Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said one of his aims during the legislative session that starts this week is to trim Maryland's estate tax where it applies to the inheritance of family farms.
Miller, a Calvert County Democrat, said that too often the heirs to family farms are forced to sell property for development because they can't afford the estate taxes. He said he'd like to get rid of the tax entirely when a parcel stays in farming and in the family but recapture the revenue if the inherited property if ever sold off for development.
Miller said he believes the cost in lost revenue would be relatively small. Legislative analysts estimated the cost of a similar proposal last year at $2.3 million, rising to $3.8 million in 2016.
"It's a small price to pay to keep farmers on the farms," Miller said.
The idea of limiting the estate tax was proposed last year by Frederick County Republican Del. Kathryn Afzali. Gov. Martin O'Malley expressed some interest in the idea, and his agriculture secretary endorsed it, but the measure failed in committee. It's not clear what the governor's stance will be this year, but Miller's support could add to its appeal.
The Democratic interest in what has traditionally been a GOP cause could be seen as a response to some Republican cries that the O'Malley administration is waging a "war on rural Maryland." Tying abolition to the land's continued use for farming could make the proposal appealing to environmentalists.