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O'Malley Budget Tour Moves on to Howard, Sales Tax

Day 2 in Gov. Martin O'Malley's budget tour brought him to a kitchen table in Howard County and a discussion of his plans to increase the state sales tax and gradually reduce the state's property tax.

The sales tax rate would go up from 5 percent to 6 percent and would apply to some services currently exempt (think health clubs, massages and tanning bed sessions).The property tax could go down a penny each year for the next three. "There are very few taxes that hit homeowners on fixed incomes in a rougher way," O'Malley said.

His first stop on the budget tour came yesterday in Baltimore County, where he announced a major overhaul of Maryland's income tax structure. The venue was hardly the result of happenstance.

O'Malley staged the announcement on the front lawn of a middle-income family, a swing jurisdiction where he campaign heavily on pocketbook issues last year. Looking on as O'Malley made the announcement was homeowner Sarah Achenbach, a freelance writer whose husband is a state employee.

Though registered Democrats outnumber Republicans about 2-to-1 in Baltimore County, the jurisdiction showed a willingness to back a GOP candidate for governor in 2002, voting heavily for Robert L. Ehrlich Jr over the Democratic nominee, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. O'Malley won many of the voters back last year and will need their support for re-election in 2010.

Though O'Malley is seeking to close a looming $1.7 billion budget shortfall, the first part of his plan that he unveiled will actually lower the income taxes of about 95 percent of Marylanders, he said yesterday.

The event drew more media than any O'Malley appearance since his State of the State address in January. And in a throwback to the days of his campaign, he held a "kitchen table" talk with Achenbach and her neighbors before holding the press conference.

Yesterday's event also suggested another strategy for building support for O'Malley's plan: Get the county executives on board.

O'Malley was introduced at the event by County Executive Jim Smith (D), who praised O'Malley's courage for tackling the deficit. Smith was a big O'Malley supporter last year, and there is significant overlap in their political circles. O'Malley's brother, Peter, is now Smith's chief of staff.

This morning in Howard he was joined by County Executive Ken Ulman (D). Several former officials from O'Malley's mayoral administration in Baltimore now populate Ulman's administration in Howard, another bellwether jurisdiction politically.

The rumored third stop on O'Malley's budget fix tour is Baltimore. It seems the odds are good that Mayor Sheila Dixon, whom O'Malley endorsed as his successor, will be there Friday to show her support for his new challenge.

By John Wagner  |  September 20, 2007; 5:54 AM ET
Categories:  John Wagner  
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