New 6% Md. tax bracket: a wealth of complications State's new 6% tax bracket brings wealth of complications

April 15, 1992|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,Staff Writer

For Maryland's elite, the whine line is 59.

If the number entered on that line of your Maryland tax return is more than $100,000 for an individual or $150,000 for a married couple filing jointly, your fortune has become your misfortune.

Beyond that line, your taxable income has qualified you for a posh club of some 25,500 Marylanders who qualify for the state's new 6 percent tax bracket. It's the sky box of Maryland taxation, constructed by the General Assembly for the top 1.2 percent of taxpayers. And for the next three years, at which time the bracket is to expire, you'll have a ticket if you have enough income.

That doesn't just mean that you pay more. Would that it were so easy.

Under the half-billion-dollar tax package passed Friday, the higher tax rate is retroactive to Jan. 1, but the state's new withholding tables will not go into effect until July 1. So you don't need to be H. or R. Block to figure out that, unless you do something now, you're going to have a nasty surprise come next spring.

The Maryland Comptroller's Office is recommending that before you file your paperwork from this year's tax agonies, you refer to a copy of your 1991 return and figure out how much extra money you want to have withheld this year to make up for six months of unintentional under-withholding.

"If, in fact, you are affected, you probably need to take some action to protect yourself," Marvin Bond, spokesman for the Maryland Comptroller of the Treasury, said yesterday. "A year from now you'll be glad you did."

He said taxpayers who file a MW-507 form, Maryland's counterpart to the federal W-4, have the option of decreasing their exemptions or having additional tax withheld by a specified amount each pay period.

If you make a quarterly estimated-tax payment instead of having tax withheld, the comptroller's office will inform you by mail of the new rate and advise you to adjust your payments accordingly starting with the payment due in July, Mr. Bond said.

So far, simple enough. But the fly in the salad (now taxable if bought in a Maryland grocery store thanks to the same law) is that each jurisdiction in the state must decide whether it wants to raise its "piggyback" tax and, if so, how much.

The law passed by the General Assembly last week permits Maryland's counties and Baltimore to impose a maximum 60 percent piggyback rate, up from the previous 50 percent.

Thus, the comptroller's office must wait for the county and city governments to act before it can issue the withholding table for residents of each jurisdiction. Those decisions are expected to be made in May, Mr. Bond said.

In many of Maryland's counties that won't be a problem. For instance, the Harford, Carroll and Anne Arundel county governments have signaled they have no plans to raise their piggyback tax rates this year.

In Baltimore County, however, County Executive Roger B. Hayden has indicated he plans to seek an increase in the rate. Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker have said they are considering seeking an increase.

Before you start sharpening your pencils, however, you should know that the rate is not just a question of 50 percent vs. 60 percent. According to Mr. Bond, the Assembly gave jurisdictions the authority to raise the rate to 52, 54, 56 or 58 percent -- but not 51, 53, 55, 57 or 59 percent.

Any increased piggyback rate will be applicable only up to the point where a taxpayer crosses over into the 6 percent rate. State taxes paid on taxable income over the individuals' $100,000 level and couples' $150,000 level will carry no more than a 50 percent piggy on its back.

Mr. Bond said the new withholding tables "will incorporate the county actions as soon as they are known."

The new bracket will squeeze taxpayers most in Montgomery County, home to about 40 percent of the members of the 6 percent club -- an estimated 9,925 of them. As a result, the new tax bill is a bonanza for the county's government, which will gain an estimated $8.8 million in annual revenue.

In contrast, Baltimore -- with about 1,444 top-bracket taxpayers -- will gain $1.1 million a year.

According to Mr. Bond, the average taxpayer in the 6 percent bracket will pay $1,530 more, though that amount might be skewed by the inclusion of a few very wealthy individuals.

In a more typical case, a married couple with an income of $175,000 after all deductions and exemptions would pay $13,410 -- an extra $375 -- in state and local income taxes if their piggyback rate stayed at 50 percent. A 60 percent piggyback tax would raise that couple's taxes by an additional $744.

Impact of tax increases

Higher Maryland income taxes are coming in two ways: 1) A 6 percent tax on high-income households (6 percent on the amounts above $100,000 taxable income for single filers and above $150,000 for joint returns). 2) A higher "piggyback" tax by localities choosing to use their new powers to impose a 60 percent tax rate, up from 50 percent (except in Worcester County, which has a 20 percent rate.)

The table shows how much each locality will receive from the addition of the 6 percent tax bracket and, separately, how much total new revenue from all brackets would be generated if higher piggyback rates were adopted.

Also, Maryland's fiscal year begins July 1, but these tax increases are retroactive to Jan. 1, 1992, which means states and localities will collect a "windfall" of six months' additional tax revenues in fiscal 1993.

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