A question of fairness

April 24, 1991

No matter how you slice the pie, taxes are a burden, and the way that burden falls on various groups is a good measure of a society's concern with fairness and equity. This country's commitment to those ideals has been called into question by a new study of state and local taxes. Citizens for Tax Justice, the private research group that released the study this week, has found that the burden of state and local taxes falls much more heavily on poor and middle-class Americans than on affluent taxpayers.

In this survey, Maryland rates as one of the five "fairest" states, due in part to tax changes in the late 1980s that eased the burden on the poorest taxpayers. But at the same time, the burden on lower middle-income citizens has increased. Moreover, both poor and lower middle-income groups pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes than do high-income groups.

The statistical results of this study vary slightly from the analysis of Maryland's tax structure by the Linowes Commission, but it confirms the commission's contention that the state's tax burdens weigh more heavily on poorer citizens than on more affluent taxpayers. Add to that the fact that too many poor people get far less in services for their tax dollars, and the trends look even worse.

Marylanders may be tempted to take some pride in favorable comparisons to other states. But pride would be a mistake if it came at the expense of paying attention not to how far the state has come toward tax fairness, but how very far it still has to go.

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