Glendening won't seek cut in taxes Budget stalemate, in Washington, weak economy noted

Business leaders unhappy

On eve of session, House speaker praises decision

January 10, 1996|By Thomas W. Waldron and Marina Sarris | Thomas W. Waldron and Marina Sarris,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Peter Jensen contributed to this article.

Worried about the federal budget stalemate and a sagging economy, Gov. Parris N. Glendening has decided not to propose an income tax cut in the budget he submits to the General Assembly next week, according to key lawmakers.

The governor has told legislators he won't know if the state can afford to cut taxes until March, when new revenue figures will be available and a federal budget may be enacted.

His decision dismayed some Republican and business leaders, who have made income tax cuts a priority.

"We should have had a tax cut last year, but [the governor and Democratic legislators] said 'for sure' this year," said House Republican leader Robert H. Kittleman of Howard County. "It sends a message to the whole world that Maryland is really not a good business state with a good business climate."

The governor's decision was applauded by House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., who said he cannot support a tax cut now given the uncertain federal budget situation and the state's sluggish economy.

"We can't responsibly make these decisions early in the session," said Mr. Taylor, a Western Maryland Democrat.

Gubernatorial spokesman Ray Feldmann said yesterday that Mr. Glendening remains committed to reducing income taxes, but he declined to discuss specifics of the governor's budget proposal.

"We're still evaluating the impact of the federal budget cuts," Mr. Feldmann said.

In a meeting with reporters last week, the governor also declined to announce his plans. "We are all committed to a personal income tax reduction," Mr. Glendening said. "The real issue before us is one of timing and the level."

With or without a tax-cut proposal from the governor, taxes will be a major issue in the annual 90-day General Assembly session that begins today.

After all but promising income tax relief last spring, Mr. Glendening and legislative leaders have gradually backed away in recent weeks.

If the governor had decided to include a tax cut in the budget he submits next week, he also would have had to identify corresponding spending cuts to meet the state Constitution's balanced-budget requirement.

Postponing the tax proposal spares Mr. Glendening -- for now -- the difficult task of paring spending in an already tight budget year. But it also means the legislature would have little time to make such decisions later.

"If we waited until [March,] that would be very late to implement a tax cut," Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. acknowledged.

Champe C. McCulloch, president of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, said he recognized the fiscal uncertainties that work against a tax cut, but he nonetheless called the governor's decision "disappointing."

"He will have taken a step backward," Mr. McCulloch said. "I would hope he would at least make a strong statement supporting tax cuts. He needs to show some leadership."

Whether there will be enough members in Annapolis to conduct business today was unclear yesterday.

Legislative leaders said they plan to convene at noon -- and they hope at least half the 188 members of the Senate and House of Delegates will join them. If so, lawmakers can elect presiding officers, introduce bills and proceed with the largely ceremonial duties of opening day.

If not, they can reassure themselves that they have at least fulfilled their constitutional duty of convening on the second Wednesday in January.

"If I don't have a quorum, we'll just turn around and walk out," Mr. Taylor said. "We're hearing that people are working their way to town, but I don't know." A quorum is 71 delegates or 24 senators.

Mr. Miller, a Prince George's Democrat, said no consideration was given to delaying the session. "We only have 90 days to legislate," Mr. Miller said, "and the dates for it to begin and end are set in the Constitution."

Some legislators straggled into town yesterday, while others who stayed home were making plans to car-pool in four-wheel drive vehicles today.

Mr. Taylor said he considered asking state police for help in bringing legislators to Annapolis but decided not to.

"They have their hands full now," he said. "I don't want to start using state police and have somebody suffer."

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