Saturday Mailbox


March 24, 2007

Use tobacco tax to ease care crisis

As a medical student, I am confronted regularly by the consequences of today's health insurance crisis ("Mr. O'Malley's opportunity," editorial, March 20).

A huge proportion of the patients I see lack health insurance.

They often arrive in the emergency room with diseases in very advanced states.

In many cases, their illnesses could have been easily treatable if they had been diagnosed and treated early on. But the patients arrive in the hospital so late in the game that there are no longer any assurances.

It is infuriating and heartbreaking that so many of these people suffer crippling disease complications or succumb to curable illnesses because they lack the health insurance that would enable them to seek health care right away.

It is a particular crisis when these patients are, as is often the case, children dying from curable illnesses.

And this problem affects more than just those without health insurance.

It is a problem felt financially by everybody, because the patients who arrive in the emergency department are not turned away.

They are seen and their care is paid for by government programs and by the hospital, which spreads the cost among the patients who do have health insurance.

These exaggerated costs are reflected in the health charges and insurance premiums of every patient and every family that has health insurance.

The tobacco tax bill is an essential step toward providing coverage for more of Maryland's uninsured.

As representatives of the citizens of this state, Gov. Martin O'Malley and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller have an obligation to ensure that this bill is voted on during this session.

Leah Gitajn


The writer is a student at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Real estate loophole costs state millions

While I applaud The Sun and the Maryland legislature for tackling the issue of transfer and recordation taxes, I think both have missed a critical consequence of the current law ("Realty tax loophole costs state millions," March 14).

As the director of research and policy for the Community Law Center, I focus on predatory and deceptive residential real estate transactions.

I have determined that real estate investors dealing in residential property frequently use and abuse the limited-liability company laws to further deceptions and frauds.

Most consumers pay transfer and recordation taxes when they buy and sell residential real estate.

As a practical matter, the LLC loophole permits a change of ownership without transfer of title.

Thus it not only enables investors to escape the transfer and recordation tax but also shields the transaction from the public detection that public records of land transactions allow. This can lead to a loss of property tax revenue because assessors are sometimes unaware of a property's true resale value.

Many LLC investors deal in multiple properties each year and save considerable sums by avoiding the recordation and transfer taxes.

Based on the Department of Legislative Services analysis, the Senate bill, which would only apply to real estate transactions worth more than $500,000, would produce for the state well in excess of $7 million in additional revenue for fiscal 2008 and more than $14 million annually thereafter.

At the local level, the additional revenues would exceed $24 million in fiscal 2008 and $48 million thereafter.

Clearly, if the threshold were eliminated and all real estate transactions were subjected to the transfer and recordation taxes most people are required to pay, these revenues would be even higher.

Robert J. Strupp


Protest pay raise for city officials

Now is the time for all concerned Baltimoreans to follow the lead of the writer of the letter "Part-time council deserves no raise" (March 19) and raise their voices in vociferous protest against the proposed 18 percent to 26 percent pay raises for 17 city elected officials, especially the 15 who are on the City Council.

Who knows - maybe if enough folks howl in protest, some council members might even be emboldened to speak out against the proposed raises and enhance their stature as true public servants who are not simply gorging themselves at the public trough.

If the public doesn't rise up, council members are likely to go through the motions of a perfunctory debate among themselves and let the raises occur without having to embarrass themselves by voting for the proposal.

Council members may not have had a raise since 2000, but the huge increases they received at that time (to $48,000 for council members and $80,000 for the council president) put them well above the pay for every other part-time council in the state and almost every other one in the nation.

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