Gov. Larry Hogan on Monday encouraged taxpayers to apply for more than $200 million in refunds they are entitled to under a Supreme Court ruling.
The Republican governor embraced the ruling issued against the state in May, which said local governments unconstitutionally double-taxed some residents who earned income outside Maryland.
An estimated 55,000 people were overtaxed. Calling it the biggest tax refund in state history, Hogan said he'd like "the pleasure of sending refund checks."
"This is money that was wrongfully taken from the taxpayers of the state when they were overcharged on their income taxes," the governor said at a news conference with Comptroller Peter Franchot.
"For years, I have repeatedly said that Maryland taxpayers were being overtaxed and overcharged," Hogan said. "Recently, the Supreme Court of the United States agreed with me."
Franchot's office had defended the taxation structure in court. Although taxpayers could claim a credit against the larger, state portion of their income taxes when they paid taxes in another state, they could not claim it for the "piggyback" portion collected to pay for local services.
A Howard County couple, Brian and Karen Wynne, filed a lawsuit challenging the practice. The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that it was unconstitutional because it discouraged interstate commerce.
On Monday, Franchot, a Democrat, said his office was "working diligently" to get the money back to people who paid it.
"I actually kind of secretly agreed with them that it was double-taxation," said Franchot, who was named as a defendant and whose office fought the case all the way to the Supreme Court.
Local governments are on the hook for repaying the taxes.
Some lawmakers questioned the way Hogan relished Monday's announcement, which does not affect the state's budget.
"Local governments are already struggling to deal with the $68 million he withheld from education," said Montgomery County Del. Bill Frick, a Democrat. "I'd like to see a governor who would work with the local governments instead of grandstanding at their expense."
Hogan has been criticized for rebuffing Democratic suggestions that the administration send more money to the state's costliest school districts.
Montgomery County's tab for the refunds represents nearly half of the total owed.
To be eligible for a refund, taxpayers had to earn income beyond Maryland's borders and have it taxed in both jurisdictions. For the most part, that tends to be wealthier people with business interests and investments that stretch across several states.
"You're not talking about the average Mary and Joe here," said Don Norris, director of the School of Public Policy at University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
Norris noted that Monday's announcement played into Hogan's narrative as a leader elected to cut taxes, even though the government was required to give out the refunds.
"Politicians love to get publicity for a thing they think is good, especially if it is good for them," Norris said. Hogan "can say this was right in his wheelhouse, even though the Supreme Court made him do it."
Leslie Knapp Jr., legal and policy counsel for the Maryland Association of Counties, said local governments have been preparing to repay the cash — and take an annual hit to their bottom lines — long before the Supreme Court ruling in May.
"You've got to do it," Knapp said. "The county really has no choice in the matter."
Nick Zaiac, a policy analyst at the conservative Maryland Public Policy Institute, praised Hogan for publicizing that refunds are available. He compared it to advertising a class action lawsuit to find plaintiffs who are eligible to collect damages due to them.
"It makes sense to make a big deal about it because most people don't follow the Supreme Court," Zaiac said.
So far, just 4,000 of the estimated 55,000 people who overpaid have filed to get a refund.
"Many of these taxpayers don't even know that they were overcharged and don't know they are entitled to these refunds," Hogan said. "That's what we're hoping to start to change today."
Hogan started a website, www.wynnetaxrefund.maryland.gov, to help residents figure out if they qualify.
People who paid local income taxes in both Maryland and another state besides D.C., Virginia and West Virginia could be eligible for a refund for taxes paid as far back as 2006. The statute of limitations prevents refunds from earlier tax returns. Refunds for taxes paid between 2006 and 2010 are only available if taxpayers already filed an amended return, Deputy Comptroller David Roose said.
Hogan pointed out that there are rolling deadlines to claim refunds, and he encouraged people to act as soon as possible.
Todd Eberly, a political scientist at St. Mary's College, said taxpayers who receive refunds are likely to give credit to Hogan and that it should be expected he'd take advantage of that.
"He'd be crazy not to latch on to it because they money comes out of the counties. … It doesn't come out of his budget," Eberly said. "When people are filling out the forms and get checks, they'll think, 'Governor Hogan is looking out for us again.'"
Who is eligible: People who paid local income taxes in both Maryland and another state besides D.C., Virginia and West Virginia for 2011-2014. Some taxpayers who had already filed amended returns can get refunds for as far back as 2006.
How to claim refund: The comptroller's office has created a form, 502LC, to calculate the refunds.
Protective claims: Taxpayers who already filed protective claims need not claim refunds.
When refunds will go out: As soon as possible, in the order the comptroller receives them.
For more information, go to www.wynnetaxrefund.maryland.gov