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Busch tax plan coming too late in 2004 session

March 23, 2004

Last year we chastised Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich for bringing a half-formed plan for legalizing slot machines to the Maryland General Assembly.

Now it's time to do the same to House Speaker Michael Busch, who's proposing, with three weeks left in the current session, to introduce a package that would raise income taxes and sales taxes.

Busch should have put this plan on the table on the first day of the session, so that it could get a full debate, as opposed to a quick look in the session's closing weeks.

We recommend that this proposal be sent to summer study, with a report due back by December of this year.

What Busch proposes is to raise the state's sales tax from 5 percent to 6 percent and to create a higher income-tax bracket for Marylanders earning more than $200,000 yearly.

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It comes on the heels of a meeting Busch had with Gov. Robert Ehrlich, who is trying for the second year in a row to get the legislature to legalize slot machines at the state's horse tracks and a few other locations.

Busch said higher taxes to support education would find favor with most citizens, especially those who now have children in college and facing increasing tuition rates.

The Busch proposal does not now have slots as one of its features, but those could be added later as the bill works its way through the legislature.

It all sounds depressingly familiar - a plan to raise revenue that's not really developed in full detail, with two sides in deep disagreement on a solution. It's the 2003 session all over again, with Busch taking the role Ehrlich played last year.

It seems clear that rather than enact steep tax increases, many lawmakers are willing to legalize slots. It is also clear that many legislators are committed to education. What isn't clear is what mix of gambling and taxation makes sense.

And before any major tax increase takes place, what happened to the committee headed by former Gov. Marvin Mandel that was formed to study ways to streamline government? We can't believe there isn't some trimming that could be done.

Why not send all three proposals to summer study, work out a compromise and bring it back in 2005? The budget is balanced for 2004, so there's no need to rush a solution that may leave Maryland with another legislative stalemate.

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