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High Court Dismisses GOP Tax Appeal

Maryland's highest court today dismissed an attempt by Republican legislative leaders to overturn a $1.4 billion tax increase passed during last fall's special session.

GOP lawmakers appealed a Carroll County Circuit Court judge's decision to dismiss their lawsuit, which alleged that the Democrat-controlled General Assembly acted unconstitutionally by not following technical procedures during the session.

But Robert M. Bell, chief judge of the Court of Appeals, ruled today to affirm the lower court's decision. Bell ordered the Republican lawmakers pay the legal fees associated with the appeal.

Bell's order was without comment. He is expected to file a longer ruling within a few days.

-- Philip Rucker

By Philip Rucker  |  March 12, 2008; 11:46 AM ET
Categories:  General Assembly  
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Not surprising.

One correction: when a court orders that one side pay "costs," that does not normally mean "legal fees," but instead is limited to filing fees and copying costs associated with the appeal.

In the U.S., unless a statute or contract calls for it, attorney's fees are not awarded to the prevailing party. In other countries, such as the U.K., this rule has been changed.

Posted by: Jonathan Shurberg | March 12, 2008 2:05 PM | Report abuse

They try to lure in dlean high tech industry and then tax it to death. I think it will be fun to see which state goes to zero people first with their insane liberal tax all governments CA, MA or MD?

Posted by: FLvet | March 12, 2008 3:31 PM | Report abuse

I have a feeling that my Democratic State Senator Rob Garagiola is going to wish that the appeal was successful. As Deputy Majority Leader he led the fight for the computer tax and rounded up votes for it. The vote in the State Senate for the new 6% vote on computer services was 24-23. And Garagiola voted for. If he had voted against, it would have failed. Lately, he has tried to increase the gasoline tax as County Executive Leggett has pushed for. Don't these guys see the prices at the pump? We feel like we have to take out a home equity loan every time we pull into a gas station! And Garagiola has been trying to push an even greater increase in the state income tax than the one he voted for in the 24-23 vote in the State Senate. In that increase that passed in the special session the 16% of Marylanders who live in Montgomery County will pay well over 50% of the bill. Yet Garagiola wants to push the income tax even higher! Has he lost his marbles?

Here is what the Gazette said today in an editorial about Garagiola's vote in favor of the computyer tax: "Tax law changes that put Maryland companies at a competitive disadvantage need careful consideration and the computer services tax got little during last year's special session. In Montgomery County, with its concentration of technology businesses, the additional tax could bring deeper problems if some companies make good on their threats to move away to neighboring states that don't impose the tax. Can Maryland afford to lose jobs in a drooping economy?
While technology firms might appear to be an easy target, like any other business they face tremendous competitive pressures, the fallout from a slumping economhy and higher costs.

After economic development promoters have spent millions of dollars and thousands of hours touting Maryland as a warm, friendly place to build a technology business, a new tax on computer services is an unwelcome slap and would be counterproductive."

Sen. Rona Kramer voted against the tax and they took away her sub-committee chairmanship as a result. Good for her! Garagiola could have said NO, NO A THOUSAND TIMES NO! If they had said, "Garagiola, we are going to waterboard you until you vote for this." He could have replied, "Go ahead, there isn't enough water in the Chesapeake Bay. I will vote for that computer tax when the sky falls down."

Posted by: Robin Ficker Broker Robin Realty | March 12, 2008 3:53 PM | Report abuse

Well said, Linguist! Sometimes I feel like I'm the only one who feels that way. I'm perfectly willing to pay my fair share of the taxes that support the government services my community needs (and I live in Montgomery County!) Perhaps the infrastructure would be in better condition if our elected representatives would stop trying to outdo each other in pretending we can have everything we want without paying for it.

Posted by: Mel | March 12, 2008 6:13 PM | Report abuse

We elect our representatives to represent us. We expect them to prioritize the needs (in this case, of the state), and to figure out how much it will cost, and raise revenues in order to pay for those priorities. It's not complicated.

Unfortunately, it's become commonplace to argue that "taxes are too high", as though there is a way to determine that independent of our needs and priorities. Indeed, the very premise of much of modern governance has been to abrogate responsibility and simply pretend that "taxes are too high".

Do I wish I didn't have to pay so much in local or state or even federal taxes? Not really, at least not if I am honest. I happen to think it's important to maintain our roads and bridges, the infrastructure of our state, our schools, our police forces, and a host of other services that individuals and society take for granted.

The next time a house is on fire in my neighborhood, I will be grateful that there is a fire station down the street with equipment in top-notch shape and firefighters at the ready to risk their lives to put out the fire. What I won't be thinking is, "those darned lawmakers taxing me again."

The Republican Party has been playing games, going to court to find some reason --any reason-- to prevent our elected officials from paying for the services we demand, and trying to blame those very lawmakers for trying to figure out ways of doing their job responsibly.

Did our elected officials make the wisest choices? Probably not. I certainly don't think slots are sound fiscal policy. But they did what they could to work towards a balanced budget. I give them credit for that. Maybe, just maybe, if they put the financial state of our state back on track, future deliberations won't need to be quite so convoluted.

Posted by: Linguist | March 12, 2008 6:38 PM | Report abuse

Phil, it's not a Democrat-controlled General Assembly, the word is Democratic. I know it's tough adding on two more letters, but let's not emulate Bush in manners of writing and speech.

Posted by: John Lease | March 12, 2008 9:33 PM | Report abuse

You guys are nuts.

It's not a matter of "prioritizing", it's a matter of common sense.

In a failing economy, with tax revenues falling dramatically, they increased spending and said "Oh dear, hard choice, we need to raise taxes".

That's not prioritizing, it's flipping the bird to the taxpayers.

Let me ask you something. Our governor and our legislator is passing a new law to make mortage pre-payment fees legal to protect the big banks in Maryland. Is that a matter of looking after the taxpayers? Are they being good stewards?

Seriously, just calling a massive tax increase "good stewardship" makes you seem like you're not even paying attention to what's going on.

Posted by: Ombudsman | March 12, 2008 10:01 PM | Report abuse

Every time somebody speaks out against a Democratic tax increase, they say 911 service will be cut if they don't get it. (see comment above about emergency fire service). What they need to cut are retirement benefits and full health coverage till age 65 for those who retire from the fire department at age 40 after only 20 years service. The state budget that was running the "deficit" used to justify the largest tax increase in state history was 8.5% larger than last year. All that had to be done instead of increasing all the taxes was to grow it 2% in an economic downturn. Do we really need to spend $750,000 to renovate the Rockville Old Post Office?

Posted by: No 911 service | March 12, 2008 11:45 PM | Report abuse

I for one am willing to pay for a government that makes sure there is a 911 service that works.

I live in a society with other people and I look to government to maintain the roads and pick up garbage, and put out fires, and all the rest.

I don't want to live out in the wilderness. I live in a community, and in a state, and in a country, together with others.

And there is a price for living in a society with shared needs and services. WE set up the government, you know. It is a government of our fellow citizens whom we elected.

We elect them to pass laws that contribute to the public good. Does 911 contribute to the public good? I sure think it does (and boy, was I happy for 911 when I needed it).

To then turn around and complain and even state that our government ought not PAY for the services we get is worse than irresponsible.

I can certainly point to services I'll never use. I don't, for example, have any kids, so what do I need with public school? But I understand that others DO need those services (and some may never need the 911 service that I needed). Our elected representatives get to make decisions for us in terms of priorities. that IS why we elect them--we've entrusted them with those decisions for us.

In the end, we are all in this society together.

And we have to pay taxes in order to make it all work.

Posted by: responsible government | March 13, 2008 12:06 AM | Report abuse

One way for Montgomery County to make up the projected budget shortfall is to require county employees and retirees to pay a higher copayment for their prescription medications. The current copayment for all drugs is $4 (Federal Blue Cross users pay $35). Would it be asking too much of county employees and retirees to increase their copayment by a dollar or two?

Posted by: Richard | March 13, 2008 2:35 AM | Report abuse

I'm really tired of reading comments here by Montgomery County employees. The County budget went from $2 billion in FY 98 to $3 billion in FY 04 to $4.2 billion now while the population increased less than 10%. And they threaten to cut off 911 if they don't get more. What liars! Where did all the money go?

Posted by: County employees write in | March 13, 2008 4:32 AM | Report abuse

In November as the special session was in full swing, I wrote my state delegate, Sue Kullen, and voiced my concerns against raising taxes. I was immediately given a cut and paste response that cited the bridge collapse in Minnesota that was "caused by the state's failure to fund its infrastructure". I had suspected at the time that this was nothing more than a scare tactic and indeed it has since been proven by the NTSB that the bridge collapse was caused by an error in design-not a funding shortage.

You really have to question the need for a tax increase when O'Malley has increased overall spending and given all of his top advisors substantial pay increases. Fear mongering by insinuating that 911 services will be cut and bridges are going to collapse is shameful and only puts fear in the minds of the naive. That's what the O'Malley administration and the legislature are betting on-your naivete at the polls in 2010.

Posted by: Calvert Voter | March 13, 2008 11:05 AM | Report abuse

You have to admit, though, when voters and press are watching, the MD GOP puts on a good show. It may have an actual effect. When discussing taxes though, is it really questionable if an increase was coming? Let's just throw the $3,100,000,000 ICC toll road into the equation. The unjustified expense of this and other non-essentials could easily boost us way beyond the recent tax hit. My hope is that some reality and careful fiscal planning of this administration will begin to kick in by FY2009 and we can experience some relief.

Posted by: Donny | March 13, 2008 11:25 AM | Report abuse

Let me get this straight. There was a $1.5B "structural deficit", so a tax increase of $1.7B was implemented. So O'Malley presents an FY 08-09 budget that includes an overall increase in spending of $1.5B. Then there is the $1B budget surplus that seems to have inexplicably vanished in the night. I'm no mathematician but none of this is adding up. Could this be why George Bush has a higher approval rating than Martin O'Malley?

Posted by: Confused | March 13, 2008 12:37 PM | Report abuse

Correction: Bush does NOT have a higher approval rating than O'Malley. O'Malley's approval rating is almost twice as high as Bush's...NOT THAT's ANYTHING TO BRAG ABOUT!

Just to be clear...if you can obtain a majority of votes, why can no one keep a majority in approval?

Posted by: Donny | March 14, 2008 10:54 AM | Report abuse

Robin Ficker remains as irresponsible as ever. He, as always, should be totally ignored. It is too bad he doesn't move out of the county he loves to lambast? It must be all the 1st class services the county provides its citizens that keeps him here?
SHUT UP, for a change!

Posted by: charmenone1 | March 15, 2008 1:14 PM | Report abuse

This just in: Bush's approval rating climbed to 31%. O'Malley still on top!

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