Slings and arrows: criticizing a “timid” approach

I wasn’t sure just what I was going to write on tonight, but thanks to Charles Lollar I have some blog fodder. It’s the kind of thing that happens when the race establishes a front-runner and those who aren’t king of the mountain try and climb up the hill.

Here’s what Charles Lollar had to say regarding Larry Hogan’s comments, quoted in the Washington Post, about his plan for “prudent” tax cuts:

All the Democrat candidates agree with Larry on this, that we should be “timid” in cutting taxes and putting government on a diet. Lt. Governor Anthony Brown has said the state “can’t afford” even a modest reduction in the corporate tax.

Ken and I believe on the contrary that the time is over for Republicans to advocate tinkering around the edges of our bloated state budget, our confiscatory tax policies, and our corrupt and inefficient state government.

It is time for bold reforms that go to the core of our problems here in Maryland. That is why Ken and I turned to Dr. Art Laffer, who helped turn around our national economy in the 1980s, to vet our plan to eliminate the state income tax.

We have looked at the numbers, and we know we can achieve this step by step over the next five years, without putting at risk the services Maryland citizens expect their state government to provide.

Government is overhead on the economy. When you tax income, you reduce economic activity. Our objective is to restore economic vitality to Maryland, so families and small businesses will want to come here, invest, and grow.

Lollar and Timmerman are also vowing to eliminate the “rain tax,” the death tax, and the latest increases in the gasoline tax. So let’s look at what is at stake.

It’s difficult to quantify what chucking the “rain tax” would actually save because it does not affect all Maryland citizens equally. Sitting in Wicomico County, I pay no “rain tax” because our county hasn’t been forced to adopt one. Annual rates for counties which were mandated to adopt the fee range from one penny to $170.84, depending on location. Of course, we could go into why we are forced to come up with this when other states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed successfully fought the mandate, but that’s for another time.

As far as eliminating the “death tax” goes, according to the fiscal note for this year’s House Bill 739, which set in motion a four-year process to recouple Maryland’s estate and inheritance taxes with federal law, these two taxes combine to create approximately $200 million a year in revenue for the state – a significant amount, but barely 1/2% of the state’s FY2015 budget. In short, we could easily eliminate this as a rounding error.

The gasoline tax, however, is another matter. By the end of Lollar’s first term, the increased tax is expected to bring $685 million in annual revenue, not counting the roughly $700-800 million the existing tax has taken in annually over the last decade. The intent of increasing the tax was to build light rail in Baltimore and metro Washington – note that by FY2019, O’Malley’s budget projected the Maryland Transit Authority would be allocated nearly as much as the State Highway Administration receives (page 33 here). Currently the MTA gets about 56 cents for every dollar that goes to SHA; by FY2019 it would be 92 cents. Just keeping the MTA at its current 56 cent rate to SHA for FY2019 would save about $405.5 million; reducing them to the 25 cents per dollar MTA/SHA rate exhibited in the FY2007 budget (Bob Ehrlich’s last, see page 19) would save $752.7 million. Guess what? There’s your gas tax increase.

In looking at the two example budgets, which happen to be the final ones presented by the respective governors, it’s remarkable that income tax has remained a fairly constant portion of the revenue. Its share was 23% of Bob Ehrlich’s $29.6 billion FY2007 budget and 22% of Martin O’Malley’s $39.3 billion FY2015 proposal. (In terms of real money, though, the income tax increase is $1.999 billion, from $6.552 billion to $8.551 billion.) Over time, we have to figure out what to cut and how to grow the economy to backfill $8.551 billion in revenues if the state income tax goes away.

But let’s assume we can hold the budget where it is, rather than grow it at a 5% annual rate as Martin O’Malley has been doing for the last few years – a trend we could easily assume Anthony Brown would continue. Rather than looking at a $47.8 billion FY2019 budget, $8.5 billion higher than today’s, we would be in a position where other revenue sources could indeed grow to obviate the need for an income tax. Even as people prosper and have more income, the state would get a cut from increased sales tax revenue and perhaps even additional property taxes as housing becomes more valuable in a growing, thriving state.

Yet all of this is academic to a degree. Even if Republicans split 50-50 on all the contested races this year in the Maryland General Assembly, they would remain the minority by 91-50 in the House of Delegates and 29-18 in the Senate. Most of the Republicans who won would be replacing the centrists of the Democratic delegation, so those remaining Democrats would be farther left than ever. We would need Reaganesque leadership to shepherd tax cuts through that body, particularly after those aggrieved Democratic constituencies begin taking a haircut on the budget. (If you thought the grumbling about the “doomsday budget” from the Left was bad, the caterwauling on this would be deafening.) If Charles Lollar (or, for that matter, David Craig, who is also suggesting the elimination of the income tax) can get it done, the prospects are there for voters to further reward both them and the Republicans in general in 2018 – an important election because the winners will draw the next set of redistricting lines.

So I would prepare to be a little disappointed if you’re expecting our income taxes to magically disappear the moment Charles Lollar is sworn into office. However, he makes a good point in that we should be making bold initiatives, because being cautious isn’t really getting us anywhere. If you’re going down, go out with your guns blazing and don’t spare any bullets.

Comments

One Response to “Slings and arrows: criticizing a “timid” approach”

  1. JWB on May 1st, 2014 10:18 am

    Go big or go home. It seems like Hogan is unwilling to stick his neck out even a little bit *during the primary campaign*, when he’s not getting pressure from Democrats.

    How feckless and spineless would he be as governor?

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