RIGHT DOWN TO the wire in Annapolis, it looked as if a tax package worked out by Gov. Harry R. Hughes would end up in the heap of undone General Assembly business this session.But then in a dramatic last-minute vote, the lawmakers approved legislation that extends another $6 million in property-tax credits to low-income homeowners. With seven minutes to go before adjournment, the senate had given up its earlier insistence that those tax credits be extended to middle-class homeowners. The decision, however disappointing to those legislators who are sensitive to demands of their middle-class constituents for more property-tax relief, was sound. It also underscored the way the new Maryland leadership of Gov. Hughes, House Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin and Senate President James Calrk Jr. was able to work its will on the legislature.
The tax package itself is modest. Besides the property-tax credits for homeowners earning less than $16,000 ayear, the measure eliminates a 5 percent tax on utility bills and increases the standard deduction on the state income tax from 10 to 13 percent. That won't provide much relief for the middle-class suburban homeowner-"It's like throwing bird seed around the State of Maryland," said Sen. Frank Kelly of Baltimore County. Still, that's a milder characterization than the one offered by Sen. Thomas V. Miller of Prince George's in describing the deduction, which he said "helps the poor, mostly, not may people. I think Hughes is living in the 1960s with this kind of liberal garbage. He's out of step with the times."
Conceivably-but the leadership's cadence kept the General Assembly in step most of the way through a productive session in which every major goal sought was attained. The state pension system was revised, an ethics code was enacted, a home mortgage interest-rate ceiling was lifted and Metro got enough money to tide it over until next year. The disappointing exception, of course, was the one-vote failure to ratify the D.C. congressional-representation amendment.
There will always be some post-session capers claiming that the leadership was too loose, too tough or too fuzzy-headed. But Speaker Cardin, for one, has high praise for Gov. Hughes's willingness to negotiate and compromise with the legislature. That attitude on the part of the governor, plus the skillful maneuvering of Messrs. Cardin and Clark, led to a productive legislative session-which is not something Maryland always enjoys.