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General Assembly: Ceremony Or Substance?

| January 26, 2011, 11:04 AM | 1 Comment

Our first week in the General Assembly was more ceremony than substance.  The inaugural receptions, lunches and dinners fostered good will, friendship and a desire for bipartisan cooperation.  They also helped to pass the time, because until the Governor submits his budget and committees hold bill hearings, there isn’t any legislation to debate.

This week, the General Assembly began to slowly shift its focus from social events to business.  Committees held policy briefings, and delegates with pending legislation worked hard to frame the coming debates to their advantage.

The way some politicians use language to camouflage issues rather than clarify them has always amused me.  Tax increases are never just tax increases; they’re, “revenue enhancements”.  It sounds so much nicer.  “Illegal aliens” became “illegal immigrants”, then “undocumented immigrants”, then “immigrants”, and now “new Americans”.  Apparently, nobody’s been able to come up with a phrase that makes giving taxpayer benefits to people here illegally and taking jobs from Americans sound good, but they’re working on it.

There was a lot of “debate framing” and camouflaging going on this week.  For example, delegates in favor of an alcohol tax increase presented it as, “just a dime more a drink”.  They lamented that Maryland hadn’t increased its alcohol tax “in decades”, and promised all proceeds from the alcohol tax would go to a trust fund for mental illness, developmental disabilities and drug treatment programs.

That doesn’t sound so bad; but there’s a bit more to the story.  Liquor taxes are charged by the gallon, not the drink.  This tax applies to anyone who purchases wine, beer or liquor, not just bar patrons.  The proposed tax would increase the cost of liquor from $1.50 to $10.03/gallon (564%), wine from $0.40 to $2.96/gallon (640%), and beer from $0.09 to $1.16/gallon (1,189%).  What does this mean for the average person?  A six pack of beer and a bottle of chardonnay would each cost a dollar more, and a 1.75L bottle of vodka would go up $4.00.  Those prices don’t included Maryland’s 6% sales tax on beer, wine and liquor (raised in 2007) which consumers pay on top of the higher tax.

The lament that alcohol taxes haven’t been raised in decades rings a bit hollow.  Just about every other tax has been raised.  In 2007, Maryland raised income, corporate, car and sales taxes (which include alcohol sales.)  The Tax Foundation ranks Maryland 4th in total tax burden per person.  Here’s a possible compromise: lower all the taxes raised in 2007, and we’ll consider raising the alcohol tax.

Perhaps the most common way to positively frame a tax increase is to promise to put it in a “Trust Fund” to use for a good purpose.  Unfortunately, there has been very little “trust” in Maryland’s trust funds.  Since 2003, over $2 billion dollars have been taken from both the state and local government portions of the Transportation Trust Fund for other purposes.  Ironically, the people who want to raise gas and alcohol taxes to put in “special funds” are also the ones who’ve voted to raid them .Only a constitutional amendment that protects the integrity of our trust funds could keep them from doing that again.  Unfortunately, supporters of the gas and alcohol tax increases haven’t been willing to commit to such a constitutional amendment.  They’ll use the good purpose “to enact” the tax, and then use the funds for other things.

It’s enough to drive a person to drink.  Cheers!

Herb McMillan represents Annapolis, Arnold, Broadneck, Edgewater, Mayo, and Galesville in the Maryland House of Delegates. You may contact him at [email protected] or (410)-841-3211

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  1. Seth Perry says:

    Delegate McMillan–

    I couldn’t help but notice that you took a jab at double-talk and euphemisms used by politicians today. It’s quite refreshing to hear a politician who isn’t going to beat around the bush.

    Especially on immigration. Man, changing the phrase “Illegal Aliens” to “Illegal immigrants” really waters down the issue, doesn’t it? I sure think that the definition of alien (belonging to a foreign country or nation) is a lot clearer than the definition of immigrant (a person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country), which is obviously just bipartisan double-talk.

    Oh, yes, I forgot. Part of the issue-camoflauging monkeyshines that ensue when we change “alien” to “immigrant” is that we lose one of alien’s alternate definitions: “unfamiliar and disturbing or distasteful”.

    Yes sir, it’s sure nice to have a representative who cuts through the double talk and will come right out and say that he finds hard-working people who are coming to this great nation to find opportunities and support their families “DISTURBING AND DISTASTEFUL”.

    Delegate McMillan, on your website you cite “a desire to serve the community”. Now I maybe it’s just that I’m a high school student who knows nothing about government, but I think that communities, including ours, are made up of all kinds of people, of different colors and classes. Those people include “illegal aliens”. And maybe it’s just me, but labeling someone as ‘illegal’ and, even worse, an ‘alien’, dehumanizes them to the nth degree. But when our representatives try not to dehumanize these people, it’s ‘camouflaging an issue’. Your thoughts on this carry with them a strong undercurrent of contempt and even racism that I’m extremely uncomfortable with in an elected official. Like it or not, these people are living with us. They look for work and support families. Many of them pay taxes. Most of them are constructive members of our community–yet you want to dehumanize them, and you will criticize anyone who tries to do the opposite.

    I’ll say it again–these people are part of our community. They live here. They work here. Many of them pay taxes here, if people like you haven’t made them so scared of deportation that they don’t want anything to do with government. In fact, they pay MORE in taxes than they receive in government benefits (read this article: http://www.truth-out.org/undocumented-immigrants-pay-more-taxes-than-they-receive-benefits59264).

    I can live with an elected official who wants to cut taxes. I can live with an elected official who wants to slash the taxes. I can live with an elected official who doesn’t think people ought to pay more than nine cents a gallon for beer. But what I cannot live with is an elected official who would like to slap hardworking immigrants with defamatory labels and pretend that they are second-class citizens. That is disrespecting your community, your constituents, the taxpayers who pay your salary.

    They live here and pay taxes here, therefore, you represent them. Treat them with respect.

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