Gov. Harry Hughes said today he will support legislation to allow banks in the state to charge credit-card membership fees. Hughes said he had never had "any real problem" with the idea, which he said is sound because it would allow banks to charge lower interest rates to card holders.
Hughes said he is not planning to draft specific legislation but "would have it ready" if sponsoring legislators ask for help in drafting amendments.
Maryland banks have insisted for two years that they need membership fees to be competitive with credit-card operations based in Delaware, where such fees are permitted. Several Maryland banks have moved their credit-card operations to Delaware, where they can offer an interest rate lower than those that remain Maryland-based. Hughes said he did not want that to happen any longer.
Hughes, holding his first press conference in three weeks, was asked if his position on the fees was not inconsistent with his opposition last year to a 3 percent processing fee for oil companies. The governor, who often offers rambling, convoluted answers when answering the press, had a quick, sharp response:
"Many, many years ago when I was in the legislature I said to one of my colleagues on the Senate floor, 'You know, what you just said is certainly not consistent with what you said this afternoon in committee,' And he said, 'Well, senator, you know those of us in public office always reserve the right to be inconsistent.' So, if I was somewhat inconsistent, then I will have to suffer the burden of that."
Hughes also said he would not support tax initiatives sought by Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening and Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer.
With great fanfare, Glendening and Schaefer introduced a package two weeks ago that would allow them to increase their piggyback tax -- the local add-on of the state income tax -- from 50 percent to 60 percent and create a higher tax bracket for those earning more than $15,000.
Hughes said today he would not support those requests but added he had no problem with other proposals -- for a telephone tax or for a business personal property tax on business -- designed to bail out Prince George's from its $31 million budget deficit.
Reaction to Hughes' rejection of the Glendening-Schaefer package was one of acceptance among legislators, who had expected as much all along. "That kills it," said Del. Timothy F. Maloney (D-Prince George's).