Seeking a Free Ride from Taxpayers

April 26, 1995

Unless the EnterTRAINment Line decides to appeal, Maryland's Tax Court has had the final word on whether the rail excursion company owes the towns of Westminster and Union Bridge more than $300,000 in back amusement and admissions taxes. The court last week upheld the towns' claims and the legitimacy of the tax.

Tax Court Judge William B. Calvert dismissed the company's argument that it was not subject to local taxes because it is a railroad. While federal laws and regulations prevent local governments from imposing certain types of taxes on rail carriers, EnterTRAINment's owners and their lawyers misread those rules. As the U.S. Supreme Court ruled weeks ago in a case involving a defunct Oklahoma bus company, state and local governments can legally impose a ticket tax on interstate transportation companies.

During the recent legislative session, state senators Larry E. Haines and Timothy R. Ferguson, who represent Carroll County, labored to rescind the tax. In their abortive attempt to ram this measure through the legislature, the senators repeated the company's arguments.

Mr. Ferguson added his own peculiar twist, arguing that the municipal taxes amounted to a "discrimination against entrepreneurship." Mr. Ferguson's argument would be persuasive if EnterTRAINment was the only county business that was taxed, but we all know that is not the case.

Businesses such as EnterTRAINment would find it difficult to operate without the infrastructure and services the towns provide. Without Westminster's parking lots, for example, EnterTRAINment's customers would have no place to park. The company also benefits from police protection. It's not unreasonable to expect the tourist-centered business to help cover some of these costs of maintaining peaceful and orderly towns, which encourages their clientele to return.

In the current anti-tax climate, calls to reduce any and all taxes are politically popular. Lost in the clamor is the question of who is going to pay for government. If EnterTRAINment doesn't want to, the taxpayers of Westminster and Union Bridge must shoulder the company's share. People and firms who expect others to foot the bill of maintaining community services that enable them to conduct business are freeloading on the public good.

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