid | Bruce Reid,Sun Staff Writer

A repeal of the state's "snack tax," the cornerstone of the Harford County legislative package, is expected to pass this year's General Assembly, county legislators and government officials said last week.

"It's going to make it to the governor's desk," said Robert Hockaday, county director of governmental and community affairs. "There doesn't seem to be any great opposition to it."

Frito-Lay Inc. has tied expansion of its manufacturing plant in Aberdeen to repeal of the tax. State leaders also want to use the repeal of the tax to improve what they say is Maryland's tarnished business climate.

"We need to send out a message to the business community," said Del. Donald C. Fry, a Democrat from Harford's 35th District who chairs the county's delegation.

The tax on certain snack foods, including pretzels made in Aberdeen by Frito-Lay, generates about $12 million in revenue each year. But Harford officials say that amount would be regained easily through increased income taxes from new jobs.

The Aberdeen plant has about 150 workers, but Frito-Lay officials have said they could expand to 600 or more employees.

"Clearly, the people at Frito-Lay want to expand," Mr. Hockaday said. He said that the company's market in the Northeast, which the Aberdeen plant supplies, is growing.

The bill is awaiting action by committees in both houses and is supported by Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

Legislators in Baltimore County and on the Eastern Shore also are helping push for the repeal because local companies, including McCormick & Co. Inc. and Perdue Farms Inc., supply spices and soybean oil to Frito-Lay.

Mr. Hockaday, County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann's chief lobbyist, said the county's legislative package "is driven by her desire to change our tax structure." About 80 percent of the county's tax revenue comes from levies on homeowners, the rest from business and industry. Tax revenues from businesses are more desirable because the companies pay more in taxes than they cost the county in services. Services to homeowners cost more than the homeowners pay in taxes.

Other bills introduced by the delegation -- none has been approved in the House or Senate -- would:

* Enable the county to grant property tax credits for business expansion, particularly along the U.S. 40 corridor from Joppatowne to Havre de Grace. The House Ways and Means Committee has scheduled a hearing on the bill Tuesday.

* Set a 3 percent hotel room tax to generate about $400,000 a year to promote the county's tourism industry. The bill is making its way through both houses. Harford is one of the last jurisdictions in the state that has not yet enacted a room tax.

* Provide $450,000 for repairs and renovations at Ladew Topiary Gardens. As one of the nation's premier ornamental gardens, Ladew is a major tourist attraction.

* Prevent sheriff's deputies from being fired without just cause. The bill is expected to pass this year. Its major opponent, former Sen. Habern W. Freeman Jr. of Harford, was defeated in November.

* Change the workers compensation classification for members of the county's volunteer fire and emergency corps who do administrative work but do not answer calls. Those volunteers do not need as much insurance because they are not at risk as often as volunteers who respond to emergency calls.

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