O’Guvnah is Getting His Commuter Tax Through the Back Door

Back on February 21, 2008, O’Malley Watch posted an item about the impending increases in tolls that will go through in 2011. I’ve spent the last week or so, scratching my head and trying to figure out “okay, so what this the game here?” After all, O’Guvnah has raised taxes across the board in nearly every walk of life, he has energy bills in the Politburo that will bankrupt most citizens (and kill a few, too), and he has done NOTHING to rollback or at least address the previous electricity rate increases.

And now he wants to make it MORE expensive for people to get to work? Then it dawned on me. This liberal facist is realizing his lifelong dream of a commuter tax.

This is not the first time the idea of a commuter tax has been broached by O’Guvnah. He tried several times when he was Boy Mayor to impose a commuter tax, but his business supporters swatted him down every time. Not to mention that Maryland law is a little ambiguous about the ability of one jurisdiction to impose a tax on a resident of another jurisdiction.

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Now, you are probably asking, how are increasing tools a backdoor version of a commuter tax? For that, let’s take a little stroll down Memory Lane. Over the last fifteen years, as the real estate speculation across the state increased, more and more people could not afford to purchase homes in the “metropolitan core” of Maryland, along the I-95 and US 1, so they started moving to the outer areas. This means, mostly, the Eastern Shore. Today, thousands of Marylanders live on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and commute across the Bay or the Susquehanna River to work . From Rising Sun and Elkton all the way to Linkwood, thousands make the round-trip trek “across the pond”. They made this decision because the land was cheap, the homes are affordable, the taxes are incredibly low, gas (was) cheap, and tolls were affordable. And the commute wasn’t too bad.

But there is a problem. All of those former residents of the “metropolitan core” are no longer paying piggyback taxes in those higher-tax jurisdictions. In fact, a lot of those residents have been replaced with lower-wage residents, which means a serious loss to tax revenues. But they are still using services in the core (by virtue of working there). So how do we tax them?

You can’t do a commuter tax. But you can tax them through the toll facilities. This has the advantage of hiding the tax in a user fee, and resolves the issue of “how do you collect a commuter tax?” Furthermore, the boost in revenues to MDOT means they will draw less from the General Fund, allowing that money to be spent elsewhere. Not saved, not rebated, not refunded, spent.

It’s an ingenious manipulation of state facilities to increase revenue collection. Just like Ehrlich did with the fee increases at DMV and the flush tax, O’Guvnah can claim he isn’t raising taxes. But if it smells like a tax, and looks like a tax, isn’t it a tax?

Crossposted at www.gunpowderchronicle.com.

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