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Politics

Maryland House Democrats offer tax cuts to help families afford items, such as diapers, many can’t do without

The top Democrats in Maryland’s House of Delegates unveiled a package of tax cuts Friday to help offset the rising costs of everyday child care and medical items such as diapers, child car seats and thermometers.

House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones framed the cuts — which will cost the state $60 million a year — as a way to help working-class families that have been hit by rising costs or squeezed during the pandemic.

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“Struggling Marylanders need a break,” Jones, a Baltimore County Democrat, said Friday at an Annapolis news conference announcing the relief package.

She has promised since before the legislative session began that new programs, including any potential tax cuts, would provide relief to low-income and working families.

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“As the price of basic goods continues to rise, it’s getting harder and harder for working families’ budgets to keep up,” Jones said.

The proposals would exempt the sale of diapers, baby bottles, infant car seats, certain thermometers, blood pressure monitors and other items from the state sales and use tax, effectively cutting the cost of those items by 6%. Those products would join others already exempt from the state tax, such as baby oil, baby powder and disposable medical supplies.

Another bill in the package, sponsored by House Democratic Majority Leader Eric Luedtke, would create a state match to mirror the federal Work Opportunity Tax Credit, a tax break for companies that hire people who might otherwise face challenges finding work, including the disabled, military veterans, the long-term unemployed, those with criminal records or residents of low-income neighborhoods.

The proposed sales and use tax cuts would be permanent, but the employer tax credit would expire at the end of 2028 unless renewed by lawmakers.

Jones was joined by about a dozen fellow Democratic delegates for Friday’s announcement, including House Ways and Means Chair Vanessa Atterbeary, a Howard County Democrat whose committee oversees taxes. The package’s backing from the top Democrats in the House puts considerable weight behind the proposal.

“Parents should not have to decide between buying diapers or new toothbrushes for the family,” Jones said. “People shouldn’t have to worry if they can afford next month’s diabetes test strips.”

The pandemic has increased the need — and in some cases the cost — of such products as thermometers and other medical equipment used in homes.

Some pieces of the legislation predate the pandemic.

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“A lot of it also is about long term making sure Maryland families can afford the necessities of daily life,” said Luedtke, of Montgomery County, in an interview. “The proposal for the diaper exemption, for example, has been on the table and discussed for several years. In Maryland, bizarrely, adult diapers are tax-free but infant diapers are not. Some of these are overdue changes.”

A spokesman for Senate President Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore City Democrat, did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.

Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, has proposed his own separate raft of tax cuts aimed largely at retirees, businesses and low-income workers. Republican state lawmakers, who hold relatively little sway in the General Assembly where Democrats have veto-proof majorities in both chambers, have backed Hogan’s tax cut suggestions enthusiastically.

“It says a lot about how much we’ve changed the culture in Annapolis that Democrats are feeling the heat and proposing some tax relief of their own,” Hogan said in a statement Friday in response to the House Democrats’ proposal. “While this doesn’t come close to the $4.6 billion in tax relief we’ve proposed for families, small businesses and retirees, we appreciate this effort and look forward to further bipartisan discussions.”

Last year, Hogan and Democratic leaders struck a deal on a pandemic relief package that included a $1 billion combination of direct payments, tax refunds, tax breaks and state aid to businesses.

Politicians have been eyeing how to spend a multibillion-dollar surplus, swollen by a huge influx in federal funding from congressional coronavirus relief packages and President Joe Biden’s infrastructure package. The state finished its most recent budget year, which ended last June 30, with an extra $2.5 billion. And projections show the state will continue to have billions extra for the next several budget years.

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Lawmakers also are set to face voters again this year. Every member of the General Assembly is up for election and all three statewide offices — governor, attorney general and comptroller — are on the ballot as well. Neither Hogan, who is term-limited, nor retiring state Attorney General Brian Frosh are running for reelection. The current state comptroller, Peter Franchot, is running for governor.


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