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Isn’t one bill enough?

In last fall’s special session, one thing that was pretty much passed in the dead of night was the infamous extension of our newly increased sales tax to computer services. Once the day broke and news got out about this additional levy on the IT business, howls of protest could be heard from Oakland to Ocean City. Straight away it was vowed that this issue would be taken care of in the regular session which started last month.

And was it ever! Now the degree to which this has been addressed is almost ridiculous. There are now SEVEN bills floating around in the General Assembly that for all practical purposes are identically worded and seek to accomplish the goal of wiping out the computer services aspect of the sales tax. In order of introduction, these bills are:

  • SB41 (lead sponsor Senator Andy Harris, introduced January 10 with 3 sponsors)
  • SB46 (sole sponsor Senator Jennie Forehand, introduced January 10)
  • SB138 (lead sponsor Senator David Brinkley, introduced January 18 with 14 sponsors)
  • HB187 (lead sponsor Delegate Gail Bates, introduced January 21 with 20 sponsors)
  • HB196 (lead sponsor Delegate Shane Pendergrass, introduced January 22 with 72 sponsors)
  • HB253 (lead sponsor is the Minority Leader, Delegate Anthony O’Donnell, introduced January 23 with 37 sponsors)
  • HB326 (lead sponsor is Delegate Jeannie Haddaway, introduced January 25 with 34 sponsors)

Since only the House versions have a hearing scheduled at the moment (March 12), my guess is that the Senate versions are going nowhere. It’s not like they’ll need a conference committee for these, unless of course we have amendments tacked on.

One objection I have to all of the versions of the bill is that they’re deleting the part about sales tax not applying to computer services for use in homeschooling. However, that may be the intent of the revised paragraphs which don’t specifically mention homeschooling but could be construed to include those sorts of programs. (Since I know Delegate Haddaway occasionally reads here, maybe she can elaborate.)

I think the likely scenario is that the bill which winds its way through the General Assembly toward the Governor’s desk will be HB196, simply because a Democrat is the lead sponsor. Then the $200 million question becomes – will Governor O’Malley sign it into law? If he chooses to veto it, my understanding is that the General Assembly cannot take up overriding the veto until the next session unless the veto happens seven days or more prior to sine die. For this to occur the bill needs to get through both chambers before the 83rd day of the session; otherwise, a veto could come after the session ends and the tax will have to be collected beginning July 1st. (By my count, the House hearings take place on day 63, which leaves about 3 weeks to assure a chance for O’Malley’s yea or nay.)

And of course, there will be some Democrats who complain about needing a way to make up for the so-called shortfall, particularly since the FY09 budget will also be debated at the same time. (Lord knows they won’t make any spending cuts.) That’s where the amendments will likely come in, and Republicans will have to be careful not to step into a new tax trap if they get an amended bill to consider at the last minute.

But it still boggles my mind that we have seven bills which deal with the exact same thing. I guess that’s politics in Maryland for you – all these politicians can claim they sponsored a bill to eliminate the computer services tax when re-election (or election in the case of Senator Harris) rolls around.

Crossposted on monoblogue.






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