Techies Vs. Roads--Maryland's False Choice
For months, the folks who run computer service businesses in Maryland howled and whined about a new tax the state government decided to levy on their industry. The politicians heard and backed off. Last week, legislators eliminated the tech tax before it had even kicked in.
But to fill the resulting gap in the state budget, the lawmakers decided to do two things: Soak the rich and rip off Maryland's transportation kitty.
Socking it to the mere 6,000 Marylanders who make north of a million a year is a no-brainer. Those folks can afford vastly more than the extra $17,000 a year that the state now proposes to charge them for the right to get fat off the labor of state residents. And surely the politicians are safe in pushing around the ultra-rich; hey, a whopping 40 percent of the state's millionaires live in Montgomery County, which Maryland routinely treats as its cash cow.
But the tax on millionaires only hauls in about half of the $200 million a year that the tech tax would have produced. So Maryland is now moving to cut transportation spending by slicing back the Transportation Trust Fund by $50 million a year for the next five years--and this is where the legislators are veering off the rails.
Now, thanks to the bill backed by Senate President Mike Miller and Gov. Martin O'Malley, all of Maryland will have to pay to keep those computer businesses comfy. "The money hasn't even hit the trust fund yet and they're already raiding it," says Lon Anderson, AAA's director of government affairs. "It should be renamed the State of Maryland Cookie Jar."
The trust fund is a collection plate for the taxes you pay when you buy gas. "The politicians see that huge pile of cash and think 'oh, nobody will miss this,'" Anderson says. "Oh, yes, we will."
Maryland's own studies say the state has a $40 billion backlog in road maintenance, highway and transit projects, yet now the state proposes to do less, not more for what many residents see as one of the top three functions of state government.
The raid on the transportation money comes just after Maryland moved in a special session last year to add $450 million a year to road and transit spending, just to get the state up to 70 percent of its budget goal for transportation spending.
Anderson says the legislature's own statistics show that Maryland has borrowed $571 million from the transportation kitty since 1984 and has paid back less than one-third of that amount.
The games players in Annapolis need to know that taxpayers are watching.
By Marc Fisher |
April 7, 2008; 7:51 AM ET
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