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Ehrlich budget a tough sell to local lawmakers

Sen. Donald F. Munson says he'll vote for the proposal, others aren't so sure.

Sen. Donald F. Munson says he'll vote for the proposal, others aren't so sure.

March 19, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Some Washington County lawmakers on Tuesday were having trouble swallowing Gov. Robert Ehrlich's proposal to increase Maryland's property tax.

But at least one likely will end up voting for the plan as part of the final $22.4 billion budget.

Sen. Donald F. Munson said he'll vote for the budget, which he has been working on as a member of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.

Munson said he won't consider his vote as support for increasing the state's share of the annual tax bill for property owners from 8 cents to 13 cents per $100. That would represent an increase from $120 to $195 on a $150,000 house.

"No legislator should have to take responsibility for that decision," he said. The rate is set by the governor and Board of Public Works.

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But the budget would be balanced based on the $165 million the property tax would raise.

"If I had my druthers we'd take additional cuts," said Munson, R-Washington.

Munson likened the vote to watching his daughter grow up. Although he didn't like everything she did, he still supported her, he said.

"I don't love this budget but I'm going to support it," he said.

Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, said he might vote against the budget because of the property tax proposal and other Republicans were considering the same.

"I still believe they legitimately need to look for more cuts," said Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Allegany/Washington, who said he not only opposes the property tax increase but also opposes Ehrlich's slot machine proposal.

The House of Delegates will begin debating the budget today and the Senate likely will take it up next week.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Del. Howard P. Rawlings warned lawmakers they will be voting on a budget that is balanced this year, but faces a structural deficit of nearly $1 billion next year.

"We have failed. We have not put this house in order by putting the state on a course to be structurally unbalanced," said Rawlings, D-Baltimore city.

The House version of the budget contains no revenue from slot machines. Instead, it is balanced based on higher taxes on corporations including a 2 percent HMO tax.

Both Myers and McKee voted against those taxes in the House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday.

The Senate version of the budget will rely on money from putting slot machines at racetracks. Munson's committee on Tuesday approved a new slots proposal that would give more money to education and less money to the tracks than Ehrlich has proposed.

Under the Budget and Taxation Committee's plan, education would receive 46 percent of the profits compared to 39 percent for the tracks.

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