Hands off my organs! -- Gazette.Net


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Now that the national elections are over Maryland lawmakers can resume doing what they enjoy most — raising taxes and enacting wacky legislation.

For instance, a bipartisan group of Maryland’s lawmakers has come up with a solution to the shortage of body organ donors. More than 2,000 state residents are waiting for organ transplants.

Currently, people can volunteer to be organ donors when they get their driver’s license renewed by so indicating on the application. You simply check a box and that gives doctors the right to “harvest” your organs after your fatal traffic accident.

That’s called “donating,” the conscious act of volunteering. But under the proposed legislation, you no longer “opt in” to be an organ donor; you are presumed to be an organ donor unless you “opt out.”

That’s right, from now on your driver’s license application would have a box you must check if you want to keep your body organs from becoming state property. That’s not donating, that’s default.

Right now about 43 percent of people who get Maryland drivers licenses sign up to be organ donors. Obviously, proponents of the switch from opting in to opting out believe this percentage will climb dramatically, thanks to people’s failure to opt out.

So, in order to close the organ shortage gap, we’re going to trick the careless, the hard-of-seeing and the overly trusting into unknowingly becoming organ donors.

We usually associate opting-out scams with book-of-the-month clubs or other con games that promise low introductory rates or free merchandise and then soak you when you fail to proactively opt out of your membership. Now, some state lawmakers are copying that ploy so they can get their hands on your body parts.

If you think it’s fair and straightforward to reverse the opt-in/opt-out rules, just wait until the end of this month when the homestead tax credit deadline expires.

The Homestead Tax credit is the property tax break you get on your residence. It used to be automatic, but lawmakers recently switched to a new procedure; now you must apply for the tax credit by Dec. 31 or you lose it. Just wait and see how many angry homeowners “didn’t get the memo” and failed to opt in. Should be interesting.

As for me, I want to share my body parts with the worms. After the traffic accident please leave my organs in my body — you can have the ones on the pavement. I choose not to be harvested (gutted) like a slaughterhouse steer. For me, harvesting is for kidney beans, not kidneys.

The government has already encroached too deeply into my pocketbook, my life and my freedoms — it can’t have my organs. To paraphrase an old Maryland axiom, no man or his body parts are safe when the Maryland General Assembly is in session.

Taxing logic

Next year is state lawmakers’ last chance to raise taxes because 2014 is an election year, and state lawmakers never raise taxes during an election year — the voters might remember.

Actually, Marylanders seem numb to new taxes. They’re paying $2.4 billion more today than before O’Malley was elected, thanks to 25 different tax and fee hikes. So temporarily forgoing tax hikes in 2014 is more of a courtesy than a necessity. In Maryland, that’s what passes as “a tax break.”

Front-runners for 2013 are the gasoline tax and the tobacco tax. But, therein lies a public relations problem.

The lawmaker’s spin on the gas tax is that the Transportation Trust Fund is empty (after years of being raided to balance general fund deficits) and Maryland’s $23.5 cents-per-gallon tax hasn’t gone up since 1992.

So, if a tax hasn’t increased in 20 years that’s sufficient reason for increasing it. But, logically, shouldn’t the reverse also be true? Shouldn’t a tax that’s been raised 450 percent, thanks to three increases, over the past 13 years be off limits?

In 1999, Maryland’s cigarette tax was 36 cents a pack. That year, lawmakers nearly doubled it to 66 cents a pack. Then in 2002, they upped it to $1 a pack. Then in 2008, they increased it to $2 a pack and now, they want to go to $3 a pack.

I’m not sticking up for the tobacco lobby, I’m just asking lawmakers to get their stories straight. If infrequency of increases is the rationale for raising the gas tax, how do you rationalize yet another cigarette tax hike? Logically, they can’t have it both ways.

Another hoot is the tobacco taxers claim that tax hikes reduce smoking. More likely, they increase smuggling. “No”, say the taxers, “with fuel prices being what they are today, no one is going to spend $4 on gas to save a dollar on cigarettes” (Baltimore Sun editorial).

Really? Do the math; if I spend $8 driving to and from Virginia, where I buy 10 cartons of smokes at $4.50 a pack (Virginia’s tax is only 30 cents a pack) I’ve avoided Maryland’s new $7.25 a pack cost and saved $267. Not bad for $8 in gas.

Tax us if you must, but please don’t insult our intelligence.

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.