Small county fee hike leads to partisan rancor on House floor

Small county fee hike leads to partisan rancor on House floor

Photo above: Del. Tony O’Donnell (By Rebecca Lessner,

By Rebecca Lessner

For the

Despite bipartisanship displayed during the state budget passage just one night before, House Republicans were up in arms Friday over an accusation that they were raising fees, contrary to their campaign rhetoric.

The dispute arose Friday morning from a question by Del. Craig Zucker, D-Montgomery, about  HB 542, a Calvert County bill to double a $10 appearance court fee to $20 to finance the Calvert County Law Library Fund.

“Where is the Republican house leadership on this bill?” asked Zucker. “I’ve heard a lot of rhetoric…even if I look at the county website it looks like we’ve increased fees and taxes more than 40 times.”

“If the gentleman wants to turn this into a partisan attack on this floor, in this manner…by continuing to attack the Republican members of this body, let him do it. Throw down the gauntlet,” said Del. Anthony O’Donnell, R-Calvert and St. Mary’s.

O’Donnell, the bill’s sponsor, argued that a fee imposed on lawyers filing appearances in order to fund the legal library is not a partisan issue and should not be referred to as one.

“It’s a bipartisan issue as a matter of fact, and I think it’s inappropriate to ask that of the Republican leadership,” said O’Donnell. “We’re against raising taxes willy nilly on everybody.”

Zucker was not deterred, “Would that show up as number 41 on taxes and fees?” he asked.

Minority Leader Nic Kipke, Anne Arundel County, saw this as a perfect chance to chime in, reminding the body of taxes and fees during past years, a continuing theme of Gov. Larry Hogan and other Republicans.

Put in place to eliminate the structural deficit, he now sees the past fees as “misleading and broken promises.”

“User fees are appropriate, even the nonpartisan Tax Foundation believes that user fees are not taxes,” said Kipke. “This good bill is a measure to pay for the existing operations … not for lies.”

Kipke said that the “countless taxes and fees raised by the General Assembly over the last eight years” were moved to the point that they no longer paid for what was intended.

“Let’s raise fees over here, and then use them to pay for other things” over there, said Kipke.  “I’m always glad to talk about the terrible record of high taxes that Maryland has.”

Some legislators were ready to move forward in a more bipartisan fashion.

“Right now we’re the House of Delegates,” said Del. Herbert McMillan, R-Anne Arundel. “I don’t think we need to recount history or open old wounds.”

Speaker Michael Busch had the last word.

“I don’t think anyone is attacking anyone, he just asked a question,” said Busch.

He then asked if anyone wanted to add anything, which was met with a round of laughter from delegates.

The bill passed second reading and will have a final vote in the House before it moves onto the Senate.