With three weeks left in the legislative session, the House speaker has turned up the heat on his plan to reduce Maryland income taxes.
Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. met yesterday with fellow Democrats, including the governor, to rally support for a 6 percent cut that would be phased in over the next five years.
Mr. Taylor said the plan is sketchy and details have not been worked out yet, but he predicted success. "I think when we walk out of here on April 10 we will have a plan in place to accomplish a reduction in Maryland's income tax burden," he said. The governor and Senate leaders oppose the proposal, though it would be politically difficult for them to reject such legislation should it pass the House of Delegates.
Since last fall's election, many Democratic politicians have become very sensitive to the public's demand for tax relief.
Republicans made gains in the General Assembly in November with a strong anti-tax message, and a promise to cut income taxes by 24 percent over four years almost catapulted Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey into the Governor's Mansion.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening and the Senate's Democratic leaders have said they would prefer to wait a year or more before cutting taxes. By that time, they said, they will know what kind of cuts in federal aid the Republican Congress has planned for Maryland.
"I salute the speaker and his fiscal leaders for their imagination, but I feel their expertise on this issue and their initiative will be just as valid next year as it will be in 1995," Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said yesterday. Mr. Miller, a Prince George's Democrat, said he would rather err on the side of caution this year, especially because the state does not have enough money to devote to education and public safety needs.
But he said the Senate likely would jump aboard the tax-cut bandwagon should the governor decide to endorse the proposal.
"If the governor comes out for it, then, obviously, we'd have to look at income tax cuts in a different light," Mr. Miller said. "Right now, we've tried to be fiscally conservative."
Mr. Glendening is still opposed to cutting income taxes this year, said Bonnie A. Kirkland, his top legislative aide. "There is the big unknown of the federal cuts, and he thinks it is fiscally imprudent to proceed now with a tax cut that could end up putting the state in a bind," she said.
Mr. Taylor said his plan would include "annual triggers" that would take into account reductions in federal aid and economic conditions. If the state were in a recession or facing massive federal cuts, for example, then the tax cuts would not go into effect, he said.
Mr. Miller, however, said the triggers might open the plan to criticism. "The public wants people to stand up and say what they believe. Once elected officials start putting all sorts of qualifiers into a tax cut proposal, it will be attacked as gimmickry," he said.
Mr. Taylor reviewed his ideas with Democratic delegates at a closed meeting yesterday. Several who attended said they were sworn to secrecy and refused to discuss it.