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Harford lawmakers warn future tax increases 'inevitable' in order for Maryland to fund Kirwan education recommendations

Harford lawmakers warn future tax increases 'inevitable' in order for Maryland to fund Kirwan education recommendations
Sen. Jason Gallion, second from right, discusses the most recent session of the Maryland General Assembly during a Harford County Chamber of Commerce breakfast Thursday at Harford Community College. (Erika Butler/The Aegis)

It’s practically inevitable Harford County residents will see a property tax rate increase in coming years in order for the state to implement the nearly $4 billion in Kirwan Commission recommendations, a local senator said.

“Kirwan will bankrupt the State of Maryland,” Sen. Bob Cassilly, a Republican, told members of the Harford County Chamber of Commerce at their breakfast meeting with the county’s legislators Thursday at Harford Community College.

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The Maryland General Assembly this year approved spending $255 million begin implementing the recommendations of the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, more commonly referred to as the Kirwan Commission.

“We’re looking at structural deficits [in the state budget] the next four years,” Cassilly said. “With Kirwan funding, there’s not an appetite for anything in tax reduction.”

None of it will help small business owners in the county, legislators said.

Little was done in previous years and nothing in the most recent legislative session was done to help businesses in terms of corporate tax decreases, Del. Teresa Reilly said.

“Next year, there is no tax relief of significance during the entire term until the entire Kirwan is pretty well on its way. They will try to raise revenue everywhere they can just to fund Kirwan,” Reilly, a Republican, said. “They’re not looking at trying to help corporations save money.”

A member of the House Ways and Means Committee, Reilly said some local tax bills were passed this past session, but they were all enabling legislation for the county, which likely won’t be implemented.

“That puts a strain on counties because, looking at Kirwan, it’s probably an automatic in future years they will have to raise property taxes,” Reilly said.

Lawmakers suggested businesses try to help themselves as much as possible: advocate for themselves, tell their stories, make other lawmakers “aware of the reality of what business is,” Reilly said.

“We know small business is the backbone of the economy, yet down there in Annapolis, they’re in their own little bubble, and somehow we have to educate them on the impact of business,” she said.

Del. Steve Johnson, a Democrat, said it’s important for business owners to get involved early in the process and not wait until a bill is on the floor ready for a vote. By then, he said, it’s too late.

“Weigh-in when it’s at the beginning, at the sub-committee, when they’re amending it, massaging it, changing it, taking testimony,” Johnson said. “Call your delegates, your senators at the beginning so your concerns can be added while the bills are being worked on.”

The stories of how small business are affected by an increase in minimum wage, changes to health care and other items “need to be told,” he said.

“Not in theory, not in big numbers, but your business, the cumulative, the ‘here’s what’s happening,’” Cassilly said. “There is no doubt the government effort to design the economy is doomed to failure.”

Lawmakers are pushing out mandates such as green jobs and higher minimum wage.

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“That we in Annapolis are trying to design what is good business and design our economy is hogwash,” Cassilly said. “It takes you coming aback and explaining the real world impact.”

It may require a long day and it may be inconvenient, but in the end, “it’s the price of democracy,” he said.

Kirwan in schools

The Kirwan Commission legislation that resulted in record-level funding for education is also set to come with record-level expectations, Del. Andrew Cassilly, a Republican, said

“It comes with whole new levels of accountability, whole new levels of really looking at our current education system and saying ‘how do we refresh this?’” he said.

It will have an effect on the training of the next workforce, “the folks that will be coming out and working for you. How do we prepare them effectively?” Cassilly asked.

The details aren’t worked out and will be studied in the summer committee.

“We’re working on how to implement it, but there’s a whole lot of money coming toward the education system and I think we’re going to see some dramatic changes,” he said.

Stronger penalties

Del. Lauren Arikan, in her first session in the General Assembly, got several bills passed dealing with criminal penalties.

Grace’s Law 2.0 increases penalties in cases of bullying. Named for a Howard County teen who committed suicide after being bullied, the law makes the penalties stiffer for “the really atrocious crimes to children,” Arikan said.

Fourth-time drinking and driving offenders will also face stiffer penalties — up to five years in jail and a $5,000 fine, she said, while felons who repeatedly sexually abuse a victim can be charged with more offenses.

Penalties were also increased for people mandated to report crimes of child abuse or neglect — such as health care practitioners, police officers, educators and human service workers — who fail to do so, Arikan said. They could now face up to three years in jail and a fine up to $10,000.

“It’s a very scary thing that happens more than it should. We need to nip it in the bud as quickly as we can,” Arikan said.

A new speaker

Members of the House of Delegates will return to Annapolis for a special session Wednesday to elect a new speaker of the house following the death of Del. Michael Busch as the end of the session.

His death and the health of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller overshadowed the most recent session, Del. Mary Ann Lisanti said.

“Anybody who didn’t see or feel that was not attune to the process,” Lisanti, a Democrat, said. “The entire House, Senate were out of sync.”

Lisanti did not address her censure during the session by the House of Delegates for using a racial slur when referring to a Prince George’s County district. In addition to the censure, she was stripped of her committee assignments.

Del. Susan McComas, a Republican, said the Speaker of the House is a very powerful position — he or she is one of “three kings” of the Maryland government, in addition to the governor and the Senate president. The person in the position makes committee assignments and chairs, and establishes the rules.

“The speaker can put us in the parking lot,” McComas said.

Electing a new speaker will be a difficult but cleansing time, Lisanti said.

“Not only in the Democratic party but in the state,” Lisanti said. “It’s important Democrats and Republicans elect a speaker. He’s not a speaker for the Democratic house, he’s a speaker for the House of Delegates, which includes everybody.”

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