A Prince George's County proposal to increase the county's tax on business property was returned to a House committee today, as legislators attempted to make it more palatable to County Executive Parris N. Glendening while retaining its fragile coalition of reluctant supporters.
The bill, a key $10 million element in Glendening's efforts to ease the county's $32 million revenue gap, passed the House Ways and Means Committee Wednesday, but only after being amended to appease opponents. "We were trying to work out a political way to pass the bill," said the amendments' sponsor, Del. Dennis C. McCoy (D-Baltimore).
Glendening objected to one amendment in particular, which would have allowed utility firms to automatically pass on the cost of the new tax in the form of higher rates for Prince George's residents.
Some delegates said that amendment, if allowed to stand, would have been a political embarrassment for Glendening, since Prince George's residents would begin receiving utility bills with a "county surcharge" added to the rate. "He's afraid somebody's going to put that on the front of a campaign brochure," said Del. Thomas Mooney (D-Prince George's).
County delegates and lobbyists here were seeking ways to tone down that provision, and today, committee chairman Tyras S. Athey (D-Anne Arundel) sent the bill to a subcommittee. By late afternoon, the committee members and the county's lobbyist, sitting around a meeting-room table, reached a compromise that they hoped would please both Glendening and the bill's committee opponents.
"I still don't think they'll like it in Upper Marlboro," said Del. Gerard F. Devlin (D-Prince George's), who chaired that subcommittee. "But the county's just going to have to adjust to that."
The new version of the business tax proposal says that utility firms must first win the approval of the state's Public Service Commission before adding the new tax to county residents' utility bills. County lobbyist Royal Hart said he did not expect the commission to approve any new rate increases, since most utility firms are already posting large profits and could easily absorb the new tax.
Prince George's officials also objected to another McCoy amendment, which would eliminate the tax after one year, or, in legislative parlance, "sunset" it. "Putting in this self-destruct mechanism is a way of getting this tax by those of us who find it repugnant," McCoy said.