Legislature open for business

January 09, 1997


Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS - There were long speeches, fancy introductions and plenty of talk about working together to get things done.

That's typical fare for the first day of the General Assembly's annual 90-day session. This year's session opened Wednesday with much ceremony and little substance; many lawmakers spent their time enjoying the near-festive atmosphere with family and friends instead of debating points of public policy.

But beyond the pomp and circumstance was an overriding message that there is much work to be done during the remaining 89 days.

"Actually being down here and getting started is exciting," said Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington.

In his message to the House of Delegates, Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany, renewed his call for a cut in the state's income tax rate. But Taylor also said the legislature should not ignore its responsibility to the state's neediest citizens.


To accomplish the seemingly opposite ideas, Taylor called for "modernizing" the state's 5 percent sales tax so that it is placed on some services and areas not now taxed.

"We can even lower the sales tax rate if we make the proper adjustments," said Taylor.

That struck a chord with Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, who will likely be spending much of the session pondering the tax issue as a member of the house Ways and Means Committee.

"I think the speaker was right on target in reference to what we need to do with the entire tax system," he said.

But McKee added it's still too early to form any opinions.

"I will hold reservation until I can see the actual bill and see what taxes are affected," he said.

Del. D. Bruce Poole, D-Washington, already is lining up against Taylor's sales tax plan.

"Effectively, what you are saying is you are going to continue to raise revenue and shift problems," he said.

Sen. John W. Derr, R-Frederick/Washington, spent the day enjoying his new position as minority whip, the second-highest ranking post for a Republican in the Senate.

In taking the seat, Derr remembered Sen. John A. Cade, R-Anne Arundel, the former minority leader who died last year.

"I don't have any of the wisdom, intellect or any of that that Sen. Cade had, but I'll try to serve this position with honor," Derr said.

The General Assembly's real work begins today, when the various legislative committees meet for the first time. Local issues will take a back seat until next week, when the Washington County delegation likely will meet for the first time.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, said one thing that sets this year apart from others is there are no financial crises or other controversial issues - like last year's debate over public funding for two professional football stadiums.

"So many times you get down here and you spend your time reacting," he said.

Be it cutting taxes, reforming campaign financing or improving health care, this year can be different, Donoghue said.

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