Taylor aims to aid Md.'s 'distressed' areas House speaker's plan would use state surplus

August 28, 1998|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. jumped into the debate over how to use the state's growing budget surplus yesterday by proposing a business development program aimed at curing the economic ills of the state's six "chronically distressed" jurisdictions.

At an Annapolis news conference, Taylor outlined a package of tax credits and infrastructure improvements geared toward job creation in Baltimore and five counties in Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore. Besides the speaker's home county of

Allegany, they are Garrett, Somerset, Dorchester and Worcester.

"You cannot maintain a good quality of life when you are surrounded with intensely high unemployment and the lack of necessary infrastructure tools to pull yourself up," the Cumberland Democrat said.

The proposal Taylor plans to offer in January's legislative session would free qualifying companies from state corporate income taxes on the revenue they generate from their new or expanded facilities in those subdivisions. To qualify, they would have to create 25 new jobs and invest at least $500,000 in those operations.

The program would also let a company that created new jobs in one of those high-unemployment jurisdictions to keep up to $10,000 worth of income tax revenues paid by those employees.

The package also calls for the establishment of a revolving fund to help the cash-strapped jurisdictions pay for infrastructure improvements needed to attract business.

Taylor did not specify how much money would be put into such a fund. But Del. Howard P. Rawlings, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, estimated that the state could use $50 million of its surplus -- projected to reach as high as $450 million -- for a one-time appropriation to establish the fund. Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat, joined a bipartisan group of delegates from the affected counties in endorsing the speaker's plan.

Taylor's proposal comes at a time when the surplus is up for grabs in an election year. Republican gubernatorial front-runner Ellen R. Sauerbrey has already announced plans to use it to finance a sweeping tax cut.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller insists the first priority is education.

A spokesman for Gov. Parris N. Glendening said yesterday that the governor would consider incorporating all or part of the speaker's plan into his own program.

"While we have not had time to view the specific details of the speaker's proposal, it does appear to be consistent with our Smart Growth program and with our targeted efforts to stimulate job growth and promote economic development throughout the state," press secretary Ray Feldmann quoted the governor as saying.

Miller's response was less encouraging. He said the Senate would give the idea "a look-see," but indicated that education and then a tax cut were his leading priorities.

Pub Date: 8/28/98

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