Editor: A member of the Maryland Commission on State Taxes and Tax Structure recently wrote you outlining the only two items of tax reductions proposed by the commission. It was typical of all the rhetoric that has been publicized. It is a shame, since it came from a highly positioned chief executive of a major Maryland company.
He mentioned that two-thirds of Maryland taxpayers will pay less income taxes. He failed to state that 300,000 Marylanders file returns but pay no income taxes, but will pay more of all the other taxes being considered. He also failed to mention that tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of senior citizens, do not even file returns and are not included in the statistic because their income (other than Social Security) is below the threshold ($10,850) for filing a return.
He went on to point out that property owners will receive tax relief, but his statement was incomplete because 40 percent of all property owners will pay more property tax. That's because the commission proposes to repeal the recently enacted state 10-percent cap on assessments and the 4-percent cap on assessments in Baltimore County.
More than 90 percent, $900 million, of the new taxes are regressive. That is, the lower- and middle-income families pay more than the higher-income families -- and almost everyone with an income greater than $15,000 will pay more taxes.
This is not a criticism of the letter writer. He simply wrote what the commission staff had furnished him, inaccurate data without sufficient investigation of the detail. This is borne out by the report of William S. Ratchford II, director of the Department of Fiscal Services.
John D. O'Neill.
Editor: When I read your editorial, "Subterfuge in Howard," I became concerned that the public was not aware of the great progress that Howard County has made toward developing effective adequate public facilities (APF) legislation to help manage growth.
Last fall, the Howard County Council initiated a roundtable discussion of APF legislation. Just a few days after Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker took office, he established, by executive order, the APF Commission which was based on the model used by the council.
The members of the commission come from a variety of backgrounds and represent what were once perceived as opposing viewpoints. Two members represent the PTA, two members represent citizens' associations, three members are from the county government, one is from the Howard school system, one member is a traffic engineer, three members are from the development community, and one member is from the business community.
The commission has been working diligently in four-hour weekly meetings since Dec. 7, 1990. Members of the commission also spend may hours each week preparing for those meetings.
The issues are complex even though the goals may not be. It is anticipated that the commission will have draft legislation completed for public review by May 15, 1991.
The members of the APF Commission and I urge The Sun to review the measures that are currently being taken to prepare effective growth management legislation. Then we believe that The Sun will endorse those measures and will take steps to inform your readership about the issues surrounding this most important process.
Michael W. Davis.
The writer chairs the Howard County Adequate Public Facilities Commission.
Editor: I looked in vain in your special section on "Images of the War" (March 10) for an estimate of Iraqi casualties. This statistic is conspicuously missing from "The War in Numbers" column that lists only the number of Iraqi prisoners (62,0000) along with the numbers of destroyed Iraqi tanks, armored vehicles and artillery pieces. Only in an article on Pentagon press restrictions was there even any mention of Iraqi casualties, which pointed out that there has never been an official estimate of Iraqi losses.
Other media have published unofficial estimates of as many as 100,000 Iraqi dead and wounded. Given the Pentagon's other claims, however, this figure seems unbelievably low. Before the air war started, the U.S. claimed that Iraq had 500,000 to 750,000 men deployed in Kuwait and southern Iraq. (The Sun quotes an estimates of 545,000.) At the end of the war, General Schwarzkopf reported that all Iraqi escape routes were cut off and that 42 divisions of 12,000 men each, a total of 504,000 Iraqis, had been destroyed or captured. Yet the U.S. claims to have captured only 62,000. This leaves almost 450,000 unaccounted for human beings.
Assuming, as the Pentagon claims, that all these hundreds of thousands of Iraqi troops were in place to begin with and that few escaped, the obvious question is where are they now? I'm afraid they are all dead in the desert, slaughtered by the allied air war. And I'm even more frightened that no one seems to care.
Don't these human dead deserve to be counted as much as tanks and artillery in tallying the final cost of victory?
End the Frenzy
Editor: Perhaps the greatest lesson to be learned from the Keating Five scandal is that the need to raise obscene amounts of campaign dollars from private interests exposes all lawmakers to potential ethical conflicts. You don't need to look any further than the $500 billion savings and loan bailouts to see how taxpayers lose under a campaign finance system that so heavily favors wealthy contributors.
If Congress is genuinely interested in cleaning up the way campaigns are funded and winning back the trust and respect of voters, it must act seriously to shut down a system which invites corruption. That goal will never be accomplished as long as access to public office is measured by the ability to raise money from wealthy interests.
Public funding of congressional elections will ensure that Congress works for the people. By replacing private money with "clean" public funds, Congress can sever its financial ties with those who seek special favors and focus on the needs of the average voter. Public funding would also inject a new level of competition into the congressional elections by leveling the financial playing field for credible challengers who are now constantly outspent by well-funded incumbents.
Congressional leaders have pledged to clean up the corrupt campaign finance system -- and it's time to hold them to that pledge. Voters need to keep a keen eye on these issues. Can't we work to end this questionable frenzy of chasing millions in campaign contributions and allow our elected officials to focus their attention to representing the voters who elected them?
The writer is executive director of the Maryland Citizen Action Coalition.
Stay Alive at 55
Editor: In the Feb. 11 edition, it appeared that The Sun was taking an example of one 83-year old driver's accident to push for a discriminating law for testing of older drivers.
If Maryland passes such a law, it will be a second unfair action that the legislature has taken against senior-citizen drivers.
There is a course called "55-Alive Defensive Driving Course" that is specially adapted for senior drivers. The state also has a defensive-driving course required to be taken by certain younger drivers.
In 32 states, a law has been passed that requires all insurance companies to give a discount, usually 10 percent, on their premiums to all drivers who have taken either of these courses. Bowing to the pressure of the insurance lobbyists with gifts, dinners and funds, the Maryland General Assembly refuses to pass such a law for Maryland drivers.
From 1986 to 1989, the state of California made a study of 41,000 drivers who took these courses and compared them to an equally large group which did not take a course. The results showed that those taking one of the courses had 16 percent less accidents and fatalities and 33 percent less police citations. This proves the effectiveness of the courses.
Some seniors nevertheless take the American Association of Retired Persons course, but many do not. The course 55-Alive -- the 55 refers to age not to speed -- gives the drivers more safe methods to compensate for some of the physical changes that occur with aging and also safe concepts and attitudes for road use.
As a volunteer instructor for the 55-Alive course, I feel that the Legislature should help to put more safe drivers on the Maryland roads, by passing a law requiring the discount for taking this course. This would help to reduce accidents and deaths in Maryland.
Joseph W. Schwarz.