Senate delegation backs repeal of tobacco tax debt

March 15, 1995|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer Dennis O'Brien contributed to this article.

Anne Arundel's Senate delegation voted yesterday to support a bill that would repeal the county's obligation to pay $9.2 million to Annapolis for back tobacco tax revenues.

The vote is the first step toward approving the bill that would negate a lawsuit the city filed against the county. Annapolis officials say the tax payments were wrongfully withheld over a 22-year period.

Even with the delegation's approval, the bill still must be passed by the county's House delegation, as well as the Senate and House.

Circuit Court Judge Bruce C. Williams heard arguments yesterday on the county's motion to dismiss the suit. At the hearing, David A. Plymyer, deputy county attorney, argued that settling the dispute in court was a waste of time and money because the General Assembly is about to decide the issue.

After the hearing, Mr. Plymyer said the county can't afford to give the city the money.

"We don't have $10 million to give them," he said. "We don't have $1 million to give them."

The county, as required by state law, gave Annapolis one-seventh of the tobacco tax revenue it received from the state when the levy was first imposed in 1961. After the county's charter was adopted in 1965, the first County Council passed legislation eliminating the shared tax revenue. The tax payments stopped three years later.

City officials now say the county never had the authority to repeal the state requirement to share the tax revenue. They want the amount they say the city should have been paid from 1970 until 1992, when the state stopped sharing the tobacco tax revenue with the county.

At a delegation meeting last week, several county senators seemed annoyed about being brought into a dispute between Annapolis and the county. By yesterday morning, four of the delegation's five senators -- bill sponsor John A. Cade, along with Philip C. Jimeno, C. Edward Middlebrooks and Thomas V. Mike Miller -- decided to support the bill. Only Sen. John Astle, whose district includes Annapolis, opposed the bill.

Mr. Jimeno said he supported the bill because he believes that it was the intent of the first County Council. Annapolis City Attorney Paul G. Goetzke said he was disappointed with the vote, but is negotiating with county officials and expects to work out a settlement in the next several days.

"We're hopeful that the city and the county will be able to work this out," Mr. Goetzke said. "The city is disappointed that the county decided to put the county's delegation in the middle of this dispute."

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