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A Baltimore roadblock

February 26, 1999

While Washington County's General Assembly representatives are working themselves up over Gov. Parris Glendening's plan to link a new University of Maryland campus with higher tobacco taxes, they ought to save some of their fire for a Baltimore Democrat who's threatening to torpedo a bill that would put money directly into local residents' pockets.

The bill would provide businesses a 50 percent tax credit up to $30 a month for workers' transit costs. Since federal law allows workers to deduct transit costs from their paychecks prior to taxes, both employers and their employees could save money.

Under the new law, if a worker split the cost a $60 pass for the state's MARC bus with his employer, the employer would get a $15 tax credit and the worker would save $10 in payroll taxes. Business and environmental groups testifying for the bill said it could help unclog Maryland's highways and improve air quality at the same time.

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That's the good news. The bad news is that state Sen. Barbara Hoffman, D-Baltimore, head of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, said the bill would not be approved if it cost the state $1 million a year in lost revenue, as analysts predict.

Now consider this: This representative of Baltimore, which is happy to see the state pump millions of dollars into its own mass-transit systems, its schools and which is lobbying for a state takeover of a court system that's freeing murder suspects because it can't try them in a timely fashion, is not in favor of encouraging 5,800 commuters to take the bus or the train instead of using their cars.

This is what's called chutzpah, a Yiddish word which means "unmitigated gall." It's also the reason why the rural areas of the state, whose residents often spend hours each day going back and forth to metropolitan area jobs, need to form an alliance. That's because even items that are in the state's best interests, like this bill, can be crushed if there's nothing in the deal for Baltimore.

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