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Glendening's proposed budget would cancel tax cut

January 16, 2002

Glendening's proposed budget would cancel tax cut



By LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Maryland taxpayers will not get an income tax cut and public schools will see a smaller increase than anticipated under Gov. Parris Glendening's proposed 2003 operating budget.

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Glendening said Tuesday his $22 billion spending plan adds money for Medicaid, the environment and so-called safety net areas such as mental health. Otherwise, it maintains current state services.

Education gets a boost, but not as much as Washington County officials had hoped.

Under Glendening's proposed budget, the Washington County Board of Education would receive $64.2 million, or 3.1 percent more than this year.

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That's less than the $5 million increase recommended by the Thornton Commission, which had spent the last three years studying a more equitable way to distribute state education money. Over seven years, the commission recommends an extra $38 million for the county.

Glendening said the economic downturn forced him to make some tough decisions, including delaying the final 2 percent phase of a 10 percent income tax cut approved in 1997.

The delay would cost the average family of four an extra $75 a year, the governor's office said.

Washington County lawmakers said they will work to try to preserve the tax cut.

In order to do so, Glendening's spokesman Michael Morrill said, the legislature would have to cut $175 million from the budget, which would be difficult to do in such a lean year.

As a member of the House Appropriations Committee Del. Sue Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington, said she will look for cuts.

"The tax cut is going to be extremely difficult to delay. It's just going to be extremely difficult to explain that to people," she said.

The tax cut is needed now more than ever to stimulate the economy, said Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington.

Del. Joseph R. Bartlett, R-Frederick/Washington, said delaying the tax cut amounts to a lie.

"If we want to begin earning the respect of the constituents, we've got to stop lying to them and fulfill our promise," he said.

Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, said the state faces a budget crunch because of bloated spending in the previous three years.

"So now we're in a situation where the big government politicians down here in Annapolis want to raise taxes on the people of Washington County. I think it's an outrage," said Mooney, who has voted against the budget for the past three years.

Glendening said his administration has enacted $2.6 billion worth of tax cuts since 1995.

Despite the disappointments, Del. John P. Donoghue said the budget appears better than it was a decade ago, when a recession led to major tax increases as well as painful spending cuts.

"It sounds like the priorities are all there. I think we're in far better shape than we were 10 years ago," said Donoghue, D-Washington.

Glendening said the economic downturn, combined with added security costs to deal with the threat of terrorism, caused a tight budget this year. But Glendening said the state is better off than many other states.

"Maryland has not been immune to the national recession, but we're in a far better position than other states. It is not a crisis budget," he said.

Washington County Board of Education President W. Edward Forrest said he was disappointed that the governor didn't follow the education commission's recommendations.

"He's invested a lot of money in higher education but our kids aren't going to get there unless they get help K through 12 as well," Forrest said.

Glendening, who leaves office next year, said he is leaving it up to the Maryland General Assembly to study how best to pay for the education improvements.

Glendening gave a 10-percent boost to mental health programs, which has been a big concern of Washington County advocates for the mentally ill.

"There is absolutely no question that the system as it's currently functioning is failing," said one advocate, Hagerstown attorney Wiley Rutledge.

Rutledge was pleased at the news, but still had doubts that the extra $25 million statewide would solve the problems.

Next week Glendening will unveil his budget for capital projects, which is to include an estimated $12.4 million to renovate the former Baldwin House complex into the University System of Maryland Hagerstown Education Center.

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