Midterms and higher taxes

Written by on January 18, 2012 in Baltimore Voices, Featured - 2 Comments

Tax money spent for cleaning our air and waterways have turned Baltimore’s waterfront into a recreational, as well as an industrial, area—and the city and state have made good returns on the investment. Photo by Thomas Scilipoti

I hate midterms.

Not the exam kind, the legislative kind. I hated the other kind too, but that was a long time ago.

Here we are in the second legislative session since the election, and taxpayer beware.

During the first session there is a certain amount of caution because candidates made promises during the election that are still fresh in the minds of voters.

But for legislators, the second session is the sweet session, because most voters have taken their beady eyes off the legislature and turned to more pressing matters like clinging to their jobs and trying to find a way to continue contributions to the college and retirement funds in this era of flat or declining incomes and rising prices.

The second session is when the legislature takes on tax increases, because two years remain before the next election and voters, after a year or so of shouting and threatening, will turn themselves back to the hamster wheel of daily living. And then the candidates can start making promises again.

The exception that proves this rule is the state’s ridiculous public education funding law, known as “Thornton,” which requires that the state and counties spend more on public education every year.

It does not require that the state and counties actually improve public education, just that they spend more money on it.

This was passed in 2002, an election year—but voters will go for practically anything in the name of helping the state’s children.

During the 2012 midterm session, the legislature will consider:

• a 15-cent increase in the gasoline tax;

• tripling the “flush tax” that funds maintenance of sewer lines and water treatment plants;

• restructuring the Homestead Property Tax Credit, which could mean a big jump in property taxes paid by long-term homeowners.

Those are the big ones, except:

Martin J. O’Malley, our alternately beloved and reviled guv, has suggested a 16 percent increase in the sales tax, from six cents to seven cents.

That’s a very big one. Right now Maryland is in the low-middle of the pack in sales tax—there are 18 states that charge 7 cents or more depending on how much the local jurisdiction tacks on.

But regionally, Virginia charges 5 cents and Delaware charges no cents, so Maryland is already at a disadvantage.
And besides, most Maryland residents just can’t afford it.

Back off, Guv. Please. Did you notice there’s a recession on?

As for the gas tax, Maryland is in the high-middle of the states, with 23.5 cents per gallon. A 38.5 cent gas tax would lead the nation by far—kind of a dubious distinction, don’t you think?

And with gas prices heading into the four-dollar range, even those of us who drive compact cars are feeling the pinch.

On the other hand, many of Maryland’s bridges and roads are in deplorable shape and need immediate repair. So how about a nickel? That would be 60 cents on a tankful for a small sedan, a couple of bucks for a truck.

The flush tax increase, however, is necessary to keep funding cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay and rivers. We need to try to reverse decades of neglect, misuse and abuse of the bay, and cleaning up our waterways brings plenty of money into the state. Look at what happened in Canton after the waterfront no longer reeked of fuel oil, chemicals and garbage.

Where would South Baltimore be without its waterfront? Thanks to regulation and millions in cleanup money, both neighborhoods have working and residential waterfronts coexisting pretty peacefully. And the residents pay plenty in property tax. Just ask them.

Can anyone tell me why Maryland charges no tax whatsoever on cigars? The state gets two bucks a pack on cigarettes but not a penny on cigars. Is it because legislators like to smoke cigars? It wouldn’t bring in much cash, but come on. Tobacco is tobacco. Tax it evenly.

With its yearly deficits, the state clearly needs more revenue. The taxes simply need to be imposed more fairly. A sales tax increase and a bump in the gas tax hits the poor and middle class much harder than it does the rich. Go carefully, please.

by Jacqueline Watts

2 Comments on "Midterms and higher taxes"

  1. Rusty Shackleford January 20, 2012 at 7:14 am · Reply

    Gasoline was only $1/gallon when the gas tax was last raised in 1990. That worked out to an effective tax rate of well over 20%. With gas now at $3.40/gallon, the effective tax rate is now 7%. You need to make up for 20 years of inflation somehow.

    Also, your assertion that a “38.5 cent gas tax would lead the nation by far” is dead wrong. Even if Maryland raised the gas tax by 15 cents, it would still trail California (46.1), New York (45), Hawaii (44.3), Connecticut (40.9), and Illinois (38.8).

    You can look up each state’s gas tax here. To arrive at the state tax portion, back out the federal rate of $18.4 cents:

  2. Rusty Shackleford January 20, 2012 at 6:56 am · Reply

    Delaware doesn’t charge a sales tax because they soak anyone who travels their 15-mile stretch I-95 for $4 each way. They also charge you another $4 if you take the Delaware Memorial Bridge from New Jersey into Delaware. So, if you want us to be like Delaware, we can start charging a $10 toll for all of the Chesapeake Bay and Patapsco crossings. I bet that will go over real well.

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