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Munson: Tax hikes possible

April 23, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Washington County business leaders heard what they didn't want to hear at Tuesday morning's post-legislative forum: More new taxes may be on the horizon.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, said there's a "strong possibility" the state will increase the gasoline tax by as much as 10 cents per gallon, which would make it the highest rate in the country.

"I'm not advocating this folks, I'm just telling you what the options are," Munson said.

Unless more money comes in, the state will have to put off routine highway maintenance as well as new projects, he said.

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The legislature also might have enough votes to pass a sales tax increase, Munson said.

Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Allegany/Washington, said he was surprised by the widespread tax-and-spend attitude he saw during his first year in the Maryland General Assembly.

"If most legislators had their way, they would just tax us to death," Myers said.

Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich has promised to stand in the way of sales- or income-tax increases.

During the legislative session, which ended earlier this month, the legislature failed to approve slot machines at racetracks to raise money and instead passed large corporate tax increases, which Ehrlich plans to veto.

Ehrlich now has the monumental task of trimming even more money from the state's 2004 budget.

Ehrlich will spend the next year looking for ways to cut costs and streamline state government by merging agencies, said Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington.

Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, said the state could save money by eliminating its mandate to provide all-day kindergarten for every student in the state.

Mooney also advocates repealing a state law that requires contractors to pay prevailing wages on school construction projects. Mooney said it would lower construction costs by an estimated 15 percent.

Other state policies may increase the cost of doing business in the state, representatives from the Maryland Chamber of Commerce said.

The cost of health insurance, which is a larger burden to businesses than taxes, will continue to increase unless checked further by the legislature, Chamber lobbyist Miles Cole said.

The state is considering an unemployment insurance system overhaul that could cost businesses $85 per employee, said Kathy Snyder, president of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce.

"Sorry I don't have better news," she said.

The Tuesday morning forum, which was held at the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center at Antietam Creek, was sponsored by the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce.




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