Waiting for Linowes

November 20, 1990

The recommendations of the Linowes Commission have not even been officially introduced as a legislative package, but already the reaction from state lawmakers is decidedly negative. This should hardly come as any great surprise.

The report, which was more than two years in the making, does, after all, contain some pretty drastic proposals -- most of which involve higher taxes. But in fairness -- and fairness seems to have been a major criterion -- the commission's proposals would ensure that those with a greater ability to pay are asked to pay more, and that poorer jurisdictions of Maryland, including Baltimore city, would benefit most.

Such idealistic goals, however, do not often mesh with the hard reality of politics. And that reality, simply put, is that the legislature of 1991, having witnessed on Nov. 6 the unseating of incumbents even remotely associated with taxing and spending, not about to approve a plan that hits constituents with new fees on their cable TV service and their dry cleaning and cigarettes, a new tax on their cars and increased personal income tax, too -- especially at a time when the national economy is sliding unpredictably toward recession.

But even if political and economic times were better, the kind of massive change proposed by the state tax panel no doubt would be difficult to achieve anyway. History has shown that attempts at such broad reform invariably attract numerous special interest groups -- each with its own nit to pick and each of which, alone, is not powerful enough to derail a proposal -- but which together can constitute a formidable majority. We need only look at prior attempts to pass new state constitutions.

None of this, however, diminishes the fine work the commission has done. If its recommendations do prove to be a turkey too big for the '91 General Assembly to swallow, the commitment it embodies might stand a better chance of being codified were the proposals considered one by one, over time rather than being thrust upon skittish lawmakers and a cynical public all at once. Maybe that's what Governor Schaefer, who had appointed the commission to begin with, had in mind when he offered a cautious and general endorsement of the need for tax reform if not of the package in its entirety.

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