Howard utility tax break bill defeated again

Officials say Kittleman's bill would have set bad precedent

February 14, 2010|By Larry Carson | larry.carson@baltsun.com

State Sen. Allan H. Kittleman's third annual attempt to get Howard County's General Assembly delegation to approve a utility tax break bill failed Wednesday, with only the county's three Republican legislators backing it. The bill would have given county government the ability to grant the break to people who get public water but not sewer service.

Ulman administration officials have said that carving out a tax break for one group of people would set a precedent for similar tax breaks for other groups who do not directly benefit from a particular tax.

But since this is an election year, the Republican senator sees some potential benefit, even from the 7-3 party-line vote that killed the bill.

"It's unfortunate that the county executive didn't support it," he said of Ken Ulman, a Democrat. "Hopefully, we'll have a different delegation next year, and maybe a different county executive, too."

Trent Kittleman, the senator's stepmother, is a Republican who is running for Ulman's job, and the GOP hopes national voter unrest will translate into political gains locally.

Kittleman said he thought the county's Democratic legislators might have responded differently, "this being a year that people are upset about how government is taking their money."

Ulman said he was occupied during Wednesday's blizzard with managing the county's response to the storm.

"Politics is the last thing on my mind," he said.

The tax, called an ad valorem tax, helps pay for water and sewer projects. It is not part of the general fund revenues that county government uses to pay for schools, salaries and other operating or capital expenses. Allan Kittleman has argued that since some residents get public water but not sewers, they should pay less than those who get both. His bill would not mandate such a tax break, but would enable the county government to enact one.

Del. Gail H. Bates, a Republican, said eight Maryland counties, including Harford, Montgomery and Frederick, bill residents separately for water and sewer utilities, so it can be done.

But county budget and public works officials have said that if such a tax break were created, it would create an administrative nightmare because, in Howard, the two services are included in one charge, so there's no easy way to determine the tax for each.

Budget director Raymond S. Wacks has suggested that if the tax break were to be approved, people without children in county schools, for example, might want to pay less taxes than those who do.

"We have one system in place," Ulman said.

Democratic Del. Guy Guzzone, chairman of the county's legislative delegation, said residents who have water but not sewer service will likely get both one day.

He said he voted against the bill "for the same reason I've been voting against it all along." It would set a bad precedent, he said, because other groups of homeowners would demand similar treatment, eroding revenues that pay for the self-supporting utility system.

"They could all say, 'Why not us?' " he said.

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