Senate passes tax bill after GOP filibuster

Republicans complain corporations are targeted

April 06, 2003|By Stephanie Desmon and Michael Dresser | Stephanie Desmon and Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

A short-lived effort by Senate Republicans to delay passage of a tax bill died after about 90 minutes yesterday, when Democrats mustered the votes to break a filibuster and pass the final piece of the $22.4 billion state budget.

Republicans recognized their efforts were futile - it was clear the Senate would approve the bills, including a $135 million tax package. At the same time, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. wasn't softening his pledge to veto it. But GOP senators said they wanted to take the only stand they could on the tax issue.

Senate Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus complained that corporations were being doubly targeted, with a 10 percent surcharge on corporate taxes and $35 million in so-called corporate loophole closings. "This is bad business, bad policy," said the Eastern Shore Republican. "This drives jobs away from our people. This rapes the corporations."

The tax bill, which includes a 2 percent tax on health maintenance organization policies, passed 28-19, with five Democrats joining the Senate's 14 Republicans. Earlier yesterday, the bill passed the House of Delegates on an 87-50 vote, as Democratic leaders got two more votes than would be necessary to override a gubernatorial veto. The Senate fell one vote short.

The compromise budget bill, which would abolish 1,700 vacant state jobs and hold spending to an increase of 1 percent, passed unanimously in the Senate. "The budget before you is the best we could do in the current environment," said Sen. Ulysses Currie, chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee. "It felt like we were cutting to the bone."

The budget passed the House on a 99-40 vote that largely followed party lines, as GOP legislators complained it was no longer Ehrlich's budget.

"This budget is predicated on tax increases that are going to hurt people," said Del. Herbert H. McMillan, an Anne Arundel County Republican.

House Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve countered that at least one tax increase was proposed by Ehrlich. The Montgomery County Democrat said the budget cuts more than $200 million from the governor's original spending plan.

The filibuster was threatened all morning, and when Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller heard about it, he pulled the GOP caucus off the floor to try to dissuade them.

Ehrlich said he also discouraged the filibuster. "I'm trying to defuse it," he said about noon. "I support the idea but there are other ways to do it."

The governor has said he will veto the tax proposal, and Democratic fiscal leaders say they intend to leave it to Ehrlich and the Board of Public Works to make enough cuts to replace the $135 million in lost revenues.

Thirty-two of 47 senators are needed to end a filibuster, and the 14 Senate Republicans were unable to get the two additional votes necessary to prevent that, garnering support from only one Democrat, Baltimore County Sen. James Brochin.

Miller said he was frustrated by the whole affair. "Most likely, based on this ridiculous performance here by the minority on a ridiculous act, I'm sure the Democratic majority is going to vote to change the rules from 32 votes to 29 votes," he said. "You can't waste time on the last day of the session on a totally futile act. There are going to be very severe consequences."

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