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The Little Train that Couldn't


During the past legislative session in Annapolis, we heard JTC sorrowful laments about how amusement taxes in Westminster and Union Bridge constituted an unfair burden on the EnterTRAINment Line, the tourist train in Carroll County. Company officials and their supporters in the state Senate asserted that if the firm was forced to pay its delinquent taxes, it might fold.

Apparently, the unpaid taxes were the least of EnterTRAINment's worries.

It appears that the EnterTRAINment Line had not been paying Maryland Midland Railway, either. Maryland Midland, which owns the tracks the EnterTRAINment Line uses and provides the locomotives that haul its cars, stopped providing service two weeks ago. Without Maryland Midland's tracks and locomotives, EnterTRAINment cannot operate.

The company can't blame its troubles on taxes. Since EnterTRAINment has never paid a penny of the approximately $350,000 in delinquent taxes, something else must be at the root of its financial problems. Whatever is causing the hemorrhaging on its income statement, the company's response is to fall behind in its bills.

Carroll's state senators Larry E. Haines and Timothy Ferguson last winter were quick to blame EnterTRAINment's problems on a 10 percent municipal amusement and admissions tax that other similar businesses pay in Westminster and Union Bridge. Their bill to absolve the company of its tax liability died in committee. It appears that the two senators' ideological opposition to taxation blinded them to the reality that other management problems may have led to EnterTRAINment's woes.

Maryland Midland doesn't believe in forbearance. If its bills are not paid, the railroad doesn't feel obligated to provide service. Luckily for EnterTRAINment, the towns of Westminster and Union Bridge hadn't done similarly. Even though the company's delinquency goes back years, the company benefited from the public services that were financed by the rest of the towns' taxpayers.

The next time a company comes hat in hand seeking a special tax exemption, Messrs. Haines and Ferguson owe it to themselves and their constituents to be a bit more skeptical. There is a difference between a company that is truly burdened by taxes and one that doesn't pay its bills.

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