With all the bad economic news coming out of the State House, members of the Linowes commission face an uphill battle to convince lawmakers now is the time for tax reform. Yet the panel, which released its report yesterday, makes a strong case for changing the way Maryland raises revenue so that it is fairer and more equitable -- and brings in more money for schools, new roads and government services.
This last item could be a sticking point. The Linowes panel seeks an extra $345 million for the state, earmarked for such programs as public safety and public health. Maryland voters and legislators have to be convinced of the wisdom of such a major expansion in government activities. "Belt-tightening" is the operative term these days.
Lawmakers would make a grave mistake to dismiss the Linowes report as a poorly timed set of recommendations. Maryland's tax structure cries out for refurbishing. It is littered with exemptions that drain valuable revenue from state and local coffers. It is skewed in favor of the rich and against the poor and middle class. It could become a drag on Maryland's growth as this state approaches the next century.
Ways have to be found to pump more money into public schools, to avoid massive highway gridlock, to ease the tax burden on property owners and to help the poorest counties and Baltimore City provide basic services to its citizens. These things can happen only if the legislature revises the state's tax laws.
What is required is formation of a broad-based, statewide coalition of groups that recognize the importance of the Linowes plan to Maryland's future well-being. Businesses, churches, labor organizations, community associations, property-tax relief groups, county governments, PTAs and the two-thirds of citizens who receive tax cuts under this plan should descend upon legislators and convince them that this package provides needed tax relief and a vastly improved quality of life.
Montgomery County lawyer R. Robert Linowes and the other prestigious members of this tax panel offer a broad set of proposals. Literally hundreds of permutations could result. The entire report may not be adopted all at once, either. Gov. William Donald Schaefer and legislative leaders could select a number of sensible first steps to take now and continue the discussion of other changes after the legislature adjourns next April.
This report presents a framework for that discussion. Mr. Linowes' group deserves praise for its work product. Their thoughtful recommendations merit Governor Schaefer's strong support, and the legislature's positive consideration.