Dan Rodricks turned his editorial fire on me for standing up against income tax increases passed by the state Senate that would hit nearly all Marylanders in this sluggish economy ("Maybe Bobby Zirkin should be a Republican," March 20). Mr. Rodricks seems to believe that any Democrat who dares to speak against taxes or challenges party orthodoxy in any way is worthy of his scorn. Mr. Rodricks also apparently sees no problem with the type of divisive rhetoric that pits citizen versus citizen. I respectfully disagree on both counts.
I voted against income tax increases because I believe that there are plenty of areas that we can cut in this budget that are not essential spending items. Marylanders are hurting in this economy, and government should trim unnecessary spending before seeking more money from its struggling citizens. I don't think that you have to vote the party line like a lamb marching off to slaughter, and I don't think that the Democratic Party stands for unnecessary taxation. That kind of group-think is what is wrong with Washington. We have too few people on either side of the aisle willing to speak out against their party. Whatever one thinks about a given issue, and reasonable people can certainly disagree, wouldn't it be better if politicians voted based on principle rather than simply politics — on policy rather than party?
Mr. Rodricks attacks me for ignoring the "memo from Washington" about how to vote in line with the party. I plead guilty. Does he really believe that Washington is the model for effective government and that a legislator should just buy a party line, hook, line, and sinker? If Mr. Rodricks thinks being spokesperson for the party on each and every issue, regardless of merit, is the description of a good legislator, I proudly do not fit that bill.
I chose to speak up regarding the high-earners tax, and more specifically against the divisive, us-versus-them language that was used in that debate. As I stated at the time, I find that type of rhetoric disgraceful, and it should have no place in Maryland. I don't condone ugly diatribes from either side of the aisle.
Maryland already has a progressive tax structure, and I never spoke out against that structure. It is fair to have a debate about the best rates within that tax structure. But what transpired on the floor of the Senate went far beyond an economic debate and policy question. In an attempt to "stick it" to the high-earners, the Senate didn't just adopt a new rate. The Senate adopted a provision, for the first time in Maryland's history, where the tax on high-earners would be applied to every dollar they earn, unlike every other tax bracket. The effect of that provision would be that an individual making $500,001 would pay close to double the tax of an individual paying $500,000. One dollar more in earnings costs close to $3,000 in taxes. That, of course, makes no sense, which is why the Baltimore Sun, in its editorial "Tax policy on the fly" (March 19), roundly criticized that same provision. But in Mr. Rodricks' world of inflexible party-first politics, does it not matter whether something makes sense at all?
I would have explained all of this to you, Mr. Rodricks, if you had bothered to call and ask what I thought rather than just taking my quotes and weaving them together. I have a cell phone, and you are more than welcome to use it. You might even have known some of this if you had even bothered to read your own paper before sitting down to state your opinions.
Here is what I would have told Mr. Rodricks if he had bothered to ask. I don't think we need to make our state the highest income tax state in the nation. I don't think that prospect is something we should be particularly proud of. And I believe that there are more cuts to be made in the budget. Perhaps if you read the budget you might agree that it's unwise to spend tens of millions of dollars in subsidies to the horse racing industry or over $100 million on two mass transit lines that won't be built for decades. Last time I looked, the state is not rolling in cash. More importantly, our citizens are suffering through a serious economic downturn.
As to the so-called "millionaires tax," we can have a good debate about the effectiveness of various tax and spending proposals. But like The Baltimore Sun, I really don't think we should pass provisions into law that make no sense, even if they satisfy an ideological reflex. And we shouldn't ever resort to the "us versus them" politics, whether the issue is immigration, same-sex marriage or even taxes. It is no better coming from the left than from the right, and yes, Mr. Rodricks, that brand of cheap politics disgusts me. The bigger question is why doesn't it disgust you?
Bobby Zirkin, Annapolis
The writer, a Democrat, represents District 11 in the state Senate.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun