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BY COLUMNISTS

| Joe Charlebois | Guest Columnist | Harry M. Covert | Norman M. Covert | Ken Kellar | Patricia A. Kelly | Edward Lulie III | Tom McLaughlin | Patricia Price | Cindy A. Rose | Richard B. Weldon Jr. |

DOCUMENTS


The Tentacle


March 23, 2003

General Assembly Journal - Part 14

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

March 20, 2003 Budget and Taxes

House Bill 753 defined the House of Delegates yesterday (Wednesday March 19). All of the Republicans and three Democrats (Kevin Kelly, David Rudolph, and John Wood) voted against the largest tax increase in many years. The bill, composed in the Ways and Means Committee, increases taxes and filing fees on businesses.

The Democrats have sold this bill as the "loophole closure" bill, and they have explained that large businesses have been taking advantage of lax business tax law for many years.

The Republicans, on the other hand, argue that the discussion on tax increases should include a discussion on the Governorís Video Lottery Terminal (VLT) proposal. I wrote last time about the property tax increase, and I truly believe that to be a done deal. Your annual property tax bill WILL increase, and you can take that to the bank!

How did I vote? I voted against HB 753. I cannot vote to support a MASSIVE tax increase when the House majority leadership is using political pressure and backroom maneuvers to prevent us from even discussing the VLT bill. Also, what some call corporate loophole closures ends up being something very different.

One of the highlights (and major revenue generators) of this bill is an HMO premium tax. This bill will add a 2% premium tax on HMO policies.

The same HMO policies that most small employers purchase to provide reasonably priced health insurance for their workers will now have a tax added to them. The same HMO policies that most employers have seen premium increases of between 18-28% will now have a tax added to them. It wasnít too many years ago that the General Assembly decided, after much discussion and public input, to avoid placing a premium tax on these very same policies.

There are some legitimate loopholes that deserve examination. I would have considered voting for a bill that included fair, reasonable increases in the business filing fee and other beneficial, but unfair, tax advantages. I will not vote for huge tax increases that have the ultimate effect of making businesses less inclined to hire, train, and insure my fellow Marylanders.

So where will this end? No one can predict the ultimate outcome, but the current situation is terribly bleak.

The House revenue bill does not include slots, but includes a major tax increase package. The Senate bill includes slots revenue with a much smaller set of tax increases. It will be left to a Conference Committee to resolve the differences.

The Speaker and the President of the Senate staff these conference committees. Usually, the committees have six members, three from each body. Imagine that burden of responsibility: having the task to craft some kind of compromise from the midst of this turmoil.

Often these conference committees end up with compromises that upset almost everyone, which in the end might be the sign of decent legislation.

Rising Above It

Last week, I gleefully celebrated the unfortunate circumstance of Steve Miller, a former Frederick News Post reporter. I used his poor judgment and inappropriate behavior (at an Annapolis party) as a way of minimizing the negative aspects of the stories he wrote about former Frederick Mayor Jim Grimes.

Fortunately, a friend sent me an email asking me to examine how different what I was doing was from what I was complaining about regarding Mr. Miller. The fact is there was little difference. I still donít like what Steve wrote, and I completely disagree with the inference and direction of his coverage of former Mayor Grimes. That said, it isnít up to me to pass judgment on someone elseís actions. I wrote that he was arrested, and that was not true.

A Reality Check March 19-20, 2003

Last night, I sat in the Sheraton in Annapolis watching my President explain that action against the Hussein regime had begun.

The view through the eerie green night-vision lens brings back frightening memories. Watching these scenes gives us all a sickening feeling in the pit of our stomach. Only the most jaded of us could ignore the fact that while we hope that our sophisticated weapons find their targets, some will strike the innocent. Families, children, and the elderly will likely suffer as the unintended recipients of the iron fist extended to end the rule of the worldís worst despot.

This morning, it all came home to me sitting in the Chamber of the House of Delegates. The Speaker ordered the galleries emptied, the news cameras turned off, and the Chamber doors sealed. Our State Police Executive Protection Unit gave us a detailed briefing on how we will be moved through the State House Complex in the event of a terrorist act.

It hadnít dawned on me that this building, the oldest State Capital still in active use, might make a meaningful target for an act of terror. As thankful as I am that others have considered our personal safety, I worry about the millions of Marylanders who havenít at least given some thought to their own safety and security. I hope all of you who read this have or will take the time to think about where youíll go and what youíll do if something unexpected happens.



Yellow Cab
The Morning News Express with Bob Miller
The Covert Letter

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