How much is enough?

Remember the scene in the movie “Top Gun” where the commander yells at Tom Cruise’s character, Maverick, “Son, your ego’s writing checks your body can’t cash!”? I think about that statement when I see the taxes looming on the horizon for those of us who are blessed to live in the Free State but cursed by its monopolistic government in Annapolis. The way I see it, Governor O’Malley and the Democratic-controlled General Assembly pulled out all the stops in last year’s election to reclaim power, making promises to everybody and wagging a smug, condescending finger at the Republicans who did terrible things to Marylanders like expand their economy, keep their taxes low and build a $1.6 billion surplus in the rainy day fund. The Democrats knew they were writing checks the state government couldn’t cash, but they would say anything to win. They wooed the voters with their promises of top-flight schools, full access to health care and better wages for all - “a chicken in every pot,” as it were - and reclaimed Government House and an even larger majority in the General Assembly.

Fast forward to today, and the gloom and doom being preached by the monopolists in Annapolis is so thick you could cut it with a knife. ”If we’re not allowed to raise taxes until you’re paying us more than you take home, we’re going to go down like the Titanic,” they moan.  They’ve even produced a “doomsday” budget to show how painful it will be if they attempt to balance the budget through spending cuts alone. And increased taxes will feel so much better?

Let’s look at the list of “revenue enhancements” the General Assembly put on the table during the last session:

- Increase gasoline tax by more than 50%

- Raise sales tax- Raise tax on tobacco

- Increase services subject to sales tax

- New sales tax on guns

- Authorize municipal admissions taxes

- New fees and deposits on beverage containers

- Raise tax on alcoholic beverages

- State confiscation of the value of unredeemed gift certificates

- Reduce deductions relating to corporate income taxes

- Raise corporate income taxes

- Raise property transfer and recording taxes

- Authorize municipal sales taxes on hotel rooms

- New fees and bureaucracy related to “off-highway” vehicles

- New development fees

- Slots

I may have missed some, but you get the point. The one that really gets me going is the “State confiscation of the value of unredeemed gift certificates.” If my son gets a gift certificate from you as a birthday gift and doesn’t redeem it, the state believes it has a right to that money. For goodness sakes, that is a private transaction between a customer and a retailer - why is the government sticking its hands into the middle of it?

I don’t recall the monopolists producing this tax list during the campaign, do you? Does the party that supposedly stands for working families think they’re helping them by raising the cost of gasoline or purchasing a home, or by raising their out-of-pocket costs for goods AND services? Do you have faith that the money you are forced to give to the state government through higher taxes is going to deliver the higher quality of life they promised during the campaign?

Friends, Maryland already has the 15th highest tax burden in the United States. We work more days of the year to pay for government than we do to pay for food, clothing and housing combined. Taxation is a bigger financial burden than housing, health and medical care, food, transportation, recreation or clothing and accessories. To put it into perspective, May 1st is ”Tax Freedom Day” for Marylanders, so your tax burden is equivalent to the first four months of income. What is being done with this money? Are you getting what you expect out of your government for the money they’re taking from you?

Maryland is the 4th richest state in the nation, but our average annual income growth of 4.7 percent is swallowed up by the 8.2 percent annual increase in state government spending. If the rate of spending in Maryland since 1995 had been managed so that increases were restricted to population growth and inflation, we would have nearly $9 billion in our pockets. That money could have been spent on new businesses, new homes, retail purchases and even donated to community service organizations to help them meet local needs.

What really aggravates me is to hear the monopolists in Annapolis tell us it takes “courage” to propose tax increases. Tell me, what’s courageous about forcing me to pay more in taxes than I do to support my family? What’s courageous about forcing entrepreneurs to raise their prices so they can afford the higher prices they’ll have to pay for the services they need to run their small businesses? What’s courageous about forcing commuters in Montgomery, Prince George’s, Charles, Calvert and St. Mary’s counties to pay significantly more for gas so they can get to their jobs in and around Washington, DC?

Taking money from people by force and spending it indiscriminately isn’t courage. Courage would be compelling the government to do what families have to do when confronted with a budget shortfall - cut back, defer, extend and do without until the shortfall is addressed. Families don’t have the luxury of demanding a pay raise or else they’ll fine or arrest their employers for non-compliance. Courage would be curbing the appetite of government for money it didn’t earn but instead appropriated from hard-working, productive people. Courage would be observing the continued struggles of the school systems in Prince George’s County and the city of Baltimore in spite of increasing tax revenues and acknowledging that maybe money isn’t the solution. Courage would be hiring private sector, non-profit and community service organizations to deliver services and getting government out of the service provider business since it’s not very good or efficient at it.

Lord Rutherford, a New Zealand physicist, once said, “Gentlemen, we are out of money. Therefore, we shall have to think.” That time has come for us in Maryland, and we need to speak up and demand more thought, innovation and transformation, and fewer “doomsday” scenarios designed to frighten us into submission when the tax collector comes knocking on our doors.