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As budget deadline nears, lawmakers must stay alert

March 27, 2003

The deadline for completing Maryland's budget is just a week away, but given how far the two sides are from agreeing on how to balance the budget, this bit of March madness just might go into overtime. We recommend Washington County legislators remain vigilant, so nothing fishy gets pushed through in the confusion of the session's final days.

In the state senate, budget committee officials decided they didn't like the approaches taken by the House or Gov. Robert Ehrlich. The senate bill would trim the proposed House increase in corporate filing fees from $125.7 million to $47.1 million, but put a one-time surcharge of 10 percent on corporate income taxes.

Where will slot machines fit into all this? It's uncertain. House Speaker Michael Busch doesn't want to even consider them until the House finishes work on this year's budget.

What lawmakers owe citizens is a clear explanation of how all this will affect them. The only thing certain so far is that the state will get a property tax increase of 5 cents per each $100 of assessed value. That will cost every voter with a house worth $100,000 an extra $50.

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The corporate income-tax surcharge won't affect individual taxpayers directly, but isn't likely to be a plus for economic development. Once a tax is enacted, getting it undone is much more difficult.

The temptation will be to avoid the pain and do what Pennsylvania did last year and drain every reserve fund in hopes that the economy will turn around before the 2004 session.

It didn't work there and is unlikely to work in Maryland. Lawmakers who feel that the answer is to trim services need to identify specific cuts. And those who feel new taxes are the only answer must make the case that there's no other way to balance the budget.

The one idea we won't accept - and which local lawmakers should fight tough and nail - is any plan to reduce state aid to local governments. This is a state problem that should be solved at the state level.

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