O'Malley gets publicity savvy about tax hikes

January 18, 2012|By Jay Hancock

Lists and rankings are surefire click bait and instant wisdom for Web surfers. The way to gain fame is to make the good lists -- Oscars, Forbes billionaires, best place to live etc.  Membership on bad lists summons notoriety, deserved or not. Worst dressed. 10 Things We Hate. Forbes billionaires!

The Tax Foundation keeps the main tax scoreboard, listing states by income taxes, sales taxes and so forth. The most-often consulted rankings are those relying on tax rates -- the percentage tax people pay on a given dollar of retail sales, income, gross receipts or whatever. I rely on the Tax Foundation stats often in my column, noting for example how many other states have sale taxes equal to or greater than Maryland's 6 percent, or which states have top personal-income brackets higher than Maryland's. (There aren't many, when you include the local, "piggyback" income tax.)

There had been discussion about reviving Maryland's millionaire tax, which would have raised the state's rates and hurt its rankings on lists compiled by the Tax Foundation, corporate site-location consultants and others. By proposing to eliminate income-tax deductions and exemptions for households over a certain threshold, however, the governor is proposing a tax hike withiout hurting Maryland's tax-rate rankings. Instead of a rate increase it'll be an effective tax increase on a fifth of Maryland households, many of which aren't close to the millionaire category.

Rates and brackets are easier to measure, compile and argue about than subtler measures of taxes such as tax revenue per capita or tax burden for specific taxpayers. O'Malley isn't hiding the fact that this is a tax increase. But I suspect he'll get less flak this way than if he had increased rates on millionaires and opened himself to accusations of waging class warfare on the 1 percent. And he'll keep Maryland from slipping a notch or two on the tax-rate lists.

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