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Fiscal reality trumps optimism at senior forum

October 19, 2009|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN -- "We're broke."

That was the overarching answer to questions at a forum on Monday as senior citizens asked about getting more state tax credits.

Noting Maryland's shaky fiscal health, legislators said that anything costing money or cutting revenue is improbable.

"The state's broke and it's getting broker every day," said Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington.

This is the second year state legislators have gathered for a Washington County Senior Coalition forum at Girls Inc. in Hagerstown.

Six members of the Washington County delegation to the Maryland General Assembly fielded questions. About 50 people were in the audience.

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One question was about the potential for an annual $250 tax credit for long-term-care insurance premiums, beyond a current one-time $500 credit.

Another was whether a $1,000 special exemption for elderly taxpayers will catch up to the $3,200 special exemption for elderly dependents.

The National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, a co-sponsor of the forum, also is pushing for timelier assessments and a higher tax-credit assessment limit to lessen senior citizens' tax burdens.

The outlook for tax-lowering initiatives isn't good in Maryland, which will have a significant budget shortfall next year and possibly beyond, as the economy continues to falter.

Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany, said it's been one of his toughest years in the construction business; he's had to lay off some longtime employees.

Del. Andrew A. Serafini, R-Washington, said he supports the senior citizens' tax-relief cause, especially if it's phased in, but predicted that it will have to wait until the state's finances improve.

With the state trying to conquer a $1 billion deficit, "my guess is it doesn't have a chance" in the coming legislative session, said Del. Richard B. Weldon Jr., unaffiliated-Frederick/Washington.

Noting that social services are suffering because of the budget shortfall, Weldon said, "It would be irresponsible as a public official to support further tax credits."

But Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said it was "an issue of equity and priorities."

He said the state was able to give tax credits to domestic partners, so if the senior citizen proposals come up in his Ways and Means Committee, he'll vote for them.

Sen. George C. Edwards, R-Garrett/Allegany/Washington, said the credits are a great idea, but "a lot of people can't even afford health insurance."

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