A lot of kids don't like to eat vegetables, even though vegetables are good for them. When it comes to a balanced approach to budgeting, some of Maryland's political leaders are acting like those kids.
To promote job growth now, and invest in a prosperous future, Maryland has to make the necessary investments. Our state's highest priorities are to create jobs and build for the future. That means improving schools, fixing roads and bridges, expanding health care and keeping our communities safe. These investments not only protect and enhance our state's quality of life, they are proven job creators.
But for the past four years, state revenue plummeted because of the national recession. We balanced the budget with a steady diet of cuts. The cuts have affected education: increasing class sizes and eliminating programs in foreign languages, art and physical education, for example.
The cuts have affected transportation. Local governments have lost funds they need to fill potholes, repair sidewalks and operate local bus service.
The cuts have affected public safety. Parole officers have caseloads that exceed 200 and 300 — three or four times professional standards. Prisons are dangerously understaffed, and guards are required to work excessive overtime.
The cuts have affected families. A single mom who gets a job and qualifies for child care assistance today will not get that help. Her child will be placed on a waiting list, behind 14,700 other kids.
We are reaching the end of the line on cuts. We've skipped our veggies for too long, and we are suffering from vitamin deficiencies. We need a balanced approach that includes fair, reasonable revenue measures. It is time for a workable, grown-up budget plan. Gov.Martin O'Malley's proposed budget recognizes this. It includes both taxes and cuts. In fact, there are three dollars in cuts for every one dollar in revenue. The cuts will hit schools, working families, health care providers, city and county governments, and others. But without new revenue, bigger and more damaging cuts would be needed. The state must balance its budget each year.
The taxes proposed by the governor are moderate and based on our ability to pay. The largest item reduces income tax deductions and exemptions for higher-income households. The changes do not affect any taxpayer with an income under $100,000. The most significant effect is on households earning more than $200,000. For example, it will cost my wife and me about $150 per year, or $3 a week. That will be typical for a two-earner household with a combined income in the low $100,000s.
Governor O'Malley has proposed other reasonable revenue measures that bring our tax system into the 21st century. Of course cigars and other noncigarette tobacco should be taxed at a comparable rate to cigarettes. (As it is, big tobacco is aggressively exploiting this tax gap to market cheap, flavored cigars to young people.)
Of course our sales tax should better reflect the economy of 2012. Books, music and movies that we download ought to be taxed just like the same content on print or digital disc (or cassette tapes and vinyl — for those of you in my generation). Online sellers should have to compete on an even playing field with Maryland stores on Main Street and in the mall.
Of course we should eliminate special-interest tax exemptions before we make deeper cuts that affect students, patients and working parents.
In total, even with increases in the sales tax on gas to fund transportation and the "flush tax" to fund water-quality projects, the increase will not amount to more than three-tenths of 1 percent of income for any income group.
Most important is what we will get for that money. Maryland's competitive edge is our educated, productive workforce; our strong infrastructure; and our great quality of life. Protect those things, and we will attract jobs this year, next year and next decade. That means we should invest in educating our people, maintaining our transportation network and keeping Maryland's environment clean and our culture energetic.
For that, we need a responsible budget plan that includes these fair and moderate tax proposals. We need to start eating our vegetables.
Neil L. Bergsman is director of the Maryland Budget & Tax Policy Institute (www.marylandpolicy.org). His email is email@example.com.