Blair Lee: Levyland, the Fee State -- Gazette.Net


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Government spending is a way of life here in Levyland, where tax cuts are unnatural acts and budget cuts are hate crimes.

In Levyland, government spending cures all ills. Test scores plummeting? Spend more money. Traffic congested? Spend more money. Bay polluted? Spend more money. Not enough jobs? Spend more money. Too much crime? Spend more money.

Nothing can stop it. Good times or bad times, it doesn’t matter, we just keep spending. Levyland’s governor, Martin O’Malley, says he cut spending $7 billion during his six years in office. But that’s a fib. His first budget was $30 billion, his latest budget is $35 billion. That’s a $5 billion increase, not a $7 billion cut.

And how does Levyland’s government afford all this spending? By raising taxes. That’s what Levyland’s voters want, or at least, that’s the message Levyland’s lawmakers heard when they were all re-elected in 2010.

Heck, some enlightened professors over at the University of Levyland even have studies proving that Levyland’s citizens are seriously undertaxed compared to select European countries.

But despite their mandate, Levyland’s lawmakers goofed during the final hours of their recent 90-day session. Time ran out before they could raise more taxes. So Gov. O’Malley is convening a special session next Monday to finish the job.

In Levyland, the question is never, “Taxes, yes or no?” It’s always, “Taxes, how high and on whom?” That’s what next Monday is all about. The only problem facing Levyland’s lawmakers is that they’re running out of taxes to raise.

During Gov. O’Malley’s six-year tenure they’ve increased just about every tax and fee on the books, some of them twice! You don’t believe me? Here’s a list compiled by “Change Maryland,” a taxpayers group led by Larry Hogan.

Ÿ Raised the sales tax from 5 percent to 6 percent in 2007. New revenue: $603 million per year.

Ÿ Raised the income tax on corporations from 7 percent to 8.25 percent in 2007. New revenue: $118.6 million per year.

Ÿ Raised the state’s flat 4.75 percent income tax rate in 2007 by creating new rates up to 5.5 percent. New revenue: $191.3 million per year. During next week’s special session, Maryland’s “thousand-aires” (people making over $100,000) will have their income taxes raised, again. New revenue: $250 million per year.

Ÿ Created a “millionaire’s tax” rate of 6.25 percent on incomes over $1 million. Enacted in 2008, it expired in 2010. New revenue: $154.6 million per year.

Ÿ Increased motor vehicle titling tax in 2007 from $23 per title to $50. New revenue: $23 million per year. Increased motor vehicle titling tax, again, in 2011 from $50 per title to $100. New revenue: $52.4 million per year.

Ÿ Increased motor vehicle sales tax from 5 percent to 6 percent in 2007. New revenue: $36.9 million per year.

Ÿ Applied state’s recordation and transfer tax to certain types of transfers in 2007. New revenue: $14.1 million per year.

Ÿ Eliminated captive real estate investment trusts for income tax purposes in 2007. New revenue: $10 million per year.

Ÿ Applied state admissions/amusement tax to electronic bingo and tip jar proceeds in 2007. New revenue: $14.1 million per year.

Ÿ Doubled cigarette tax from $1 per pack to $2 in 2007. New revenue: $133 million per year.

Ÿ Increased sales tax on alcoholic beverages from 6 percent to 9 percent in 2011. New revenue: $84.8 million per year.

Ÿ Tripled motor vehicle dealer processing charge from $100 per vehicle to $300 in 2011. New revenue: $5.3 million per year.

Ÿ Doubled motor vehicle vanity plate fee from $25 to $50 in 2011. New revenue: $2.5 million per year.

Ÿ Raised hospital assessment rates in 2011. New revenues: $390 million per year.

Ÿ Doubled Chesapeake Bay restoration “flush tax” from $30 to $60 in 2012. New revenue: $53 million per year.

Ÿ Doubled the fee on birth certificates from $12 to $24 in 2011. New revenue: $4 million per year.

Ÿ Increased state road and bridge tolls in 2011. New revenue: $90 million per year.

This list doesn’t include the new Metro fare increases in both the Baltimore and the Washington, D.C., systems or state speed camera fines ($11.6 million per year) or new tax increases at the local level.

Deep cuts in state aid to the counties for highways, community colleges and public safety coupled with the state’s shift of $250 million in teacher pension costs to the counties are slamming local governments just as their property tax bases are shrinking due to foreclosures and declining home values.

So, Levyland’s 24 local governments are boosting taxes and fees, too, including property tax rates, local income tax rates, energy tax increases, telephone taxes, bottle taxes, plastic bag taxes, water and sewer rates, trash pickup fees, parks and recreation fees, recordation fees, building permit and inspection fees and so on.

And, of course, state taxes and local taxes mostly hit the same people. But the different levels of government don’t care as long as they all get paid.

Finally, even dying in the Free State isn’t free because we have one of the nation’s harshest death taxes. Yes, Levyland may be “the land of pleasant living,” but don’t die here.

Instead, try to die in Virginia, which repealed its death tax so you can finally rest in peace.

Blair Lee is CEO of the Lee Development Group in Silver Spring and a regular commentator for WBAL radio. His column appears Fridays in The Gazette. His email address is blair@leedg.com.