No Tax Hikes, But Fee Increases In House Budget

Friday, March 18, 2011 – Robert Lang and Associated Press

The House Appropriations Committee is considering a variety of budget cuts to restore $58.5 million in funding for Maryland schools to the budget proposed by Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley.

Democrats say there won’t be any tax hikes in the budget the committee will approve today, but there will be a $67-million increase in fees.

The committee will decide Friday whether to accept the governor’s reductions, which would also include an $8 million cut to the University System of Maryland.

House subcommittees have also recommended a $10 million rate reduction for managed care organizations under Medicaid and a $9 million cut in funds for the operating costs of the state’s courts.

The committee may also consider cutting hundreds of vacant positions in state government.

O’Malley’s budget proposal included a $94 million reduction in expected funding for kindergarten through 12th grade. The House is working on restoring $58.5 million of that.

St. Mary’s County Democratic Delegate John Bohanan Jr., who chairs the education subcommittee working on the budget, says the Appropriations Committee is due to approve a budget bill late today.  The bill will be considered by the full House of Delegates next week.

Bohanan told WBAL News that the budget to be approved today will not include any increases in the state’s gasoline or alcohol taxes, which are still be considered by lawmakers.  He did say the budget will include some fee increases.

Delegate Tawanna Gaines, who chairs a subcommittee on transportation and the environment, said Friday the plan would increase a fee for vanity license plates from $25 to $50. The plan also would increase titling fees on new vehicle purchases from $50 to $100.

Those two fees would raise about $50 million and would be used to offset some of the money Gov. Martin O’Malley transferred from the state’s transportation trust fund.

The plan also calls for increasing a fee residents pay to file property records from $20 to $40. That would raise an estimated $17 million, which would be used to help restore school funding.

House Majority Leader Kumar Barve told WBAL News that the gas and alcohol tax increases are being discussed by the House Ways and Means Committee, but he says he does not know if or when the committee will vote on any tax hike.

Advocates have backed a so called “dime a drink” tax on beer wine and liquor, generating more than $200-million a year to fund health insurance for adults who don;’t have it and for programs for the disabled.  This week Senate President Mike Miller said lawmakers, if they a;prove the tax, would likely consider a smaller tax hike with the money used to fund schools.

Lawmakers are considering a 10-cent-a-gallon increase in the gasoline tax, but Senate Democrats are also discussing the possibility of phasing in that increase over three years, or tying annual increases to the inflation rate.

Lawmakers have set April 4 as the deadline for approving a new state budget.  However, many lawmakers believe the budget won’t be approved until the last day of session on April 11.

When Gov. Ehrlich increased FEES, Democrats said it was a TAX and it was wrong.  O’Malley even used that in his campaign ads against Ehrlich in the 2010 election.  Now, the Democrats say it’s only a FEE and not a TAX and that it’s okay.  What a bunch of political hyporcites. …


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