Because of incorrect information provided by Prince George's County officials, an article yesterday gave inaccurate figures for the amount of revenue that would be raised by a fuel tax increase. It is estimated that each 1 percent of such a tax would produce $2 million.
Prince George's County Executive Parris Glendening, throwing the burden of improving the county's financial health to the state legislature, asked today for authority to tax commercial and industrial use of energy and fuel.
In a four-page letter hand-delivered to the county's seven state senators and 23 delegates, Glendening recounted how he had tried over the last few months to coax a consensus from them on the need for additional taxing authority. Acknowledging that he has failed to get that consensus, he said he decided to ask them to support a tax increase anyway.
"It is . . . my firm conviction that the residents of Prince George's County expect, desire and are entitled to a higher quality of services than we are currently able to provide," Glendening wrote.
Several county lawmakers, all of whom are Democrats, immediately criticized Glendening, also a Democrat, for proceeding with the proposal. They said the county, having persuaded voters to repeal a strict cap on property tax revenues last fall, does not need more money and, with only three weeks left in the session, Glendening has waited too long to seek their cooperation. Although the proposal got backing from some legislators, several others criticized Glendening for forcing a "confrontation" with them over an issue they said is doomed to fail.
In his letter, Glendening said it is "quite clear" that federal officials will eliminate federal revenue sharing in the future, a move that would cost the county about $12 million, and "what is now a need for additional revenue to improve county services will then become a need for additional revenue to avoid massive reductions."
The proposed measure would enable the county to impose a sales or use tax of between 0.5 and 6 percent on electricity, natural gas, oil, coal and "any other fuel except motor vehicle fuels" used by commercial or industrial consumers. It is estimated that each 1 percent of such a tax would bring in $1 million in revenue.
"It's late; it's divisive . . . . Frankly I think it imperils everything else," said Del. Timothy Maloney, one of the county's fiscal specialists, who has been working to shore up support for a capital project Glendening also wants. "I think it imperils a good working relationship with the delegation to introduce, in the 11th hour, a bill everyone knows is not going to pass."
Said Sen. Frank Komenda, one of the county's two representatives on the Budget and Taxation Committee, "I have no knowledge of anyone's being interested in sponsoring this bill . . . . I just don't feel that the timing is appropriate, having just relaxed TRIM and following on the heels of a press conference where the executive says he's got financial stability. And I'm not convinced it's genuinely needed."
Other officials said they would consider the proposal because they agree the county needs more money, especially for education, although they too doubted their ability to shepherd such a bill through the legislature so late in the session.
"Do I think Prince George's County needs this? Yes. Do I think it's an item that needs to be considered? Yes. Is it timely within the legislative process? No," said Del. Charles Ryan, who, as delegation chairman, has undertaken the sensitive task of bringing the measure before the delegation on Friday.
Some legislators said privately they expect the bill to be approved by the delegation, although they do not know whether it can receive enough votes on the floor to permit its introduction.
At this point in the session a measure needs 95 votes in the House to be introduced. Although the procedure is easier in the Senate, antipathy to Glendening is perceived to be so strong there that few officials expect any of the county's representatives there to take on the responsibility of sponsoring the measure.