After a full afternoon of testimony on the excrutiating property tax assessment problem, Sen. Meyer M. Emanuel, Jr. (D-Prince George's) asked a representative of Maryland's counties if the counties might not want to levy their own income tax and thereby avoid raising property taxes.
When no answer came, Emanuel said, fine, it was just food for thought. No bill like that had yet joined the 70 other measures designed to alter the taxing procedure that provides local Maryland governments with most of their income.
At this, the Senate's Budget and Taxation committee hearing on property tax assessment legislation - the first in the General Assembly this session - the only clear consensus was that something must be changed immediately.
"If the legislature doesn't respond right now with relief from the property tax, you're going to be looking at 45 new senators after the next election," said Sen. Jerome F. Connell, Sr. (D-Anne Arundel), closing off a speech in support of his own proposed measures.
Angry, rebellious taxpayers were cited throughout the hearing, although few actually showed up. Primarily officials like school board members, union leaders, county and city officials lined the walls and filled the seats in the hearing room. They said that they were the ones who had to live with the citizens whose taxes have risen sharply simply because assessments of property value on which taxes are based have gone up 50 per cent over the past three years.
Sen. Harry J. McGuirk (D-Baltimore City) expressed an increasingly popular notion to eliminate property taxes: "After this hearing today I hope we'll be convinced that we must phase out property taxes . . . in favor of the graduated income tax."
Most of the bills discussed today are ones that would put a freeze on a assessments or ceilings on assessments and thereby are considered unconstitutional by Attorney General Francis B. Burch.But in this scramble for a popular solution, delegates choose to rail the Attorney General's recent decision on assessment as well as the county officials who they claim are profiting from the predicament.
"The culprit is really local government," insisted Sen. Alfred J. Lipin (D-Anne Arundel), who joined other senators in condemning county officials for living off rising property tax assessments instead of raising the property tax rate.
The Attorney General's decision, which would rule out most of the bills now before the General Assembly was ignored, for the most part. "I bothers me not at all," said Sen. Frederick C. Malkus, Jr. (D-Dorchester)."The Attorney General has been wrong in the past and he can be wrong again."
The schemes are aimed at somehow restricting the yearly rise in property assessments, especially in inflationary periods.
". . . Relief must not be of the quick-fix variety, with a melange of hastily thrown-together measures that will only provide a cosmetic improvement over very deep problems in the body politic," warned Betty Culotta, who spoke on behalf of the teacher's union in Montgomery County.