Rehrmann wants to end Maryland property tax Levy hurts seniors, others, she contends

November 20, 1997|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,SUN STAFF

Harford County Executive and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Eileen M. Rehrmann challenged Gov. Parris N. Glendening yesterday to grant Marylanders additional tax relief by suspending the $244 million state property tax.

Senior citizens, low wage workers and others on fixed incomes deserve help, she said -- especially when the state has almost a billion dollars available: a budget surplus estimated at $310.9 million and a "Rainy Day" fund of $555.2 million.

"This surplus is burning a hole in the governor's pocket," Rehrmann said. "I urge [him] to resist the temptation to spend every dime of available revenue on election-year, politically popular programs."

Hoping to find some popular theme of her own for the coming campaign, Rehrmann made her proposal in the back yard of a gray, wood-frame Perry Hall home owned by Clinton E. Marshall, a 74-year-old retired butcher who said he'd be happy to have the $78 or so he would save next year if her plan were adopted.

"It doesn't seem like much," he said, "but it would buy a lot of coffee at McDonald's."

Rehrmann said eliminating the tax would save about $105 for the owner of a home with a market value of $125,000, the median in Maryland. The state real estate tax is 21 cents per hundred dollars of assessed market value and is collected on 40 percent of that value. Rehrmann is proposing that the governor reduce the tax -- required in the state Constitution -- to zero next year. She said she would never collect it if elected governor.

Her spokesman, George Harrison, acknowledged that those who own more expensive properties would be the big winners if the proposal were adopted, but said the relief would be more meaningful for low-income workers and those on pensions because they have less disposable income. About two-thirds of the real estate tax revenue comes from residential properties, a third from commercial, he said.

In the first substantive salvo of her primary campaign, Rehrmann appeared to be seeking an issue that would stir interest in her candidacy -- much as the automobile tax did in Virginia's recent race for governor. There, Republican Gov.-elect Jim Gilmore swept past Democrat Donald S. Beyer Jr. by promising to end Virginia's annual tax on motor vehicles. Beyer's warning that the proposal would hurt education proved a weak response.

Rehrmann's campaign said she had sent a letter to Glendening yesterday, outlining her proposal. It had not arrived by late yesterday afternoon, according to his press secretary, Judi Scioli. The governor did not respond directly to Rehrmann's challenge, but Scioli issued a statement:

"The governor will be making his decisions in the weeks ahead as he prepares to submit his budget to the General Assembly in January. That budget will reflect the prudent course this administration continues to follow, and it will also respond to statewide needs in the areas of education, children's health and job training."

The statement noted that in January, state taxpayers will receive the first installment of a 10 percent income tax cut being phased in over five years. "That tax cut, proposed by the governor and passed last session by the General Assembly, will put a billion dollars into the pockets of Marylanders over the next five years," the statement said.

Others responded more directly.

"She should stick to being a county executive," said state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Prince George's Democrat who has endorsed Glendening for re-election. He noted that the state forfeited $14 million a year when it repealed the so-called "snack tax" at the behest of Frito Lay officials -- who agreed to keep a plant and 650 jobs in Rehrmann's county.

But House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., often a critic of the governor, found Rehrmann's proposal intriguing: "It's a flexible tool Maryland's governor can use when there is substantial change in our economy such as we have right now. He can grant more tax relief if he chooses to."

Pub Date: 11/20/97

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