Taylor does not criticize Glendening tax cut proposal At hearing, UM economist backs higher cigarette levy

November 21, 1996|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

If there is much of a gap between Maryland's governor and House speaker on the normally inflammatory issue of taxation, it wasn't apparent at a sedate legislative hearing last night in West Baltimore.

Speaker Casper R. Taylor, sounding much more like a legislative leader than a potential gubernatorial candidate, voiced no public criticism of the plan Gov. Parris N. Glendening announced Tuesday for a 10 percent cut in Maryland's personal income tax rate.

Instead Taylor, who had beaten the governor to the punch with a 10 percent tax-cut proposal of his own, warmly introduced a University of Maryland economist who extolled one of the key elements of the Glendening plan -- a doubling of the state's tax on cigarettes.

Mahlon R. Straszheim, chairman of the UM economics department, praised the tobacco tax increase as "very good health policy" that would cut cigarette consumption by an estimated 10.8 percent a year.

Straszheim told the Special Joint House Committee on Competitive Taxation and Economic Development that an increase in the tax on a pack of cigarettes from 36 cents to 72 cents would not improve Marylanders' health so much that it would harm the state government's wealth.

He predicted that tobacco would remain a strong, stable source of revenue for years to come -- even at the higher rate.

He cited the state's last cigarette tax increase -- from 16 to 36 cents in 1992. That reduced consumption but still increased annual government revenues from $80 million to $140 million, he said.

Most of the testimony at the hearing last night at Baltimore City Community College came from the "usual suspects" who frequently testify in Annapolis.

Generally, business representatives seemed ready to put aside differences with Glendening and support his call for a 10 percent cut phased in over three years.

"I want to state publicly our support for the governor's proposal," William Couper, president of NationsBank for Greater Baltimore, said. "While in the past we might have advocated a cut that was a little larger or was phased in a little faster, we believe it is important to unite in support of a measure that has clear benefits for the state as a whole."

If sentiments like that prevail, the tax issue could turn out to be a springboard with no bounce for Taylor, a Cumberland Democrat who has been weighing a challenge to Glendening.

Del. James Rosapepe, a Prince George's Democrat, said it appears Taylor and Glendening "are moving in the same direction."

"The speaker was out of the gate first, but the governor is now on the track with Taylor-plus," he said.

Pub Date: 11/21/96

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