Republican J. Glenn Beall Jr. pledged yesterday that if he is elected governor he would cut Maryland state taxes by $126 million - about $100 for each taxpayer.
Beall said he would eliminate the state real estate tax on homes now levied at 20 cents for each $100 of assessed value, and allow an additional $50 in automatic deductions for those who pay state income taxes. The personal deductions, which is now $300, would grow in later years to $1,000, under Beall's proposal.
Yesterday's proposals were Beall's first moves to become the "proposition 13" tax-cutting candidate in the race against Democrat Harry R. Hughes, a point he made at a press conference here.
"I believe these changes will signal the beginning of a new era in government in Maryland, just as Proposition 13 in California represented a new era in that state," said Beall, referring to the voter-approved constitutional amendment in Clifornia that limits property taxes to one percent of market value and rolls back assessments.
Although polls have shown repeatedly that Maryland residents consider high taxes to be their major concern, the issue barely surfaced during the primary races because there was little disagreement among the party contenders on how to cut taxes nad government spending.
Beall's proposal, the first major promise he has made in this year's campaign, is a distinctly different approach from that taken by Hughes. In the primary, Hughes promised to completely reform "the state's tax system. He proposed that the state shift from its present use of the tax toward a greater reliance on the state income tax.
"Beall's proposal falls far short of the comprehensive and meaningful relief that's needed in Maryland," said Hughes spokesman Mike Canning. "It's the kind of tax proposal that's geared to catch the imagination of the public caught up in the Proposition 13 fever . . . I think we've all known that Beall would climb on that bandwagon, but under analysis his plan isn't going to hold water."
Hughes has promised to unveil a more detailed plan to cut taxes and reduce spending within 10 days but his earlier ideas contained some of the features of the California amendment.
Hughes would lower all property taxes - state, county and city - by restricting how the funds could be used. Only police and fire protection, trash collection and the construction of roads would be paid for by the property tax.
"We aren't going to look at taxes in isolation. We'll develop a formula that will base all taxes on the ability to pay," Hughes said, adding that services like education would be funded from income and other state taxes.
Beall yesterday called such promises "tax substitutions, not reductions."
"I'm not going to propose new gradations in the income tax or any other taxes," Beall said. "This is the principal tax cut I want to make and it will go into effect immediately."
Beall claimed that only by cutting taxes, and thereby reducing state revenues, can the state hope to begin trimming the budget and the size of the bureaucracy.
"I've been misled before. I thought the best way to get at taxes was to whittle away at the budget," Beall said. "But the only way to get a handle on it is to get hard-nosed and cut taxes."
The rate of the state property tax, first imposed in 1951, is regulated by the Maryland General Assembly. It has been as high as 32 cents and as low as 6 cents.
Beall said he would try to eliminate the tax by asking the General Assembly to pass a law that effect, rather than going to the voters for a constitutional amendment that would take at least two years to enact.
William Shoemaker, head of the Maryland Department of Assessment and Taxation said the state would lose some $78 million per year should Beall's proposal be adopted. Half of the state revenues is returned to the counties and the rest is used to pay back money the state owes on bonds.
"They thought about doing that years ago and they found that paying the (bonded) indebtedness without the state property tax was easier said than done," Shoemaker said.
Beall countered that the state's surplus, now estimated at $60 million, along with reductions in the size of the bureaucracy, could cover annual payments on the bonds and still provide the counties with state funds.
Beall said he would eliminate positions now vacant in the state bureaucracy and reduce by half the positions that become available through routine employe turnover. He said that state tax revenues generally grow by ten percent each year.
Beall said his property tax proposal would reduce the average homeowner's burden by seven percent. His plan to allow higher personal deductions would reduce the personal income tax payments by 7.5 percent, according to George Spriggs Jr., chief of the income tax division of the state comptroller's office.
"Maybe a cut of $126 million sounds modest because the state's general fund budget is $2.5 billion," said Beall. "But it would be the biggest tax cut in recent memory."