Another effort began in the Maryland General Assembly yesterday to strip the Burning Tree Club in Montgomery County of a $186,000-a-year tax break because it does not admit women.
Members of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee heard arguments from members of many clubs that oppose a bill that would take away the break, as well as from organizations such as the Maryland Commission for Women that complained that women taxpayers should not have to subsidize clubs that don't admit women.
Many clubs receive substantial tax breaks under a state program designed to encourage preservation of open land, but Burning Tree is the only one of these that refuses to admit women.
The exclusive golf club in Potomac has survived, often by a narrow margin, many attempts to take away the tax break.
In December, the state's highest court struck down an amendment to a 1972 antidiscrimination law that preserved Burning Tree's tax break. But the club still came out on top: The court said the amendment couldn't be separated from parts of the law that forbade discrimination in the first place, and struck down the whole statute.
This year's bill would reenact the law without the exception granted to Burning Tree. "Burning Tree has a simple choice," said Sen. Stewart Bainum Jr. (D-Montgomery), the bill's sponsor. "Either they start paying taxes . . . or they have to open up their membership." Committee Chairman Sen. Laurence Levitan (D-Montgomery), a sponsor of the bill, said he expects that it will pass the Senate but have a rough time in the House.
Among those testifying in favor of the bill, which is supported by Gov. Harry Hughes, were the Maryland Commission for Women, the National Organization for Women and Common Cause of Maryland.
Representatives of clubs and club organizations argued that club members should have the right to associate with whom they choose. No Burning Tree members testified, but committee members were assured that the club opposes the bill.