Maybe Bobby Zirkin should be a Republican

Baltimore County senator throws the class warfare penalty flag over millionaire's tax

March 19, 2012|Dan Rodricks

"Disgusted" is a strong word. I tend to hold it in reserve; I save it for things that fill me with actual loathing or nauseate me. Others are more cavalier about the word's usage — to the point where they demean its meaning. They claim to be "disgusted" by things they simply disagree with, or things that, in the big picture of life, are merely annoying.

Bobby Zirkin, who represents citizens of northwest Baltimore County in the Maryland Senate, invoked the "D word" last week in Annapolis, and it was really strange — not only hyperbole, but misdirected hyperbole.

Mr. Zirkin, a Democrat from a heavily Democratic district, said he was "disgusted" and "ashamed" that his fellow senators wanted to raise income taxes on Maryland's wealthiest households at a rate slightly higher than that imposed on the rest of us.

Furthermore, he invoked the "class warfare" plaint, in the way that Republicans usually do.

"You are taking a certain class and you are singling them out," he said on the Senate floor. "It is not right and it is not fair."

That's a pretty good John Boehner imitation. Who knew Bobby Zirkin was such a defender of millionaires? According to published reports, Mr. Zirkin mentioned Occupy Wall Street in condemning the proposal to extract additional revenues from Maryland's wealthiest, essentially our 1 percenters.

"I sincerely hope that that part of this bill doesn't see the light of day, because regardless of the numbers of dollars that you get from it, singling out certain Marylanders for different treatment is not the way we should be doing business down here," Mr. Zirkin said.

Wow: A Democrat throwing the "class warfare" flag. A Democrat saying he was "disgusted" at a millionaire's tax. A Democrat who must have missed the memo about Democrats, from Capitol Hill on down, supporting the concept of the nation's economic elite contributing more as a percentage of earnings to the government's upkeep than, say, our dwindling middle class or our growing ranks of elderly and working poor.

Mr. Zirkin was not alone in this regard. He was merely the most outspoken of eight Senate Democrats who voted against raising the tax. Nonetheless, the bill with the controversial amendment passed, 26-20.

Now, before anyone gets teary-eyed at Mr. Zirkin's noble stand on behalf of millionaires, a few additional facts:

The new top bracket for people with taxable income (after all federal deductions) of $500,000 or more per year will be 5.75 percent. An amendment the Senate approved last week would apply that rate to all of their income, not just earnings above $500,000. The change will raise an additional $30 million.

There are under 20,000 Maryland households with annual incomes of $500,000 or more, according to MarylandReporter.com, and 4,000 are millionaire households.

As for the argument that higher taxes on the state's wealthiest will drive away business and the "job creators," we have heard that claim before. It's essentially the Republican argument behind the Bush tax cuts that are still in place. But while it's true that some "job creators" have high-end incomes, many of those in the top brackets are doctors, lawyers, Ravens players and other professionals, and people who make oodles from investments.

It's hard to say why Mr. Zirkin, for one, protested on their behalf so passionately. His resume lists "legislator of the year" awards from organizations of emergency room physicians and surgeons. His brother is a doctor. Maybe he just feels their pain, here in tax season.

There's one other thing you should know about all this, and it's kind of important: Most of the new revenue under the Senate bill goes for renovations to public schools.

Under the formula approved by the Senate, Baltimore County (Mr. Zirkin's home county — and that of Democratic senators Jim Brochin and Norman Stone, who also voted against the tax increase) gets $5.8 million annually from the state's Aging Schools Program. Anne Arundel County, whose Democratic senators John Astle and James DeGrange also voted nay, is slated to receive nearly $2.5 million annually for schools.

So, yes, it's a special tax formula to extract additional revenue from the state's wealthiest, but it has a specific purpose, and a good one.

If Bobby Zirkin is really disgusted over that, maybe he ought to be a Republican.

Dan Rodricks' column appears each Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He is the host of Midday on 88.1 WYPR-FM. His email is dan.rodricks@baltsun.com.

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