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Start Maryland tax debate by looking at Mandel study

May 04, 2007

Following this week's decision by Maryland's Board of Public Works to hold the line on state property taxes, state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller renewed his call for a special session to deal with the state's projected $1.5 billion deficit.

Legislators and the new governor ducked the issue in the 2007 General Assembly session. If they're not ready to go back to Annapolis in October, as Miller proposes, they must soon offer a plan that can be quickly enacted in 2008.

We suggest lawmakers start with what could be cut. A Republican initiative in that area didn't get much traction in 2007.

But if Democrats would rather those suggestions come from their own party, we recommend they start with a look back at the report on streamlining government done in 2004 by a panel headed by former Gov. Marvin Mandel.

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The group, which included state Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, produced a 124-page report with recommendations for more than 50 state agencies. Certainly this bipartisan group's report can serve as a starting point for another look at possible cuts and increased efficiency.

Miller's other proposals are a mixed bag. We favor the legalization of slot machines at the state's horse tracks. Not only does the industry provide jobs, it preserves open space.

And any revenue derived from slots will come from those who voluntarily play, as opposed to taxes, which are imposed on citizens whether they like them or not.

As for Miller's other tax proposals, there are previous studies that look at the possible effect of those measures.

Miller would increase the state's sales tax from 5 percent to 6 percent and tax some services. That recommendation echoes some of what was contained in the Linowes Commission, which studied tax policy under Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

The surcharge Miller proposes on high-income Marylanders might play well with lower-income constituents, but will the state really be seen as business-friendly if the reward for being successful is a tax on top of a tax?

Changes to the state's code might be necessary to avoid the looming deficit, but getting the public to accept them depends on two things.

Lawmakers must convince citizens that there is a need for more revenue and that everything possible has been done to ensure that funds already received have been well-spent.

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