Linowes' Vision

August 09, 1992

Men reject their prophets and slay them, but they love their martyrs and honour those whom they have slain.

-- Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Two years after state legislators pilloried R. Robert Linowes for his pioneering report on revamping Maryland's tax structure, after they ridiculed him and made his name a term of derision among the "no new taxes" crowd, Mr. Linowes has gained a degree of vindication. The nation's governors last week honored Mr. Linowes for his visionary report on tax reforms. It is a report that will not be easily buried and forgotten.

The General Assembly proved that earlier this year, when it embraced large chunks of the Linowes commission report as its own in passing a massive tax package. Other recommendations from the three-year study are certain to be resurrected in the years ahead.

Why? Because the Linowes panel set forth such fundamental principles of government that legislators and governors cannot ignore them for long. And the commission emphasized such basic, common-sense approaches to taxation that future state leaders would be foolish to ignore them.

"We make one central recommendation," Mr. Linowes wrote in )) his final report to Gov. William Donald Schaefer. "Maryland must be committed to the proposition that a fairer, more equitable tax system -- one that is truly focused on people rather than jurisdictions -- is crucial to the long-term social and economic well-being of every part of the state." As this state continues to flounder in a massive sea of red ink, the home truth of Mr. Linowes' statement rings loud and clear.

And as many Marylanders complain about the inequities of the current tax system, they ought to keep in mind the two goals set forth by the Linowes panel:

* "Tax people according to their ability to pay."

* "Tax people in similar circumstances similarly."

Sadly, tax policy in Annapolis is not discussed in those terms. Equity and fairness to taxpayers take a back seat to finding the least politically damaging tax alternatives. Lawmakers are too concerned with ensuring their continuance in office to be bothered with such lofty matters as creating a truly even-handed tax code.

Bob Linowes richly deserves the Distinguished Service Award that he received at the 84th annual meeting of the National Governors' Association. His tax-reform report will continue to re-surface in the State House as the current, creaky structure springs more leaks. As Governor Schaefer noted, the only problem with the Linowes report was that "it was too visionary for the times."

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