Coalition backs delay in state income tax cut

Assembly urged to save programs for education, health care, environment

March 07, 2002|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

Hoping to fend off substantial budget reductions, a broad coalition of advocacy groups urged the General Assembly yesterday to delay implementing the last phase of the state income tax cut.

The coalition of community, religious, environmental and other nonprofit groups is asking lawmakers to protect some government programs by delaying the final installment of the five-year, 10 percent tax cut enacted in 1997.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening had proposed delaying the tax cut to preserve spending on education, health care and environmental programs. But legislative leaders, fearing a backlash from voters, have said they plan to go ahead with the tax cut and find other ways to balance the state budget.

The coalition - which includes more than a dozen organizations ranging from the Mental Health Association of Maryland and the NAACP to the League of Women Voters and the Archdiocese of Washington - is mobilizing to back Glendening's proposal.

"The religious community is going to be in force on this issue," said Beryl R. Smith, director of the Presbyterian Office on Public Policy. "We've worked too hard to help people on low incomes, and all these folks are now being asked to bear the burden."

Although lawmakers have yet to agree on specific cuts, the state is facing a budget shortfall of up to $1.4 billion over the next 18 months. A delay in the tax cut, which would amount to a $75 savings this year for a family of four, would keep an additional $177 million in state coffers.

"They are still going to have to cut hundreds of millions of dollars no matter what," said Henry Bodgan, public policy director for the Maryland Association of Nonprofit Organizations. "But we should do as little harm as possible."

The coalition's efforts occur during a week of increasing rancor over the state budget.

Del. Elizabeth Bobo, a Howard County Democrat, circulated a letter she and eight other lawmakers sent to their colleagues urging support for a tax cut delay. "Very few of us will fail in this year's elections because we voted for education, for the environment and for mental health programs," the letter said.

On Tuesday, Sen. Christopher Van Hollen Jr. resigned as chairman of a Senate budget subcommittee to protest cuts being considered by the Assembly. The Montgomery County Democrat said he would rather raise the cigarette tax and delay at least a portion of the income tax cut.

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said last month that they plan to pursue the tax cut. Republican leaders have said they would make any delay an issue in November's election.

In a poll conducted for The Sun in January, 49 percent of voters said they would be willing to temporarily forgo the tax cut, while 43 percent said it should take effect as planned.

In Annapolis

Today's highlights

10 a.m. Senate meets, Senate chamber.

10 a.m. House of Delegates meets, House chamber.

2:30 p.m. House Commerce and Government Matters Committee, hearing on bill to expand access to state government for people with limited English skills, Room 140, Lowe House Office Building.

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