House OKs bill to ease rises in college tuition

Corporate income tax would go to 7.9% from 7%

General Assembly

March 30, 2004|By Michael Dresser and David Nitkin | Michael Dresser and David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

The House of Delegates voted last night to rein in double-digit tuition increases at Maryland's public universities by raising the corporate income tax and devoting the increased revenue to higher education.

The vote was 80-60, five shy of a veto-proof majority, over the vigorous objections of House Republicans, who accused Democrats of imposing a crushing tax burden on small businesses.

The legislation would be expected to raise $65 million for higher education in Maryland while limiting annual tuition increases to 5 percent a year for the next three years.

The bill is House Speaker Michael E. Busch's response to the steep tuition increases adopted by state universities, which they said was necessary because Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. cut the higher education budget.

Tuition for the University System of Maryland has increased more than 30 percent over the past two years, prompting outcries from students and parents.

Busch said the bill the House passed would restore about half of the money Ehrlich has cut from the university system's budget since taking office.

"What we literally did tonight was give half of the money back," Busch said. "He cut $130 million. We gave $65 million back."

The measure would raise the corporate income tax rate to 7.9 percent from 7 percent. Advocates said the state's corporate tax rate is among the lowest in the country and that the increase would leave it lower than those in most surrounding states.

If the Senate refuses to pass the measure or passes it and the governor vetoes it, tuition will rise an additional 10 percent next year, as members of the Board of Regents have planned, Busch said.

"This is a tax-rate reduction for people who have kids in college," Busch said.

House Republicans, all but one of whom opposed the measure, accused Democrats of pouring money into a bloated university system without demanding accountability.

"We have to fix the hole in the bucket before we put more water in it," said GOP Del. Herbert H. McMillan of Anne Arundel County. "It rewards a bad system before it's fixed."

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