The state's eye view of county taxes, spending
The refrain leading up to the start of the Maryland General Assembly's 428th session yesterday was consistent: "We're all in this together."
But, as The Sun reported this morning, a new dynamic quickly emerged. Gov. Martin O'Malley says it'll be up to lawmakers to pursue tax increases as a partial solution to the $1.6 billion deficit. And now some leading legislators say they will look to taxes only if county officials push for them.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller also have started making the case that perhaps Maryland's 23 counties and Baltimore City could be taxing more locally or further snipping their budgets. They point to an appendix in a November fiscal briefing (page 41) as evidence. Here's what it says:
* Five counties — Cecil, Harford, Montgomery, Queen Anne’s and Somerset — reduced property tax this year, though only slightly. Anne Arundel and Kent counties raised their rates. (Last year, Miller said, seven counties reduced property tax.)
* Baltimore City raised its local income tax this year as much as it possibly could under state law, to 3.2 percent. Howard, Montgomery and Prince George’s also charge the maximum rate. Many counties bill far less. For example, Worcester taxes at just 1.25 percent, the lowest in the state.
* On the expense side, the same report shows that several counties and Baltimore had given raises to county employees. Still more gave raises to teachers (those salaries are set by local school boards).
* Workers in nine counties this year have been forced to take unpaid days off of work, and six of those same counties have also laid off employees.