Enforcing `couch tax' helps retailers and the state's...


June 15, 1999

Enforcing `couch tax' helps retailers and the state's treasury

Barry Rascovar's Opinion Commentary column "Crackdown on the sofa scofflaws" (May 30), which was highly critical of state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer's initiative to collect the use tax Maryland residents owe on major purchases made out of state, avoided some of the facts.

Maryland retailers urged Mr. Schaefer to take action to curtail retail sales moving outside the state to avoid Maryland sales tax.

Last year, nearly $100 million of home furnishings entered Maryland from outside state lines. The uncollected sales tax on these purchases cost Maryland approximately $5 million dollars -- not to mention the economic impact of moving that much sales volume away from Maryland business.

All 45 states that collect a sales tax have a corresponding use tax. The reason is simple -- to keep business from going out of state simply to avoid sales tax. Most states vigorously enforce use tax collection on large items such as like furniture. The concept is not new.

Furniture stores, particularly in Delaware and North Carolina, have aggressively used promises of "no sales tax for Maryland customers" to their advantage for years. These stores would very much like to see continued indifference by Maryland tax enforcement officers to their advantage over Maryland businesses.

Comptroller Schaefer has confronted a difficult issue, instead of executing a politically convenient sidestep.

His approach to the problem is to examine commercial carrier manifests randomly at Maryland weigh stations to identify big-ticket deliveries to Maryland customers where no tax has been collected. The trucking industry is highly regulated, and such inspections are a routine practice of both state and federal officials.

I commend Mr. Schaefer for doing the right thing for Maryland, and I commend those consumers who support Maryland businesses.

Wayne R. Lauman, Baltimore

The writer is president of the Maryland Home Furnishings Association Inc.

State's `use tax' simply levels the playing field

In response to the furor that has erupted over Comptroller William Donald Schaefer's decision to enforce use tax laws, I'd like to point out that this use tax has been law for more than 50 years. It is the equivalent of the retail sales tax Maryland merchants are required to collect.

Enforcement of this law will give merchants in Maryland a level playing field with out-of-state merchants. Since out-of-state merchants have been avoiding the use tax, Maryland's merchants have been at an automatic 5 percent price disadvantage.

Collecting this tax not only brings more revenue to the state treasury, it will create jobs, which will create spending, which will increase the tax base, which will spread the tax burden among more taxpayers. This will enhance the quality of life for all Marylanders.

I commend Mr. Schaefer for having the courage to enforce an existing law that his longtime predecessor refused to enforce.

Ray Kenney, Severna Park

Bridge accident coverage brought home human issues

The Sun's article on last week's Beltway bridge collapse "In tragedy, convergence of five lives" (June 10) explored the personal side of an otherwise scientific investigation. As a veteran of the Maryland State Police, I was deeply moved and truly hope that others in law enforcement understand how devastating these collisions are and how important our work is.

As professionals, we try to remove ourselves from the human aspect of these tragedies. We prepare our reports and submit them to a state's attorney who decides whether to prosecute. We inform family members about the case, but we try not to get emotionally involved.

The Sun's article reminded me that law enforcement officers make a difference. Our investigations help establish not only how accidents happen, but why, and thus help prevent future tragedies.

To the families of those involved in last Tuesday's collision, my heartfelt sympathy goes out to you for your loss. To my fellow emergency service providers, thank you for the outstanding efforts to prevent further loss of life or injuries.

To the Maryland Highway Administration and its contractors, thank you for your safe and expedient work.

To The Sun, thank you putting our efforts in perspective and reminding us just how important our work really is.

Lt. Michael J. Fischer, Pikesville

Bridge didn't `collapse' -- it was knocked down

Most of the the media claimed the overhead walkway in the Beltway bridge tragedy collapsed. Every structural design engineer in the country will tell you the walkway did not collapse -- no earthquake, no 15-foot-high flood or hundreds of marathoners on the bridge caused a "collapse."

The bridge fell because it was struck by a truck's high cargo. The term "collapse" is properly reserved for bad design, flawed material or improper fabrication.

Walter Habicht, Baltimore

Warning barriers for trucks could head off accidents

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