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Senate budget chair defends proposed tax hikes

ANNAPOLIS — A proposal to raise Maryland income taxes may be distasteful to many, but there does not appear to be much appetite to balance the budget long-term through spending reductions alone, a state senator who chairs a key budget committee said Monday.

Sen. Edward Kasemeyer, D-Baltimore County, testified before the House Ways and Means Committee about legislation passed by the Senate that would raise more than $400 million. Kasemeyer, who was questioned by Republicans who are critical of the plan, told lawmakers he’s getting letters with profanity from constituents who oppose the income tax increase.

“We realize what we’re doing makes a lot of people angry,” said Kasemeyer, the chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.

However, Kasemeyer said there does not appear to be enough support among lawmakers to balance the next fiscal year’s budget and cut an ongoing $1.1 billion deficit in half this year through spending cuts. Instead, he said, a balance of cuts and revenues will be needed.

Del. Anthony O’Donnell, R-Calvert, said the Senate voted on the measure last week without having the benefit of knowing its full fiscal implications. O’Donnell said a revised fiscal analysis of the measure was just released Monday, and he complained that he was not allowed to testify against the bill at the hearing.

“People are down and this bill kicks them — kicks them — when they are down,” O’Donnell, the House minority leader, said. “It’s outrageous, and opposition should have been heard.”

The House Ways and Means Committee could vote on the bill later Monday. Earlier in the day, a subcommittee discussed a Senate provision that would tax people who make more than $500,000 at a new 5.75 percent rate from the first dollar, instead of at varying rates until the top bracket applied only to income over $500,000.

That part of the measure, at least, appears headed for some changes in the House.

Del. Kumar Barve, D-Montgomery, noted that no other state imposes a tax that way.

“So we would be branded as being the only state — the only place probably on earth — that does it in that fashion,” said Barve, who represents a more affluent Washington suburb.

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