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Charities may have to return those handouts

January 23, 2003|by TIM ROWLAND

We're used to seeing charities coming hat-in-hand to government, but now it's possible that a local government may start showing up at the doors of city charities looking for a handout.

This ought to be good.

The City of Hagerstown says its budget is so tight that it may explore ways to wring more money out of the local tax base, 21 percent of which is tax-exempt due to nonprofit status.

So if you see city finance director Al Martin standing in a soup line at the Community Action Council, he doesn't want the broth, he just needs a couple of bucks to buy a gallon or two of diesel fuel for the city fire engines.

I'm scared to go out on the streets anymore. I'm worrying that I'm going to see Mayor Bill Breichner playing "Moon River" on the violin, the case open on the sidewalk to accept quarters.

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It can't be that bad, can it, that you have to work over nonprofits for a little (police and fire) protection money?

I can think of a lot better way to raise some Benjamins. For example, raise metered parking to $43 a half-hour. I mean, it's not like anybody comes downtown anymore who doesn't absolutely, positively HAVE to be here. If you have a date at District Court or an appointment with your lawyer or bail bondsman, what else are you going to do?

The city and the county are already talking about the necessity of tax hikes because money from higher up is disappearing. So if you're getting the sense that you won't see a penny of the Bush tax cuts, you're probably right.

This is how things work: The feds cut taxes and take money away from state and local programs that the federal government by law forces state and local governments to provide. So to pay for these programs that the federal government itself mandates (but no longer pays for) the localities have to RAISE taxes, roughly in the amount that the federal government has cut.

Then to compound things, since Washington's tax cuts take money out of the health-care system - the same broken health-care system that year after year Congress refuses to fix - all of our insurance premiums go up as well. Between higher insurance premiums and higher state and local tax increases, it's plausible that another Bush tax cut could bankrupt us all.

It's certainly not that tax cuts are a bad theory, it just seems as if they never work out in real life. If government is putting money in one pocket, it's always pulling it out of the other.

And if I sound bitter over this whole tax-cut charade, here's why: It's because every time a government raises a tax, it seems as if it specifically has me in mind.

I drive a lot, so the state is talking about raising the gas tax. I'm probably going to be selling a house in the next few years, so the county is talking about enacting a property transfer tax.

If I want to do it, the government wants to tax it.

The transfer tax makes no sense to me. The county ostensibly needs more money for services because too many people are moving into the county. So what do they want to do? Put a tax on people who are moving out.

The county's tax revenues have nearly doubled over the past decade, so I don't know why they need the extra jack, unless it's to pay for yet another runway extension at the local airport.

We're probably going to lose commuter air service to Baltimore, but never fear. The way we're going, pretty soon commuters will be able to go all the way to BWI anyway - by driving on the runway.

The only fly in the ointment is that Gov. Ehrlich's budget for the coming year provides for lots of extra education money at the expense of county transportation funds. Of course, this probably won't worry our commissioners much since they can just do what they did last year: Keep for themselves the extra money that the state earmarked for your kids.

That's in the politicians' best interest since, after all, the only way our office holders can be guaranteed of being re-elected year after year is to keep the local population as uneducated as possible.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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