Md. legislative leaders push estate tax relief, other plans to bolster economic development

Democratic leaders of the Maryland General Assembly outlined plans Friday to reduce the estate tax and to offer targeted tax credits to bolster businesses around universities as part of a broader agenda to foster economic development in the state.

The package was put forward jointly by House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), who rarely collaborate directly on such initiatives, all but ensuring passage during the 90-day session.

The two long-serving leaders also announced the formation of a new commission to review the state’s business climate that will be led by Norman Augustine, the retired chairman of Lockheed Martin.

“As we come out of the worst economic recession since the Great Depression, we need to rebuild our private sector confidence to invest and expand in Maryland’s economy,” Busch said at a news conference where he and Miller were flanked by other Democratic lawmakers and university and business leaders.

Republicans lawmakers, who have long accused the state’s Democratic leadership of driving business out of the state with tax increases and other unfriendly measures, said they welcomed the new focus, whatever the motivation.

“I think it’s great to get these ideas on the table,” said Senate Minority Leader David R. Brinkley (R-Frederick). “I’m glad to see legislative leaders on board with what Republicans and conservative Democrats have been pushing for years.”

None of the bills touted Friday has been formally introduced, and the details on several remained unclear.

The Democratic leaders said they would provide relief in estate taxes by gradually raising the state’s current $1 million exemption to match that of the federal government’s, which was $5.25 million last year. The change would be phased in over four years.

Similar legislation sponsored by Brinkley last year was estimated to cost the state about $80 million a year in lost tax revenue once fully phased in. But proponents argue that the economic benefits of lowering the tax burden would offset the revenue loss.

Miller said Maryland currently has a reputation as a place where you want to “leave the state before you die.”

Other legislation that will be introduced would seek to spur economic development in areas around state, federal and higher education institutions by offering enhanced property and income tax credits, the lawmakers said.

Another measure would create a “seed fund” to spur investments in early-stage cybercompanies, a promising sector in Maryland.

And yet another initiative would seek to use state and private-sector funds to create endowed chairs in Maryland universities in the areas of science and technology research.

The package also includes some more modest provisions, including legislation that would direct the state comptroller to include a graphic with each Maryland tax return showing how state dollars are spent.

John Wagner has covered Maryland government and politics for The Post since 2004.
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