Linowes 'positive' tax rise is right thing to do


Don't get R. Robert Linowes wrong -- he doesn't dislike th wealthy.

After all, he lives in a house with a swimming pool in tony Chevy Chase, vacations in Puerto Rico during the winter, drives expensive cars and pulls in a sizable income as a founding partner of a law firm with a half-dozen offices.

So why is he, of all people, so eager for Maryland to raise income taxes for wealthier people and to adopt a smattering of other new taxes that, he contends, will hit folks like him the hardest?

"I'm positive it's the right thing to do," he replies, as if the answer were perfectly obvious.

Linowes, 68, headed the gubernatorial tax commission that last November recommended revamping the state taxation system and raising $800 million in new taxes.

The recommendation has gotten a frosty reception from critics -- the leader of a taxpayers' group compared it to a declaration of war against taxpayers -- and a warm reception from Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who will file a bill to implement the tax plan.

Meanwhile, Linowes' name has become synonymous with something that most people love to hate -- higher taxes.

Linowes tries to see the humor in this. At a legislative committee meeting in Annapolis last week, he joked about entering a witness-protection program after his work promoting the tax plan is done.

The way Linowes sees it, he wants his name to stand for something more: money to pay for better schools for disadvantaged children, nicer roads for commuters and a higher quality of life for poorer areas, like Baltimore.

Although generally laudatory of his goals, critics see other things when they thumb through the tax plan: new taxes on cars, boats and services from haircuts to auto repairs that could hurt middle-income Marylanders. "There aren't that many rich people to generate that amount of money [$800 million overall] -- it's got to be coming from the middle class," one state delegate said.

Despite the uproar over his tax plan, Linowes remains undaunted. He is used to fighting, because his law firm, Linowes and Blocher, specializes in zoning and development cases, which often can be controversial and emotional.

Linowes also believes that people will come around to his way of thinking, once they understand what the new taxes will do and that officials will be held accountable for how the revenue is spent.

At the core of his plan is an appeal for fairness in the face of financial disparities across the state. "Why should my children in Montgomery County have had better educational opportunities than children in Allegany County or Baltimore?" he asks.

Linowes learned to respect fairness while growing up in Trenton, N.J., one of four sons of a family barely pushing middle-class. His father ran a wholesale fruit and produce business, which he lost during the Depression.

His parents also raised their sons to be achievers. Two are lawyers, and two are accountants. One brother, Sol M. Linowitz, served variously as an ambassador, a corporation chairman and a negotiator of the Panama Canal Treaty, Linowes said.

It was experience, however, that taught them about discrimination, which is why three of the four Jewish brothers decades ago changed their surname, Linowitz, to the more Anglicized Linowes.

At one time, one of the brothers could not get an interview with a major accounting firm because of anti-Semitism. Robert Linowes considered dropping out of Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., as a freshman because Jews were socially ostracized.

After law school, Linowes moved to the Washington area, but the name change did not protect him from further discrimination.

In the 1950s, some officials raised anti-Semitic objections to his selection as deputy attorney for Montgomery County government, he said. In the 1960s, he encountered some trouble purchasing a home for the same reason, he said.

Linowes is not bitter when he speaks about those experiences. "It had some good effects. It made me realize there is prejudice in the world, and you have to fight to make it easier for other people."

He envisions the commission's tax plan, with its emphasis on taxing people based on their ability to pay and targeting aid at poorer areas, as one way of making life easier for the less-privileged.

"And," he adds, "I know I'm right."

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