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Sunday, November 04, 2007

Slots & Taxes: What our legislators are saying (part 9)

(Posted 4 Nov 2007)
Senate Seeks Cuts Beyond O'Malley Plan; Lawmakers Discuss Levying State Sales Tax on Some Services That Are Now Exempt.
Post, 4 Nov 2007 (Wagner).
Maryland lawmakers contemplated yesterday making deeper spending cuts and applying the state sales tax to different services from those Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) has proposed in a special session to close a shortfall next year of at least $1.5 billion.
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Sen. Ulysses Currie (D-Prince George's), chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee, told reporters he had not reached any conclusions about what services should be added to the governor's package. "What I think is a good idea is what we can get passed," Currie said.
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Currie's committee also presented O'Malley officials with a list of 45 potential budget cuts prepared by legislative analysts and asked for input in coming days about which they might support. House leaders initiated the push for more reductions last week.

Legislative analysts said they think at least $100 million in cuts beyond what O'Malley has proposed will need to be made to balance the budget when the next fiscal year starts in July.

Currie played down the likelihood of some of the more politically sensitive cuts becoming reality, including freezing funding for higher education -- which probably would prompt sizable tuition increases -- and asking counties to pay a portion of teachers' retirement costs. O'Malley has proposed slowing the planned growth of education spending in coming years.

Other possible cuts include canceling planned cost-of-living increases for state workers, eliminating 750 vacant jobs and spending less than planned on stem cell research grants, a new initiative in Maryland.
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"Quite frankly, I don't think we have the votes for combined reporting," Currie said, suggesting that a study of the practice is a more likely outcome.
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Parts of tax plan falter; Corporation levy faces opposition in Senate panel.
Sun, 4 Nov 2007 (Green & Olson).
Gov. Martin O'Malley's effort to make sure big corporations pay income tax in Maryland -- a proposal that has faced stiff opposition in the business community -- ran into difficulty in a Senate committee yesterday.
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"Quite frankly, I don't think we have the votes for combined reporting in this committee, but rather than killing the bill outright ... we might do a study," said Sen. Ulysses Currie, the Prince George's Democrat who is chairman of the committee.
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Objections from business owners also appear to be having an effect on O'Malley's plan to expand the sales tax to additional services. Real estate professionals, health club owners, massage therapists and others whose services would be subject to the sales tax have protested strongly in recent days, and Currie said it might be difficult to get those provisions through the legislature. He said others might take their places.
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Senators deal O’Malley small defeat.
Baltimore Examiner, 4 Nov 2007 (Malarkey).
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Estimated to generate $27 million, the proposal known as combined reporting does not have enough votes to pass the Budget and Taxation Committee, Chairman Ulysses Currie said. Members appear to favor establishing a commission to study the state’s business tax structure over the next several years.

“I don’t think we have the votes on this committee to do combined reporting – in fact, I know we don’t,” said Currie, a Prince George’s County Democrat. “Rather than kill the governor’s bill, we thought we would look at, as staff said, doing some more work.”
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Sen. Nancy King, a Montgomery County Democrat, has introduced legislation creating a 3-year study. Currie said he would favor a shorter study. Joseph Bryce, O’Malley’s chief legislative officer, suggested the committee at least consider an interim tax during the study period.
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O'Malley plan to tax corporations runs into Senate skeptics.
abc2news.com, 3 Nov 2007 (AP).
Baltimore Examiner, 3 Nov 2007 (Witte, AP).
Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposal to make corporations in Maryland unable to avoid taxes by moving profits to out-of-state subsidiaries ran into skeptical lawmakers Saturday in a Senate committee.
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"I think there's a general sense it's going to be difficult to get most of what the governor had in his package passed," said Sen. Ulysses Currie, chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. "Once these things get out there, you know, and the lobbyists come in, it makes it very difficult."
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Currie, D-Prince George's, told reporters that a component of O'Malley's corporate tax plan didn't have the votes to get out of the committee. Instead, Currie said, the committee appeared inclined to study the state's corporate tax code.
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Currie said adding new services to the sales tax is a tough issue, particularly for property management.

"But I think we do need to look at services, and that's what we're going to continue to do," Currie said.
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Currie, however, said the committee would be transparent. He mentioned computer services and lawn services as possible additions.

"We have thus far, and we'll continue to be," Currie said.
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Slots plan is picked apart; Lawmakers dissect proposal, grill aides to O'Malley at hearing.
Sun, 3 Nov 2007 (Olson).
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Del. Justin D. Ross, a Prince George's Democrat, asked why a license should go to Magna Entertainment Corp., which owns Laurel and Pimlico, when Racing Commission Chairman John Franzone expressed little confidence recently in the company's ability to manage a slots facility.
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Lawmakers Might Use Clout to Get Hospital Funding.
Post, 3 Nov 2007 (Wiggins & Helderman).
Some members of the Prince George's legislative delegation are trying to organize an effort to use their votes on Gov. Martin O'Malley's tax package as leverage to get a funding plan for the financially troubled Prince George's Hospital Center passed during the current special session.
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"If we are going to do anything, we have to use our clout now," said Del. Barbara A. Frush (D-Prince George's), chairwoman of the House delegation. "This is the time they will need our votes to move the tax package forward."

It was unclear yesterday how many of the county's 31 members in the House and Senate have agreed to vote against the governor's tax package unless there is an agreement on hospital funding.

Frush and Sen. Gwendolyn T. Britt (D-Prince George's) said yesterday that they are working with county leaders on a plan to present to O'Malley on Dimensions Healthcare System, the nonprofit group that operates Prince George's Hospital Center in Cheverly, Laurel Regional Hospital, Bowie Health Center and two nursing homes.

Neither Frush nor Britt would provide details about the proposal, saying that it needed to be fleshed out. They also would not say how they propose that the funding be considered during the special session. Some lawmakers have said that either the governor's health-care reform bill or his proposal to raise the tobacco tax could be amended.
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Del. Doyle L. Niemann (D-Prince George's), who introduced a bill this week to deal with the hospital system, said county lawmakers are in a uniquely powerful position to negotiate a generous deal with the state. The governor will likely need the votes from Prince George's to get his tax package passed, Niemann said.

"If they want us, on behalf of our constituents, to bail the state out of its structural deficit, we need help in solving the problem with our hospital," he said. "If you think of it as being a negotiation, we have more leverage at this time than we will after January."

Frush met with Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D) yesterday. His office said the discussion centered on Niemann's bill, which would create a state authority to take over operation of the health-care system.

Niemann said there is not yet agreement about what exactly the county should ask of the governor, calling it "still a matter of discussion and debate."

But Frush said during a delegation meeting yesterday that the County Council and an aide from the county executive's office are scheduled to meet Monday to discuss a possible plan.

County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) is also scheduled to meet with employees at Laurel Regional Hospital on Monday.
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Niemann's proposal would allow the governor to set up an authority to devise a long-term plan for the hospital system. The authority would be charged with negotiating with management companies interested in taking over the system. It also would acquire the system's property and assume its bond debt and pension liability.

Under the bill, the county would give $17 million to the hospital system each fiscal year from 2009 to 2015. The state would provide $23 million each year for operating and capital costs from 2010 to 2015.

Niemann offered a bill to create an authority during this year's regular session, but the measure failed because the County Council did not support it.

"I'm not prepared to support anything [at the session] unless there's the solution on the hospital," Niemann said.
'Green Fund' unlikely to get OK.
Times, 3 Nov 2007 (Wyatt, AP).
A new development fund to funnel $85 million a year into the Chesapeake Bay cleanup is unlikely to pass during the special session, despite support from environmentalists, according to several members of the Maryland Senate.
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"The primary reason for coming in [to Annapolis] was to address the budget, and other issues need to be put on the back burner," said Sen. Paul Pinsky, Prince George's County Democratic, who called the Green Fund "laudable."
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