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Structural deficit is still a deficit

March 22, 2007|by TIM ROWLAND

Commentary

I only have one question: How can property taxes in Maryland go up a zillion percent and the state still be stuck with a debt roughly the size of Newt Gingrich's sweatpants?

Actually, I have a lot of questions. Like, isn't Maryland supposed to be one of the richest states in the nation? So how come every four years or so lawmakers find themselves scrambling for cash like a heroin addict 36 hours away from his last fix?

Lawmakers explain by saying they have a "structural deficit." Like that should explain everything. I might try that one at the bank.

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"Sorry, Poindexter, can't make the car payment this month."

"Then we will have to take your car."

"No, no, you don't understand, see, I have a structural deficit."

"Well, my goodness, why didn't you say so? In that case, don't worry about making a payment until you get things tidied up. Cheerio, off you go, then."

Seems to me a deficit is a deficit, whether it's structural, mechanical or load-bearing. It still means you're spending more than you're taking in, no?

Oh dear, did someone say "spend?" Sorry. Can't deal with that half of the equation, can we. Which obviously gives lawmakers no choice but to, to - oh, now what's the phrase? Raise something. Darn it, they do it so infrequently it's no wonder I forget.

Oh yes, raise taxes, I knew it would come to me. Last four years they didn't raise taxes, they raised fees. I liked that a lot better. Matter of fact, I think they should have changed the names to the Property Fee, Income Fee and Sales Fee. That would have made me feel ever so much better about things.

This year they don't seem to be raising taxes as much as they are threatening to raise taxes, which they say they will do next year to fix the structural deficit. I don't get that. It means we'll be mad at them twice, once for talking about it, once for doing it.

And quite a curious mix of things they want to tax, either at higher levels, or for the first time ever.

Tops among them, obviously, is cigarettes. Perhaps a buck a pack. I suppose I see the logic in that, although I worry that if everyone actually did stop smoking the state would go bankrupt.

I liked the argument from a smoker a while back that went, "We die earlier so we actually use fewer state services, which means we ought to be taxed less." Now that's what I call thinking outside the carton.

Of course, being a border county, our lawmakers are going to be worried about how this tax will affect "mom and pop" businesses. Like who, Mom and Pop Sheetz?

Maybe people will burn $2 worth of gas to save $1 on smokes. In this county, I wouldn't rule it out.

But what really got my attention was the list of services lawmakers want to tax for the first time including, I am not kidding, call-girl services.

I shudder to think how this is going to affect the county's mom and pop brothels. Who knows, maybe West Virginia can take advantage of this as a PR thing, like Delaware does its lack of a sales tax. "Wild, Wonderful, Tax-Free-Hooker West Virginia."

As service is a service, and I suppose no business deserves a free ride. It's just that if you're there for THAT, you hate to see the girl get bogged down in paperwork. I mean, it's one thing to stand at the counter at Sears when you're buying a washer/dryer - you don't mind if they have to make a few calculator entries.

But if you're paying for 20 minutes, you don't want her to be spending half the time faxing her accountant.

And point of order: Since this is technically a sales tax, does that mean if you're from out-of-state you don't have to pay? Also, if we're going to be formal about this in a taxing kind of way, that means if you're at a marketing conference, you should be able to write off the call girl as a business expense.

Although in truth that would seem to be sullying her honor a little. But what has ever been honorable about the oldest profession - and by that I mean taxation.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324 or via e-mail at timr@herald-mail.com. You can listen to his podcast, The Rowland Rant, on www.antpod.com.

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