Aides to Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes have told key Prince George's county legislators that they will face stiff opposition from the governor in their effort to win a one-cent increase in the local sales tax, which county officials hoped would help bail them out of a $30 million budget shortfall.
Leaders of the delegation, meeting in their first formal session yesterday with other members of the full 23-person delegation, said, however, that Hughes might be willing to allow the county to increase its its surcharge on the state income tax, now 50 percent, to 55 or 60 percent.
The governor's aides told the delegation leadership that Hughes has no opinion on a mixed bag of other revenue-raising measures that county officials had suggested in their package of proposed legislation. None of these other measures would generate as much money as would a local sales tax increase.
State Del. Francis J. Santangelo Jr., who attended a meeting this week between two of Hughes' representatives and the county's legislative leaders, told the group, "I think I can tell you flat out that the sales tax is a no-no. I don't think a member of this delegation believes that the governor is going to abrogate his turf."
Santangelo and other leaders of the Prince George's delegation met this week with Ejner Johnson, Hughes' chief of staff, and John F.X. O'Brien, Hughes' legislative liaison, to discuss the future of the revenue measures. Santangelo announced that some members of the delegation will be meeting with Hughes on Jan. 26.
Santangelo, who chairs the committee assigned to review the revenue bills, later told reporters that he hopes county leaders will withdraw the handful of sales tax bills from consideration even before they are scheduled for public hearing on Feb. 8. "I don't see any viable possibility for the sales tax to come out of this committee or this delegation," he said.
In addition to the governor's lack of enthusiasm, Santangelo said, some members of the delegation also believe that the voters' rejection of efforts to modify the TRIM property tax cap this fall signals public opposition to any tax increase. Prince George's County executive Parris Glendening strongly favors the sales tax increase and likely would oppose any effort to withdraw the proposed legislation before any public hearing, a spokesman said.
At yesterday's session, the delegation also gave narrow approval to a bill, introduced every year by Del. Joan Pitkin and others, that would force trucks to cover loose loads such as gravel when traveling through Prince George's and Montgomery counties.