No room for even a reasonable tax in Harford [Editorial]

March 05, 2013|Editorial from The Aegis

It's a piece of legislation that should have been approved decades ago. Actually, at one point it was approved, but then it was repealed.

It's been introduced for consideration by the Maryland General Assembly in this year's session, but, as has been the case in years past, it doesn't have unanimous support from the contingent of delegates and senators representing Harford County, so it is but a curiosity.

The legislation that's nominally up for consideration would give local governments in Harford County the authority to levy a tax that could benefit the county tremendously, even though very few people living in Harford County would ever pay it.

It is, however, a tax people who live in Harford County almost certainly pay whenever they travel and end up staying overnight anywhere, but Harford County.

It is, and this will be familiar to anyone who has followed taxation policy in Harford County in recent years, the motel room tax.

Though the authority to enact such a tax in Harford County is the bailiwick of the Maryland General Assembly, the legislation being considered (and to be rejected) affects only Harford County, one of the few jurisdictions on earth that isn't permitted to levy a tax on overnight visitors.

By contrast, Baltimore County collects 8 percent of the cost of an overnight stay every time someone spends the night at a motel or bed and breakfast inn on that side of Little Gunpowder Falls.

For years, the tax was not allowed to be levied in Harford County by virtue of the strength of lobbying forces for local motels. Lately, however, the driving force has been the arch-conservative mantra that any tax is a bad tax.

Never mind that a tax on non-residents could well be used to reduce taxes paid by residents.

Never mind that the citizens of Harford County pay this tax when they travel.

And never mind that no one plans a visit to any place based on how much room tax is charged. (If that were the case, Harford County would be among the top destinations on the planet.)

As a matter of good public policy, the Maryland General Assembly should allow Harford County and the municipalities to levy a room tax. Such a tax should be levied and the resulting local revenue should be used to reduce the property tax rate or the local income tax rate.

Instead, however, Harford County will continue to give a room discount to those footing the bill for local rooms, which means a lot of the savings will be realized by military contractors who pay for employees to stay in local rooms while they're temporarily assigned to Aberdeen Proving Ground.

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