Tax cut stays put

Robey turns down Hickey proposal to undo '98 reduction

Council also cool to idea

Superintendent seeks to offset the hit to school budget request

April 21, 1999|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Seeking more money for schools, Howard County Superintendent Michael E. Hickey said yesterday he is asking the County Council to undo last year's local income-tax cut.

But County Executive James N. Robey has turned Hickey down, and the three Democrats who make up the council majority don't seem interested in pushing for a reversal of the tax cut. Friday would be the deadline for pre-filing a tax bill.

Hickey wants to recover some of the $4.8 million Robey cut from his budget request. Robey, who approved $20 million in new school money, is raising the fire tax and said he doesn't intend to roll back the income-tax cut approved last year.

Robey, in his first year as executive, said he couldn't see the sense of raising two tax rates at once.

"He said, `Do both. This is the year to do it, the first year,' " Robey said Hickey urged him last week. "I said, `Mike, this is not just a political issue. This is right and wrong,' " Robey said he replied.

Reversing the tax cut could put $2.3 million more in the schools' budget. The tax rate was cut from 50 percent to 48 percent of the state income tax last year under a Republican administration and council. But the reduction took effect Jan. 1, so it won't show up in residents' tax bills until next year.

Last year's cut, made during the final year of County Executive Charles I. Ecker's second term, drew sharp criticism because of his simultaneous reduction of the school budget.

Robey said he was surprised at Hickey's suggestion, but was not angered by it.

Hickey is turning his attention to the council Democrats who control the five-member body.

"We're going to put together a list of what cuts [in school programs] would be made" if Robey's decision sticks, Hickey said. He urged a tax increase because he didn't want more money for schools "to come out of somebody else's program."

Council members appear cool to the suggestion.

The two Republicans have said they oppose tax increases. And though the three Democrats said they might support reversing the tax cut, none is volunteering to lead the charge.

"I'm reluctant to do both [fire and income tax increases]," said council Chairman C. Vernon Gray, an east Columbia Democrat who has often criticized last year's income-tax reduction. Mary C. Lorsung, a west Columbia Democrat, said that she would have supported Robey if he had moved to reverse the cut, but that she won't propose such a bill.

Freshman Councilman Guy J. Guzzone, a Laurel-Savage Democrat, said he would support the action only "if the votes are there, up front." His "spin" on the issue, he said, is that "it's not about raising taxes. It's about repealing an ill-advised tax cut" from which taxpayers won't benefit until filing their tax forms for 1999.

Pub Date: 4/21/99

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