Key state lawmakers sparred yesterday over what kind of tax relief is needed in Maryland, with Republicans backing Ellen R. Sauerbrey's plan to help the elderly and Democrats promising to look for affordable cuts that would benefit all taxpayers.
Sauerbrey, the GOP gubernatorial front-runner, set off the debate in Annapolis with her recent proposal of a $200 million income tax break for retirees.
Democratic leaders, including House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, criticized Sauerbrey yesterday for failing to explain how she would make up the lost revenue. They suggested that her tax cut proposal would be unfair to the rest of Marylanders, but they stopped short of attacking it outright.
"We have people running for office in this state who are talking about tax cuts with no way of paying for it," said Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, a Baltimore Democrat and budget committee chairwoman.
She added she was equally "worried about twentysomethings with kids" moving to Pennsylvania because of Maryland's high taxes.
Two hours later, top Republican legislators, including House Minority Leader Robert H. Kittleman and Senate Minority Leader F. Vernon Boozer, rallied behind Sauerbrey's plan. With Sauerbrey at their side, the Republicans vowed to make the plan a priority in next year's legislative session.
"I think there's no question it could be afforded," said John W. Derr, a Frederick County Republican and minority whip. "We're losing our retirees to Florida, to South Carolina, even to Pennsylvania."
Maryland excludes from taxes the first $15,000 of retirees' income from Social Security and pensions. Sauerbrey proposed that as much as $33,000 of every individual's retirement earnings -- $66,000 for a couple -- be exempted after age 65. Her plan also would broaden the types of income that would be free of taxes.
The state has moved to cut income taxes by 10 percent for all payers. Also, some question whether the exodus of seniors has a significant impact. Maryland's 65-and-older population is growing at a faster rate than the state's overall population.
"We're not necessarily losing someone who was born and grew up in Maryland but left because it was cheaper," said Ronald N. Young, deputy director of the Maryland Office of Planning. "We have a lot of people who come here, work their careers and retire wherever their home was, or they go where the sun is."
Pub Date: 8/27/98