Dayhoff: With taxes, the more things change, the more they stay the same

Dayhoff: With taxes, the more things change, the more they stay the same
Thousands of teachers, parents, and students gathered and marched down Rowe Blvd. in Annapolis Monday night to express their voices to fully fund education. (Doug Kapustin / Capital Gazette)

A newspaper editorial in the March 28, 1947 issue of the Democratic Advocate, reported that on July 1, 1947 the first Maryland Retail Sales tax will go into effect.

The editorial said, in part: “Gov. Lane does not like taxes either … But we do need money for our public schools, for our medical centers and surely for road building.”


For those in the business of government, much of the merry month of March is mired in the challenges of developing a budget. Barrels of ink are currently being devoured in the discussion of taxes in the current session of the Maryland General Assembly. And the challenges are no less intense on the local county and municipal level.

Over the years, especially at the local level, unbeknownst to many of the “Facebook” authorities on the topic, there is increasingly very little wiggle-room for local lawmakers. Much of the spending demands are structural and there is little that local officials can do about expenditures made necessary by federal and state government mandates. One of the best examples is the cost of water, which is still escalating as a direct result of federal legislation passed in 1972 — the roots of which began in the late 1940s.

More than 10 years later, local government has yet to fully recover from the 2008 recession. Local government got behind and has made little progress in playing catch-up as the recent economic recovery has only moved the goalposts farther down the field. Yet hardly anyone can disagree that locally; teachers, firefighters, police officers, and public works employees — the folks that actually have the greatest impact on our day-to-day quality of life — need to be paid much better.

According to a March 11 article in the Washington Post by one of my former Baltimore Sun colleagues, Erin Cox; “Several thousand teachers, parents and students flooded Maryland’s capital Monday night, shutting down roads to rally for a dramatic increase in school funding over the next decade … The long-planned “March for Our Schools” rally took place even after top Democrats promised last week to pump $1 billion into public schools over the next two years …”

Much of the dramatic increase in expenditures is based, according to the article, “on recommendations from the Kirwan Commission, led by former University of Maryland System president William E. “Brit” Kirwan….

“Demonstrators rang cowbells and carried signs that read ‘Raise my taxes’ and ‘Our kids can’t wait.’” None of which has sat well with the biggest supporter for the teachers’ demands, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert.)

“Educators’ decision to rally anyway provoked the ire of Miller, who has made education funding a top priority of the Democratic caucus,” according to the article. “‘We do not respond well to threats,’ Miller warned from the Senate rostrum last week.”

I call this to your attention from the point of view as an historian, and not to argue for or against many of the current challenges. In the end, the decisions will be made by folks well above my pay grade. Now that warmer temperatures are on the horizon, I would rather work out in the yard than argue over taxes.

“Carroll County Dollars” digital collage illustration for the 1994 publication of “The New Carroll County Economic Structure” by Kevin Dayhoff.- Original Credit:
“Carroll County Dollars” digital collage illustration for the 1994 publication of “The New Carroll County Economic Structure” by Kevin Dayhoff.- Original Credit: (Kevin Dayhoff illustration / HANDOUT)

In the 50 years that I have been writing about government, public policy and the science behind local government finances and tax policy; I have never ceased to be amazed that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Some of this discussion has been published before — but bears repeating.

In 1947, the Democratic Advocate reported, “Of the $531,108.73 (additional State revenues to be allocated to Carroll County,) some … will be shared by incorporated towns, $338,710.00 is for schools…”

Twenty years earlier, on July 4, 1924, the Democratic Advocate carried an article that the Carroll County commissioners claimed that the tax rate “would have been considerably less … if it had not been for the extraordinary expense for the repair or construction of bridges destroyed by floods, about $30,000.00.”

The commissioners also cited “the increase in mandatory items in the school budget, and the Act of the Legislature of 1924, compelling the county to raise annually the sum of $8,000.00 for the volunteer fire companies of the county.”

Of course, it was in this time period that, according to an article in the Union Bridge Pilot on Feb. 18, 1921: “Teachers' pay (is) being withheld owing in lack of funds and it appears the county has reached the limit of its credit. A few years ago, comparatively, when taxes were below the dollar mark, we were told that the outlook for a lower rate of taxation was bright. Today the rate is higher than ever, while the county's treasury is in bad shape.”

It’s ‘Groundhog Day’ all over again.