The Prince George's County Senate delegation approved a bill today granting the county government permanent new taxing powers.
Called the "omnibus" or "home rule" tax bill, it will give the county government authority to tax anything not either already taxed by the state or included in specifically prohibited categories.
The bill cannot be used to tax the use of fuel or energy, to apply separate property tax rates to various categories of real estate, to tax intangible personal property like debts or contracts, or to tax inheritances, insurance premiums and most items already covered by other sales taxes.
Because the proposed county budget for next year depended on this measure for some $5.2 million in revenue, County Council contingent came here today to insure that the bill would win Senate delegation approval. The bill has already passed the House and now awaits a full Senate vote, which is expected to be favorable.
"The delegation has once again helped Prince George's County citizens avoid a significant increase in property taxes," said Prince George's County Executive, Winfield M. Kelly, Jr. He estimated that he would have had to raise the property tax by 11 cents if the omnibus tax measure had not been approved.
Those senators voting in favor of the measure were State President Steny H. Hoyer, Meyer M. Emanuel Jr., Tommie Broadwater Jr., Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., and Sen. Arthur Dormant. Those against the measure were Edward T. Conroy, Peter A. Bozick and Thomas P. O'Reilly, all Democrats.
The measure was in jeopardy earlier this week because Emanuel had tacked on an amendment to the bill that would have prohibited use of the new taxing authority to impose a tenant tax. Emaneul won approval to withdraw this amendment today because he said he was afraid that the amendment would kill the bill.
"I did not want the omnibus bill to die but I did want assurances that it would not be used for a tenant tax," Emanuel said. However, since yesterday four Council members came down and assured me it would not be used and I also have a letter from the county executive with the same assurances."
The bill faced an uncertain fate if it had been amended and sent back to the House for approval because the House delegation is now badly split over the controversial measure. Kelly had promised the delegation earlier that this bill would be used to impose a 10 per cent tax on telephone usage. Last week he unveiled his proposed budget that called for a 15 per cent tax on telephone usage.
Kelly had also said that he faced a budget deficit of some $13 million and that with this severe deficit he would have to raise the property tax. In his budget proposal last week the tax remained at the same rate of $3.70 for each $100 of assessed value for residents.
In the final House vote, only 11 of the 24 county delegates voted in favor of the bill as it nevertheless won House approval.
Delegates and senators from the county delegation who opposed the bill said that they were "tired of these yearly doomsday predictions" of severe budget problems from Kelly. For the past three years Kelly has asked the county delegation to approve new taxing authority for the county to solve the county's problems.