Glendening's tax accounting

The Political Game

Figures: The governor uses a five-year method for calculating his cuts -- instead of the normal annual practice -- bringing questions of overstatement.

January 25, 2000|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

GOV. PARRIS N. Glendening seizes any occasion to mention the tax cuts that have been passed during his time in the State House.

He did it again Wednesday in his State of the State address -- mentioning the "21 tax cuts that put $2.4 billion back in the hands of our citizens."

Glendening uses that figure to argue against major tax cuts this year, despite the state's enormous budget surplus.

But the governor might be overstating things a bit.

For one, he counts the tax cuts not on an annual basis -- the normal practice in Annapolis -- but rather adds up the impact of five years' worth of each tax reduction. For example, the 10 percent income tax cut approved in 1997, and being phased in over five years, will save taxpayers about $450 million annually when fully in effect.

But by Glendening's accounting, the tax cut is saving taxpayers $1.3 billion -- the cumulative five-year total.

The governor also counts a 1995 cut in unemployment insurance tax rates paid by businesses, saying that the reduction has saved Maryland companies $410 million over five years.

But those rates are raised and lowered to reflect the status of the unemployment insurance fund. In 1995, with the state emerging from a severe recession, the unemployment fund was in such strong shape that the General Assembly approved the tax cut and an increase in benefits for unemployed workers.

Finally, the governor failed to mention last week that one tax -- on cigarettes -- has gone up. That tax, which he prefers to characterize as a health measure, will take about $382 million from pockets of smokers over five years.

Salaries of deputy mayors rankle in General Assembly

On Wednesday, the day the news broke that Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley was going to pay each of his four new deputy mayors up to $140,000 a year, the reaction was not good among legislators.

Before Glendening's State of the State speech, Del. Brian K. McHale, a Locust Point Democrat, stood on the floor of the House of Delegates, looked up at O'Malley in the gallery above the action and pulled his empty pants pockets out. McHale's message to the mayor was clear.

"I'm concerned about this perception with the general public, when we have a budget deficit and now we have all these new positions that didn't used to exist," he said.

Part of the problem -- for McHale and other legislators -- was that the raises came on the heels of the City Council voting itself, its president and O'Malley sizable salary increases.

Last month, the council raised members' salaries by $11,000, to $48,400 a year; raised the president's salary from $65,000 to $80,000; the vice president's by $11,000 to $50,000; and the mayor's from $95,000 to $125,000.

"What's been bothering me is the salary increases for the City Council and the mayor," McHale said. "And now the mayor has announced salary increases in the $140,000 range -- while we're looking at a budget deficit."

McHale and his 47th District colleague, Del. William H. Cole IV, are cementing ties to the O'Malley clan.

They have hired the mayor's brother, Paul O'Malley, as a full-time legislative aide.

Maryland judgeships rank at top in jobs tough to beat

Maryland judgeships remain one of the most sought-after jobs in state government.

Thirty-three people applied late last year for a vacancy on the Baltimore County District Court.

It's no mystery why so many people want to don the black robes, say lawyers and legislators. The hours aren't too bad, the pay is pretty good ($103,000 for a District Court judge) and the pension is one of the best in state government -- two-thirds of the salary of an active judge.

Now judges might be poised to share in the state's good fiscal times. A special commission recommended recently across-the-board $10,000 pay raises for members of the judiciary. Circuit Court salaries would go up to $120,500.

The General Assembly can reduce the proposed raises but not increase them.

Former Sen. Laurence Levitan, now a lobbyist, headed the seven-member judicial compensation commission. He said the raises are designed to attract good candidates and keep Maryland's pay structure in line with surrounding states. Commission members included John Paterakis, the East Baltimore baking mogul, who has had a multimillion-dollar tax case over his Inner Harbor hotel pending before courts.

Floor sessions available without capital schlep

Like everybody else, the General Assembly has gone online. Anyone who wants to hear floor sessions of the House of Delegates or Senate can do it without schlepping to Annapolis.

Go to the Assembly Web site at http: //mlis.state.md.us/ and click on the "listen" icon.

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