Two legislative committees gave their blessings today to bills that would establish a temporary amnesty program for delinquent taxpayers, but they differed sharply over how the money raised from the experimental program should be spent.
The more controversial of the two measures, approved by the House Ways and Means Committee, would use receipts from a 60-day grace period later this year to cushion the effect of federal revenue-sharing budget cuts by giving 60 percent of the proceeds to local jurisdictions.
The committee had rejected that part of the bill Thursday at the urging of Gov. Harry Hughes but reconsidered it today after committee Chairman Tyras Athey (D-Anne Arundel) switched his position on the issue.
But the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee's version of the measure omits any local-state split, focusing instead on a stiff enforcement provision that calls for a $5,000 fine or five years in prison for violators who do not file their taxes during the amnesty period.
"Boy, we're really ready for a showdown at the end of this session," Senate budget chairman Laurence Levitan (D-Montgomery) predicted when told of the House committee's action.
Levitan agrees with Hughes that the local jurisdictions already get their share of state tax revenue from the piggyback tax that allows counties to charge taxpayers up to 50 percent above and beyond the state income tax for their own coffers.
Del. Mary Boergers (D-Montgomery) said that her plan is better than the Senate's version because it has the potential for aiding needy jurisdictions such as Baltimore, while preventing wealthier counties such as her own from staging revenue raids.
"This formula distribution is good for Montgomery County," she said. "It's the best you can get."
State officials are hesitant to predict how much will be recovered under the amnesty program, which would begin later this year.
The House Ways and Means Committee also approved today a $335 million education aid measure sponsored by House Speaker Benjamin Cardin (D-Baltimore) that extends education aid to Baltimore City and the counties until 1992, under a formula established by the legislature two years ago. The allocation would be added to the five-year, $600 million school aid plan adopted in 1984 and would extend its life by three years.
Hughes originally proposed an extra $14 million in state aid for local schools in the fiscal 1987 budget, which begins July 1, but Cardin's bill goes further by locking additional increases into the law until 1992.
The measure is expected to face a hostile reception in the Senate, however, where Senate President Melvin Steinberg (D-Baltimore County) has said that it unfairly commits future elected officials to a huge expenditure. Members of the Senate budget panel that must review the measure also have voiced opposition.
Montgomery County lawmakers on the House Committee engaged in a battle with their Baltimore City colleagues today in an unsuccessful effort to defeat the bill.
They contended that the measure is unfair to their county, which bears a disproportionate share of the state's tax burden but receives little under the spending plan. In the end, however, three of the four Montgomery lawmakers on the 24-member committee cast the only votes against the plan. The fourth Montgomery representative on Ways and Means, Lucille Maurer, not only supported the bill, but assisted in drafting amendments to it.