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Taxes top issue for lawmakers

December 12, 1998|By LAURA ERNDE

Talk of swifter income tax cuts, a higher gas tax and more money for education will dominate the next session of the Maryland General Assembly, local lawmakers said Friday.

Six members of the Washington County legislative delegation met with members of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce on Friday.

Local lawmakers said they support efforts to speed up income tax cuts during the session, which begins Jan. 13.

Two freshman legislators said they will oppose an increase to the 23.5-cent per gallon tax on gasoline.

"I will resist that with every ounce of my being," said Del.-elect Christopher B. Shank.

State transportation officials have said the gas tax might not generate enough money to match federal grants for highway projects in the coming years.

But Shank, R-Washington, said 40 percent of the gas tax pays for mass transit in the metropolitan area.

"I want to make sure users pay their fare share and not put it on the backs of people in Western Maryland," he said.

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Sen.-elect Alex X. Mooney said it doesn't make sense to raise the gas gax while reducing the income tax.

"If we're reducing one tax and raising another, are you better off?" asked Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington.

Delegation Chairman Robert A. McKee said he refused to sign a tax pledge from the Maryland Taxpayers Association this year because he is realistic about the state's finances.

"I will do my best when it comes to tax cuts," he said.

Education also will be a priority this session with Gov. Parris Glendening proposing that state budget surpluses be spent on school construction.

Shank and Sen. Donald F. Munson said they want a fairer formula for distributing that money.

"Hopefully we can make sure our fair share comes to Washington County," Munson said.

More important to quality schools than funding is making sure educators are free from state and federal regulations, Shank said.

"The end-all, be-all answer is not more funding," he said.

Improving education is a top priority for the Chamber of Commerce as well.

The chamber supports teacher pay raises, adding classrooms in growing areas and helping the Washington County Board of Education implement its Strategic Plan.

Chamber members again reminded lawmakers they don't want laws that will end up costing them money.

"Please don't enact things that are unfunded mandates," said moderator Suzanne Hayes.

Del. Louise Snodgrass, R-Frederick/Washington, was unable to attend the forum. Del. Sue Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington, was represented by a legislative aide.

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