During an interview on the Mark Steiner show on WEAA-FM, Senate President Mike Miller and House Speaker Mike Busch highlighted a number of issues that will be discussed during the 90 day General Assembly Session. Comments on issues of importance to counties are summarized below.
Possibility of Increase in the Gas Tax
President Miller stated that an influx of money in the Transportation Trust Fund is needed. It is an economic development, quality of life, and jobs issue.
Speaker Busch commented that the Governor needs to reach out to those counties that have supported a gas tax to garner support from their delegations. There needs to be a ground swell of support to get this through.
Education Funding and Maintenance of Effort (MoE)
Speaker Busch stated that part of the structural deficit is due to an increase in education funding and he thinks the State will get to the Thorton level in Governor’s budget. With respect to MoE, he commented that MoE is very important. We ask counties to meet a MoE (maintain a level of funding), but we now have counties in a situation where they can not meet MoE. We need to ensure continued effort from local governments to meet the investments that State has made.
When asked how counties could be forced to meet MoE when some have tax caps in place, Speaker Busch responded that counties receive more money based on the wealth of the county. There is no excuse for counties under this system not to make that contribution. They have tax capacity, but choose not to use it.
President Miller suggested packaging together MOE , school construction, and a change in the pension plan so counties see the huge benefit.
Speaker Busch stated that the question is whether or not there should be some shared liability. That has been what the Senate President has been pushing. He continued by saying that if a shift happens, counties need to have a resource to pay for it. When Social Security was transferred to the counties, they were given the ability to increase the piggy back tax. There needs to be some kind of relationship worked out so it is done equitably.
President Miller commented that a pension shift should require MOE to be met. They are going to try to find a way to benefit all. Speaker Busch followed up with…their income tax comes from the state, the state can withhold the piggy back tax if it’s not met.
President Miller stated that he anticipates changes to the plan. He commented further that this is not a war on rural Maryland, but an effort to protect sensitive areas in the State. He said that they need to work with the counties to make sure development plans are responsible.
Speaker Busch commented that the plan is a starting point and that there will be some fine tuning in the House Environmental Matters Committee.