Delegation backs county on tobacco tax revenue


Anne Arundel's House delegation has voted to support a bill that would relieve the county of any obligation to pay Annapolis more than $9 million in tobacco tax revenue.

The 9-3 vote virtually assures the bill's passage through the Commerce and Government Matters Committee and the full House. The Senate last week approved the bill, which was sponsored by Sen. John A. Cade, a Severna Park Republican.

The three delegates representing Annapolis -- Phillip D. Bissett, Michael E. Busch and Virginia P. Clagett -- voted against the bill.

Mr. Bissett said he opposed the bill because a lawsuit over payment of the money is still being heard in court. "Let the legal challenge run its course," he said.

The delegation vote Friday morning came as a surprise to Annapolis officials. City offices were closed Friday for Maryland Day.

"I'm disappointed the delegation brought it up for an unscheduled vote on a day when city offices were closed," said Annapolis City Attorney Paul G. Goetzke.

Mr. Bissett said the delegation acted as soon as the bill came from the Senate and had to vote quickly so the committee could act.

"Paul was well aware of the situation, and he never contacted me," Mr. Bissett said. "It takes effort on both sides."

Diane Hutchins, the county's legislative liaison, said Friday's delegation vote brings the dispute one step closer to being resolved.

"It's extremely important to us because this is $9 million that the county does not believe it owes the city, nor does the county have it to give," she said.

Mr. Cade introduced the bill at the county's request to negate a lawsuit filed by the city of Annapolis, which claims tobacco tax payments were wrongfully withheld by the county over a 22-year period, from 1970 to 1992.

The county gave Annapolis one-seventh of the tax on tobacco it received from the state until the advent of charter government in 1965, when the first County Council passed legislation eliminating the sharing of tax revenue. Payments were stopped three years later.

Annapolis, backed by an attorney general's opinion, is claiming in its lawsuit that the county did not have the authority to repeal the state law requiring it to share the tax with the city. It is asking for $9.2 million in back payments with interest.

"I don't agree that it was the intention of everyone in 1965 that these revenues would have been cut off from the city," Mr. Goetzke said. "That might have been the intention of a handful of people who voted on the matter. But the attorney general has stated that the effort to cut off these monies was unauthorized."

The county has filed a motion to dismiss the suit and is awaiting a decision from Circuit Court Judge Bruce C. Williams. But Deputy County Attorney David Plymyer said the legislation should settle the matter.

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