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Annapolis Dispatches

Cuts Worry Legislators

Potomac’s representatives in the Maryland General Assembly have some problems with Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s (R) proposed budget.

“I think raiding the transportation trust fund is not a positive goal,” said Del. Brian Feldman (D-15). The budget proposed taking $150 million from the trust fund this year and the same amount next year to make up for budget shortfalls.

Any money taken from the trust fund must be repaid. “He proposes using bonds to pay it back,” Feldman said. However, the bonds will also have to be repaid and, according to Feldman, that will mean that many fewer bonds which could be issued for other things.

Sen. Rob Garagiola (D-15) doesn’t want to see money taken from the state’s transportation fund, either. “It’s the number one issue I heard about. This is not only an economic issue for our county — it’s a quality of life issue,” Garagiola said. He opposes the governor’s plan to take $150 million during this fiscal year and another $150 million next year from the fund. “I’m concerned we’re depleting the resources there,” Garagiola said.

Rich Parsons, president of the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, agrees. “Funding cannot come at the expense of future economic growth.”

The other problems Feldman cites are cuts in education and environmental enforcement.

“The cuts will likely result in a tuition increase for the University of Maryland,” Feldman said.

Garagiola is also concerned about a proposed $43 million decrease in higher education funding.

“When we want to make our state cutting-edge, we need to continue our funding to higher education,” Garagiola said.

The senator believes that by continuing to fund Maryland universities while other states are cutting their education budgets, Maryland can come out ahead. “This is a time when we can move that much farther ahead,” Garagiola said.

Not everything in the budget is negative. Garagiola did find at least one bright spot. “There’s been a little more funding for health care — that’s positive,” Garagiola said.

This budget “at least attempts to address mental health in a serious manner,” Feldman said.

Bronrott Proposes 'Sin Tax' Hike

Del. William Bronrott (D-16) has introduced legislation which would increase the tax on beer, wine and liquor. Delegate Salima S. Marriott (D-40 Baltimore City) will co-sponsor the bill.

The proposed measure would equalize the taxes on beer, wine and distilled spirits at 6 cents per unit. The tax increase would raise the tax by 4.24 cents per 1.5 oz. shot, 4.13 cents per 6 oz. glass of wine, and 5.16 cents per 12 oz. beer. He projects the proposal will raise $94 million. “I think the need is enormous. Our budget is bleeding red and this long-overdue liquor tax increase will help stop the hemorrhaging,” Bronrott said.

According to Bronrott, most of his colleagues in the assembly were shocked to learn that the tax on distilled spirits has not been changed since 1955, and the tax on beer and wine has been unchanged since 1972.

“They are almost uniformly saying, ‘Hey it's time,’” Bronrott said.