No to commuter tax

Wrong way: It would threaten city efforts to retain, attract jobs, and harm relations with neighbors.

July 02, 1999

IT'S UNDERSTANDABLE if some city residents -- and politicians -- find the notion of a commuter tax appealing. The idea of placing the burden of increased taxes on someone else is attractive. That's one reason taxes on hotel rooms and rental cars -- in other words, on visitors -- are imposed in some places with relatively little local uproar.

A commuter tax, though, could have a devastating effect on Baltimore's attempts to retain and attract employers. It could also alienate the city's neighbors at a time when more -- not less -- cooperation is needed.

Especially now, as the mayoral campaign is about to begin in earnest and Baltimore faces a budget shortfall, the city's finances are a legitimate and important topic for discussion. It is the time to look at privatizing some city services, as Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has belatedly conceded. It's also time for a major study of the best practices in public administration with an eye toward streamlining the bureaucracy and maximizing the city's collection of revenues to which it is entitled, such as permit fees.

What Baltimore doesn't need -- at a time when it is seeking to increase jobs in the city -- is a new tax likely to scare employers off. Or to alienate residents of other Maryland jurisdictions -- if their representatives in Annapolis would even allow such a thing.

Ask New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani what it can mean when your own state legislature -- as well as politicians from surrounding states -- rise up against a commuter tax.

His city is now fighting a two-front battle -- against the state of New York, which has a recently enacted a law exempting suburban New Yorkers from the commuter tax and against New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, which have filed suit challenging the tax imposed on their residents. Meanwhile, some members of Congress who think the courts may act too slowly are seeking a federal law prohibiting any state from allowing a commuter tax on nonresidents that is not imposed on residents.

Who needs it?

Certainly not Baltimore.

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