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Spend less, tax less, MBRG urges legislators

Maryland’s budget is too large and taxes are too high, according to a General Assembly report card released Thursday by Maryland Business for Responsive Government.

In its annual evaluation of state legislators, the pro-business group targeted the state’s budget, which increased $1.2 billion year-over-year, continuing an upward spending trend that MBRG blames for tax increases.

“While most states are seriously controlling spending, Maryland’s legislature continues to party like it’s 1999,” said Ellen R. Sauerbrey, the Republican co-chair of MBRG and former minority leader in the House of Delegates. “Some of Maryland’s elected officials seem to think, in these times of austerity, they can tax Maryland into economic growth and that … won’t work.”

The General Assembly convened in a special session in May after the budget package wanted by a majority of lawmakers wasn’t completed on the final day of the regular session. The agreement that passed in the special session included a tax hike on individuals who earn more than $100,000 and couples who earn more than $150,000 annually.

Kimberly M. Burns, president of MBRG, said tax issues are “fundamental to job growth, business retention and global competitiveness in the long term.”

“Too many of Maryland’s officials are just missing the point when it comes to creating certainty and stability through Maryland’s economy through tax policy,” Burns said. “These tax and fee increases hurt the ability of Maryland’s private sector to create jobs and grow.”

Some legislators earned high marks from the group, which assigned scores to lawmakers based on how they voted on legislation and amendments — in committee and on the chamber floors — that affect the private sector.

MBRG graded legislators on 23 bills and amendments, including the tax hike bill, which passed; a bill that would have prevented raids on the Transportation Trust Fund, which failed, and legislation that doubled the flush tax, which passed.

The highest-scoring Democrat was Del. John F. Wood Jr., D-Charles and St. Mary’s, at 91 percent. The top-scoring Democratic senator was Roy P. Dyson, D-Southern Maryland, with 75 percent.

Eleven first-term delegates, all Republicans, earned perfect 100 percent scores for the second year in a row. Two delegates, both Democrats, scored zeros — Del. Veronica L. Turner, of Prince George’s County, and Del. Frank S. Turner, of Howard County. No member of the Senate scored zero.

Almost every senator from Harford County, Cecil County, the Eastern Shore and Western Maryland earned a perfect score from MBRG, The highest-scoring delegation in the House was Western Maryland, which earned an overall score of 86 percent.

Sen. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, saw his rating leap 52 points — from 11 percent in 2011 to 63 percent this year — after he opposed the income tax increase and the application of the recordation tax to indemnity mortgage deeds of trust. Both bills were passed by the General Assembly.

“When there are things that are outside of essential services that can be cut, then I don’t think it’s appropriate to ask citizens for tax dollars for those things,” Zirkin said. “That’s why I voted against the tax increase. In this economic environment, you really don’t want to put additional burdens on small businesses and our taxpayers.”

But Zirkin, who has a career MBRG rating of 38 percent, said he didn’t put much stock in the report card.

“I respect all these groups that put out the scorecard, but they’re typically based on a small number of votes,” he said. “I’ve been the same legislator for 15 years. I call them like I see them.”

House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel, scored 10 percent and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert and Prince George’s, scored 25 percent. Neither of the assembly’s presiding officers could be reached for comment.