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Proposed cut must be affordable, not political

April 01, 2005

Knowing that most of them will face the voters in 2006, Maryland lawmakers are looking for items they can place on their political resumes.

When it comes to tax matters, we urge them not to allow political considerations to overcome their better judgment.

There were signs that such a thing might happen this week, when the Maryland Senate rejected a House of Delegates plan to reduce the state's property tax by 4.8 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Why is the House proposing a tax cut now when Speaker Michael E. Busch has consistently said that the state needs more revenue to deal with the state's structural budget?

Perhaps it is because in 2003, Gov. Robert Ehrlich proposed raising the tax from 8 cents per $100 to almost 13 cents to bring in millions needed to balance the state budget.

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The increase meant that the owner of a house valued at $150,000 would pay an additional tax of $70 per year.

Both chambers agreed on the increase then, but the state's economy has begun to improve to the point where lawmakers recently revealed they have about $400 in unexpected revenue to work with in 2006.

Cutting the property tax would cost the state $120 million in revenue, according to Sen. Ulysses Currie, D-Prince George's, chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee.

Currie told The Associated Press this week that he feels that the state's financial position is too precarious to do this. He and others want to wait a year.

Sen. P.J. Hogan, D-Montgomery, the vice chairman of Currie's committee, said he was concerned that if the tax is cut now, it might have to be raised again next year.

In an election year? That won't happen. If more revenue is needed, we have no doubt the legislature will borrow from every fund that isn't restricted in order to avoid the "tax-and-spend" label.

That has been done repeatedly, but that doesn't mean it's a good practice. Lawmakers need to take the political heat for doing the right thing - making sure there is enough money on hand to deal with the state's responsibilities.

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