Taxes, whether to raise them or not, drove Tuesday night’s budget public hearing before the Baltimore County Council.
County Executive Johnny Olszewski is proposing a package of tax increases to help deal with an $81 million shortfall and pay for initiatives like a pay raise for teachers. WYPR’s John Lee was there and talked about it with Morning Edition host Nathan Sterner.
Sterner: In years past, next to no one showed up at these budget public hearings, but I take it last night was a different story.
Lee: That’s right. It goes to show what happens when you put proposed tax increases on the table. It was standing room only in the Council Chambers and around 100 people signed up to speak for what turned into a 3 1/2 hour public hearing. And many of them wanted to talk taxes.
Olszewski wants to raise the income tax rate, as well as put a new tax on cell phone lines. Ivan Lutwin, who lives in Pikesviile, told council members that the proposed $3.50 monthly charge per line on cell phones and the proposed income tax increase would hit his annual family budget.
Lutwin: “The total impact on my household of only these two tax increases exceeds $715. That’s a lot of money.”
Lee: But others called Olszewski’s budget courageous, bold, and overdue to meet the county’s needs, from roads, to the arts to schools. Herbert Lodder for one said even though he’s 85, he would gladly pay more in taxes for new schools, particularly for a new Dulaney High School.
Lodder: “I’ve got two folks in my family. One’s six and one’s three. And they’re all headed to Dulaney High School. And there’s not going to be any high school there. It’s all falling apart.”
Lee: Nathan, teachers and their supporters showed up in force, wearing their trademark red and holding signs. One read “Those who can teach. Those who can’t make up the budget.” That one might sting a little since Olszewski is a former teacher. The teachers were pushing for new schools, as well as a two percent pay raise, more special educators and social workers. All of those are in Olszewski’s proposed budget.
Sterner: Olszewski wants to put in place an impact fee on developers. Did that come up?
Lee: Absolutely. The idea behind impact fees is that they would help to offset the cost of development, like crowded schools and crammed roads. But developers and others in the building industry pushed back on the idea, saying it would raise costs and that in turn would hurt their industry and the county’s economy.
Angelica Bailey is vice president of government affairs for the Maryland Building Industry Association.
Bailey: “If building is too expensive then builders don’t build and the county needs housing. Our industry creates jobs and new homes which means new residents. They shop here. They eat here. They pay property, income and recordation taxes.”
Lee: But the flip side of that came from those who pointed out that a majority of Maryland counties have an impact fee on developers. And even one developer told the council that he has become used to the impact fees in other jurisdictions and he understands the need for them.
Sterner: So what happens now?
Lee: Next week, the council will start meeting on the budget. It plans to pass it May 23. And it’s important to remember that they can only cut from Olszewski’s budget, they can’t add to it. And the makeup of the council is interesting, four Democrats, three Republicans, so since the council is almost evenly divided there probably is some give and take ahead as Council members debate Olszewski’s proposed tax increases. At the same time they have to keep in mind that any tax hikes they might kill or water down will have to be made up in cuts to Olszewski’s budget.