Budget Revisions Prompt Questions; Focus Is on Switch in Services to Be Taxed.
Post, 8 Nov 2007 (Rucker & Wiggins).
Budget writers in the Maryland Senate were peppered with questions yesterday about whether their deficit reduction plan protects the interests of working families and why they had decided, with no public debate, to propose taxing landscaping, video arcades and visits from the Geek Squad and other computer services.O'Malley wants to revive tax cuts; Senate eliminates proposals aimed at reductions for most Marylanders.
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If we fail, we will be simply sticking our heads in the sand," Sen. Ulysses Currie (D-Prince George's), chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee, told his colleagues.
Currie's panel voted Tuesday night to make several significant changes to proposals by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) in the special legislative session. Among the amendments that received the most attention yesterday was the panel's proposal to apply the state sales tax to landscaping, arcades and computer services.
Legislative analysts said taxing those services would yield about $250 million a year in revenue, far more than would be generated by taxing a handful of other services, including health clubs and tanning salons, that O'Malley had specified and that were the subject of public hearings. Those were taken out of the bill after an outcry by those affected.
Sen. Richard F. Colburn (R-Dorchester) asked Currie whether landscapers, arcade owners and computer service operators knew that levies would be placed on their services. "Or did they wake up this morning and look at the paper and find out we're in?" he said.
"I think you summed up the process," Currie replied.
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Sun, 8 Nov 2007 (Green).
* * *Md. Budget Crisis: Senate Could Finish Work Thursday, Amid Complaints About Pace of Debate.
"Landscapers, people who have computer services businesses, people with video-game parlors -- were they able to come and testify, or did they just wake up this morning, read the newspaper and realize they were in?" Sen. Richard F. Colburn, an Eastern Shore Republican, asked Sen. Ulysses Currie, the committee chairman, during a floor debate.
"I think you summarized the process," Currie replied.
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Southern Maryland Online, 8 Nov 2007 (Becker).
* * *Senators try to undo higher ed casualties.
Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George's, said he "didn't like the income tax rates being flattened" and objected that the language to close corporate loopholes was thrown out. Those changes might lead Pinsky to vote against the proposals.
"I might have to do more than just pinch my nose" this time, he said.
But Pinsky believes the proposals will be voted on soon and likely passed.
"Is it fast? Yes, it's fast," he said. "But I've learned when you have the votes, you can do almost anything" in Annapolis.
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Diamondback, 8 Nov 2007 (Epstein).
Two state senators said yesterday they intend to put legislation dedicating funding aimed at holding down tuition at the state's colleges and universities back on firm ground.Progress for budget deficit in special session described as 'slow'.
Student leaders and officials from the board that governs Maryland's colleges and universities blasted Annapolis lawmakers yesterday for tying the future of higher education funding to a controversial proposal that would legalize slot machines.
But Sen. Jim Rosapepe, who represents Prince George's and Anne Arundel Counties, and Sen. Robert Zirkin, of Baltimore County, said they will introduce an amendment today that would instead devote money from a corporate tax increase to higher education funding, which was part of Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley's original budget proposal.
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Rosapepe said he didn't think senators intentionally put higher education funding at risk.
"I think the committee didn't quite understand what it was doing," he said, adding that the members had to consider a number of amendments in a short time and might not have fully considered the impact of their decision.
"There's a lot of interest in restoring that money," Rosapepe said.
Bowie Blade-News, 8 Nov 2007 (Armes).
* * *Committee OKs bulk of state's health insurance expansion, sends bill to full Senate.
"Members of the House and Senate have been working together on aspects of all avenues of this legislation, and we're all trying to get a good perspective," Del. Jim Hubbard, D-Bowie 23A, said.
"We're trying to make what cuts we can make, looking to eliminate around $600 million of the existing budget before raising revenues while also trying to see if we can provide health care for more than 100,000 Maryland residents," he added.
Del. Gerron Levi, D-Bowie 23A, said there is a "broad consensus" among elected officials regarding four main business areas that could see tax increases: the sales tax, real estate taxes, the corporate loophole income tax and the tobacco tax.
"The slots proposal is truly up in the air right now," she said. "I think there will be two votes on it - a referendum and then the actual bill, and there's more support for the referendum right now."
Levi credited the various committees for making "tremendous progress" toward finding solutions but also indicated the pace has been measured because of the impact of their decisions.
"The issue of where the cuts are going to be made is still being addressed, and it must be addressed before we can talk about revenue generators for the state," local Del. Marvin Holmes, D-Bowie 23B, said. "Generally, it's a lot to get your hands on. You know the material because it's not intellectually complicated. But it's a lot to handle."
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Holmes estimated the special session would likely conclude a few days after Thanksgiving to allow the conference committees to discuss the bills and for the delegates to vote on their decisions. But Hubbard and Levi were optimistic the session would end sooner, possibly by the end of next week.
"The bottom line is, we're trying to raise about $1 billion for tax cuts, and we're trying to do it without hurting any particular demographic or geographic group," Hubbard said. "It's our job to make sure Bowie doesn't get hurt in any of this and to do what we think is fair across the board."
"We need to keep in mind that we're in a crisis here," said State Sen Douglas J.J. Peters, D-Bowie. "Somehow we need to generate a certain amount of revenues by the end of the year. We've seen how complicated it is to tinker with the tax code. Once we leave, we'll either pass the bills or there will be dramatic cuts that will heavily influence the people of Prince George's County and Bowie."
Peters believes the session could finish by the end of next week.
Annapolis Capital, 8 Nov 2007 (Zieminski).
A Senate committee gave preliminary approval Wednesday to a $200 million health care expansion, after striking a key provision that would have helped small-business owners pay for health insurance they currently offer.If It's Not About Budget, Forget It.
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Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-Queen Anne's, a vocal opponent of the bill, questioned the administration's decision to expand health care in the midst of a budget shortfall.
"The idea we'd come back to fix the deficit by raising $1.5 billion in taxes and expand health care is outrageous," Pipkin said after voting against the bill in committee Wednesday evening.
Middleton said lawmakers can always come back and trim the bill if O'Malley's plan to balance the budget is not passed. The health insurance bill is scheduled to be heard on the Senate floor Thursday along with major parts of O'Malley's budget proposals.
Democratic Sens. John Astle, Catherine Pugh, Robert Garagiola, George Della, Nathaniel Exum, Delores Kelley, Katherine Klausmeier and Middleton voted in favor of the bill in committee. Sen. Allan Kittleman, R-Howard, voted against it and Sen. J. Robert Hooper, R-Harford, was absent.
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Post, 8 Nov 2007 (Wiggins & Helderman).
Del. Doyle L. Niemann (D-Prince George's) wants to set up an authority and put an end to the financial woes that have plagued Prince George's Hospital Center.Johnson to hospital: Survival issue will be 'off table'
Del. Barbara A. Frush (D-Prince George's) says the state should cut funding for the intercounty connector, the controversial highway that would link Prince George's and Montgomery counties.
And Del. Joseline A. Pena-Melnyk (D-Prince George's) wants to place the balance on unused gift certificates into a fund for education.
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More than 50 bills have been introduced during the special session. Most offer alternative ways to close the projected shortfall, but many of the bills, such as those introduced by Niemann, Frush and Pena-Melnyk, have nothing to do with the state's budget problem.
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Niemann said he expects his bill to be assigned to the committee, but he hopes the issue will be taken up in some form.
"There is sentiment in the delegation that the issue needs to be resolved," he said. "The governor wants us to go out on a limb to support him, and we want some support for one of our most serious problems."
Frush said she wanted to express the county's sentiments about the intercounty connector with the introduction of her bill.
"The county doesn't want it, the County Council doesn't want it, those delegates who are affected don't want it. It's just wrong," she said. "It's a bad way to spend money, especially at a time when our money is scarce."
Other budget-related bills will get a full airing.
Sen. James C. Rosapepe (D-Prince George's) introduced a bill that would raise the cigarette tax by $1.44 instead of the $1-a-pack suggested by the governor.
And Del. Justin D. Ross (D-Prince George's) proposed that a sales tax be imposed when people get tattoos or body piercings, when they get their swimming pool or hot tub cleaned and when they hire movers or get their homes decorated.
"They are good examples of luxury items," Ross said. "This is something people do with discretionary income. You can clean your own pool; you choose not to. You can decorate your own house; you choose not to."
Laurel Leader, 8 Nov 2007 (Pichaske).
* * *SGA uses laptops to lobby.
State Del. Barbara Frush of Beltsville, whose district includes Laurel and who is chairwoman of the county's House delegation, said Nov. 6 that state lawmakers were studying the proposal and would come up with a counter-proposal within a day or two.
The main sticking points, she said, are where the money will come from (the bailout is estimated to cost about $350 million in county and state money) and the disposition of the land, now owned by the county, on which the hospitals sit.
United front sought
Frush said state and county lawmakers are laboring to come up with a plan they can all agree on. If they do, they will present it to Gov. Martin O'Malley during the ongoing special legislative session, called by the governor to address the state's budget shortfall.
Both Johnson and Frush said the Prince George's lawmakers plan to make their support for O'Malley's proposal to deal with the shortfall contingent on his support for bailing out the county hospitals.
"We're keeping our powder dry, so to speak, hoping we can negotiate a good outcome for our hospitals," Frush said, adding that the entire House delegation has agreed to the support-trading plan.
"This is extremely important to the health and welfare of our citizens," she said. "We've got to do whatever it takes."
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Diamondback, 8 Nov 2007 (Austin).
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Jim Rosapepe (D- Anne Arundel and Prince George's) said he and his colleagues are surprised with how few phone calls and e-mails they have received so far in regards to possible higher education cuts.
"I've heard several senators say that they haven't heard much from their constituents about university funding," Rosapepe said. "A lot of other interest groups are very active in lobbying," he continued, adding that Student Government Association President Andrew Friedson has been very persistent but that "you can't rely on just a handful of people. The average student and faculty and staff needs to be making phone calls and sending e-mails."
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- Sen. Jim Rosapepe (D-21) Bio | Bills | E-Mail |
- 301-858-3141, Fax: 301-858-3195.
- Del. Barbara Frush (D-21) Bio | E-Mail | Bills |
- 301-858-3114, Fax: 301-858-3116.
- Del. Joseline Pena-Melnyk (D-21) Bio | E-Mail | Bills |
- 301-858-3502, Fax: 301-858-3342.
- Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-22) Bio | E-Mail | Bills |
- 301-858-3155, Fax: 301-858-3144.
- Del. Justin D. Ross (D-22) Bio | E-Mail | Bills |
- 301-858-3652, Fax: 301-858-3699.
- Sen. Douglas J. J. Peters (D-23) Bio | E-Mail | Bills |
- 301-858-3631, Fax: 301-858-3174.
- Del. Marvin E. Holmes, Jr. (D-23B) Bio | E-Mail | Bills |
- 301-858-3310, Fax: 301-858-3850.
- Del. James W. Hubbard (D-23A) Bio | E-Mail | Bills |
- 301-858-3103, Fax: 301-858-3234.
- Del. Gerron S. Levi (D-23A) Bio | E-Mail | Bills |
- 301-858-3101, Fax: 301-858-3850.
- Sen. Nathaniel Exum (D-24) Bio | E-Mail | Bills |
- 301-858-3148, Fax: 301-858-3149.
- Del. Doyle E. Niemann (D-47) Bio | E-Mail | Bills |
- 301-858-3326, Fax: 301-858-3403.