Democratic gubernatorial candidate Theodore G. Venetoulis promised yesterday to give Marylanders a $25 to $30 income tax credit this year if he is elected.
He said he would use the state's $60 million budget surplus to pay for the income tax credits, which are direct reductions in taxes, not cuts in taxable income. This promise was one of a number of proposals Venetoulis made yesterday in releasing an election-year package of measures aimed at reducing government spending and the tax burden of Marylanders.
This tax credit promise, however, was immediately ridiculed by his three opponents for the Democratic nomination for governor as, among other things a, "cheap political stunt."
Venetoulis, who is the Baltimore County Executive said the surplus in this year's state budget was part of a "pattern caused by overtaxation. Last year the surplus amounted to $128 million and Acting Gov. Lee said it was a one-time bonanza," he said. "This year's $60 million surplus is clearly not a one-time windfall . . . It should be returned directly to the taxpayer."
Acting Maryland Gov. Blair Lee III said Venetoulis' credit proposal almost disqualified Venetoulis from being a candidate, and was "clearly an election-year gimmick."
"The problem with Ted, other than his rhetoric, is his experience with county has a property tax where you county budgets," Lee said. "The can figure to the last nickel and dime what you have and send out the bills one month later. The state system is considerably more complicated."
Harry R. Hughes, another candidate in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, also condemned the Venetoulis' credit proposal but agreed that the budget surplus must somehow be used to "relieve the tax burden on the citizens."
"Venetoulis is prepared and will say anything to get a vote or an endorsement," Hughes said. "At this point no one can assess how best to use that surplus."
The strongest criticism came from another opponent, Walter S. Orlinsky, Baltimore City Council president. "I think Venetoulis is the single most irresponsible person I've met in campaigning in many, many years. He's talking about giving away money and it's so obviously a cheap political gutter stunt, he ought to be ashamed of himself," said Orlinsky.
The clamor surrounding the Venetoulis tax proposal underlined how all the candidates assess the mood of this year's voters. "There's is only one thing on their minds and it's taxes," said Lee.
Venetoulis, Orlinsky and Hughes have all prepared elaborate proposals for altering Maryland's tax structure and reducing government spending and they are strikingly similar. The three candidates make a more graduate income tax the centerpiece of their overhaul plans. Presently, Maryland has only two income tax rates: one for those who earn less than $5,000 each year, the other for those who earn more than $5,000.
If the state income tax schedule were more sophisticated and shifted the burden from the lower-to the upper-income earners, they argue, there would be less reliance on the property tax, which they agree has become regressive.
Venetoulis would also change the graduated corporate taxes to "reward industries relocating in depressed and high assessment urban areas and relieve the burden on small businesses." He promised, as well, to repeal the new sales tax on carry-out food over a dollar.
Hughes would lower the property taxes by restricting how the funds could be used. Only police and fire protection, trash collection and the construction of roads would be funded by the property tax. Hughes would revise each of the taxes the state collects to take into amount a citizen's ability to pay.
Orlinsky sees property taxes being eliminated in the near future, if only because of "the twin pressures of the aggravation for people living on fixed incomes and the incredible inflation of land values." He also promises that in shifting from the property tax to the income tax, he would find substitute funds for local governments that rely heavily on property taxes.