Maryland's income tax must be reduced
The Maryland Chamber of Commerce has proposed a 15 percent reduction in the personal income tax rate over three years as part of its strategic plan to increase economic growth and improve Maryland's competitiveness in creating, retaining and attracting jobs.
Recent opinion pieces (Jan. 24 from Kalman Hettleman and Barry Rascovar's Jan. 28 column) criticize the chamber's proposal based on their apparent belief that a tax cut will not stimulate economic growth and that Maryland's combined 8 percent personal income tax rate is not too high.
What both commentaries fail to explain is what Maryland has to gain by remaining in the top tier of states with the heaviest personal income tax burden.
Maryland has great assets in our location, our transportation network, our generally well-educated work force, our wonderful quality of life and our fine universities and colleges that can be leveraged to produce greater job growth and opportunity for our citizens.
However, Maryland's post-recession economy continues to lag behind that of the nation's despite key successes in the industries of information and biotechnology, health care and warehouse distribution facilities.
Maryland must respond to the reduction of federal government employment by creating higher levels of private sector jobs. That requires changing the factors that undermine our great assets.
By any measure, Maryland has one of the nation's highest personal income tax burdens.
The legislature's own Department of Fiscal Services reports that Marylanders pay the 4th highest level of personal income taxes in the U.S. and the highest level in the mid-Atlantic (excluding the District of Columbia).
Our total tax burden per capita is the 12th highest nationally and the third highest in the mid-Atlantic.
Maryland residents know this is undesirable. The recent survey by the University of Baltimore's Schaefer Center for Public Policy demonstrated that 55 percent of Marylanders believe that taxes are too high and 79 percent would favor a tax cut if it would attract business and spur economic growth.
The Maryland Chamber of Commerce is spearheading an aggressive public policy agenda to build a competitive climate in which to attract and retain jobs. In addition to tax cuts, the 1996 agenda strongly advocates regulatory reform, the commercialization of academic research, tax credits for job creation and sales tax exemptions for manufacturers.
Business and Economic Development Secretary James Brady and the private sector advisory commission charged with enhancing Maryland's economic growth concur with this strategy.
Those who criticize our efforts must understand that defending the status quo does nothing to create well-paying, family-supporting jobs and hurts Marylanders of all income levels. Maryland's critical opportunities for improvement are universally regarded as our regulatory environment and personal income tax rate.
Because business location decisions are less a process of site-selection than they are of site elimination, any factor that is out of line with competing states becomes a "red flag." A "red flag" such as Maryland's personal income tax rate is sufficient to eliminate Maryland from being further considered.
We're out of the game well before the company typically begins interacting or negotiating with state and local economic development officials.
We must eliminate the "red flags" in 1996 for Maryland to send the message that we are pro-business and will treat large and small businesses favorably. Business activity will not stop and wait while Maryland legislators debate public funding priorities.
Bold action is required during this session of the General Assembly to send the message that Maryland can compete for jobs.
Why Mr. Hettleman and Mr. Rascovar object to producing jobs and allowing hard-working families to keep more of their earned income is a mystery.
The Maryland Chamber of Commerce will continue its drumbeat to help Maryland compete.
Champe C. McCulloch
The writer is president of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce.
A tax district for Roland Park?
In its examination of special tax districts, The Sun periodically reports that Roland Park is actively considering becoming one of the next districts (editorial, Dec. 22).
At its January meeting the Roland Park Civic League discussed these claims. None of the community leaders or residents knew of any movement within the community for such a designation.
As is the case each time The Sun reports this "fact," we are left with the impression that either the writer did not adequately research the issue, or there is a plan being advanced from outside our community. For the record, the Civic League has now formally considered sponsoring a tax district and has unanimously voted against the concept.
The current astronomical city property tax rate creates a particularly heavy burden in stable, highly assessed neighborhoods such as ours. Individual tax bills of $5,000 to $10,000 are commonplace in Roland Park.
Couple this with the cost of maintaining an 80- to 100-year-old home and new developments in the county start looking very attractive.
Time and again, however, people elect to stay or move to Roland Park because of the beauty and convenience of the area.
Looking at the level of services the city provides us in general, and in particular at the fact that more than 95 percent of our children attend independent schools, it is obvious that Roland Park's tax dollar already disproportionately funds services elsewhere in the city.
It defies logic to propose to the community that it now tax itself an additional 5 percent to meet basic city obligations.
It is important to note that approximately 80 percent of Roland Parkers have voluntarily given funds for decades to supplement city services. The Civic League and its service arm, the Roland Park Roads and Maintenance Corp., have spent $1.5 million in the last decade on capital improvements to community features such as walking paths; medians and parks; supplemental snow, leaf and organic debris removal; community cleanups; library and school improvements; providing seed money for recycling and tree trimming programs, private policing experiments and fighting unwanted overdevelopment and zoning changes.
These funds and the thousands of volunteer hours supplementing them reflect the strength of our community.
However, even given the distinct advantage of having an alternate source of service (90 percent of our side streets really were open within hours of the recent snow storms thanks to our own efforts) we do not see tax districts as a solution.
Our experience has shown time and again that unless the community stays on its guard, supplemental community-sponsored services have a way of incrementally becoming the sole services provided. Neighborhood pride and involvement should not become a substitute for sound management of the city.
Special tax districts are more a sign of the city's weakness than a neighborhood's strength. Yes, a little bit more can be squeezed out of taxpayers in various parts of the city; the more frustrated and scared residents become, the easier this shakedown will be.
However, it is the responsibility of city government to provide for Baltimore as a whole -- not facilitate our division into fiefdoms.
Certainly for the city to stabilize and prosper, it must find ways of delivering basic and necessary services not predicated on individual neighborhoods paying extra for them.
The writer is president of the Roland Park Civic League.
Famine predicts North Korean unrest
The insecurity of the North Korea regime is evident in its reluctant acceptance of $2 million in U.S. humanitarian food aid to stave off famine within its borders ostensibly due to severe flooding and consequent crop destruction this past year.
The warning issued to the United States not to use food aid to undermine its pseudo-socialist dictatorial grip (with U.S. democratic influence) on the country amplifies the situation of a government losing control of its people.
History has taught us that famine is a very reliable predictor of turbulent government change, and this has likely fueled North Korean paranoia.
The fall of the Roman Empire was preceded by persistent famine. Escape from drought-induced starvation helped swell the ranks of both "Crusades" in the 11th and 12th centuries.
Rising bread prices due to drought led peasants to storm the Bastille in Paris in 1789, marking the outset of the French Revolution.
Repeated droughts and famines in late 19th and early 20th century were instrumental in eventually overthrowing the czar and bringing communism to Russia in the second decade of this century.
It was also not likely coincidental that the devastating famine that killed some 30 million in China in 1959-60 signaled the collapse of Mao's "Great Leap Forward" and ushered in the Cultural Revolution.
Emperor Haile Selassie was deposed shortly after a horrid famine in Ethiopia. Famine stalking the horn of Africa over the past 20 years has led to continuous political chaos.
There are countless other examples. However, a most striking note of optimism in today's age is that famine has not struck countries in the past 25 years where democracy and a free press have been effectively operating to communicate an impending disaster to government, the people and the world.
A notable example of famine averted was in Bihar, (democratic) India, in 1967 where the United States donated one-fifth of its entire wheat crop (2 billion pounds a month) to sustain an estimated 60 million people for two years (where 3 million had perished only two decades before).
A reclusive and dictatorial government may not be sufficient to cause famine, but famine, once started, can spread unabated where such powers exist, leading to unimaginable death and civil chaos.
Offering U.S. food supplies to prevent over 100,000 predicted deaths at this one point in time will not curb North Korea's innate risk of future catastrophe and may go unappreciated; but it will not likely be lost on the people of North Korea nor on their thirst for food security, development and just governance in the future.
The food aid offer is another example of American generosity, for which we as a nation have a proud heritage; yet it is also a sound investment in our country's peace, prosperity and future security.
Keith P. West Jr.
The writer is associate professor of international health at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.
Modell moves to Baltimore
For eight years now, the Maryland legislature, saddened by the loss of the Baltimore Colts and weary of economic struggles, has been offering a sweetheart deal for any NFL franchise willing to relocate to the state.
Now that Gov. Parris Glendening has seized the opportunity to bring the Browns to Baltimore, legislators around the state (especially from Montgomery County) are crying foul.
Yes, the deal seems extremely lucrative for Art Modell. But the bottom line is that this is a money-making opportunity for Maryland. Furthermore, the governor was acting on the legislature's mandate.
The question we should be asking is why haven't these opposing legislators done anything over the past eight years to alter the legislation that brought Modell to Maryland?
Major league sports franchises are usually a pre-requisite for a big league city. We should support the deal and look forward to some economic development in this state for a change.
Erica F. Rothstein
When Maryland enticed Art Modell to move his football team from Cleveland to Baltimore City, we all seemed to share collective and conflicting emotions
I think we were all relieved when the NFL negotiated a deal insuring that the Brown's name would remain in Cleveland and that a replacement team would soon be playing there again. Thanks in large part to Art Modell, we got a team without having to carry the burden of knowing we helped destroy the rich tradition of football in Cleveland.
The primary reason Mr. Modell decided to move his team to Baltimore was that public funding of a new football stadium had already been approved. It is doubtful that he would have suffered the public and painful vilification to which he was subjected in making the move if there was not a guarantee by Maryland that his team would be playing in a new stadium under clearly established and favorable financial terms. Maryland, representing all of us, made Art Modell an offer. Art Modell accepted the offer and fulfilled his part of the bargain. We should not shame ourselves now by failing to fulfill our part of the bargain.
Richard C.B. Woods
For all of the brouhaha associated with football stadium construction in Baltimore -- i.e. lower monetary return to governments involved and lesser number of jobs created than originally thought -- we may be overlooking one basic fact. A professional football team makes the Baltimore metropolitan area a better place to live for most of the hard-working, tax-paying citizens and their children.
Claims regarding the economic development value of Baltimore's proposed football stadium are inflated. Marylanders should take a long look at the experience of Indianapolis after luring the Colts out of Baltimore.
An Indiana University study concluded the Colts had very little economic impact. The sports-related jobs generated were low-paying and seasonal. Efforts to use sports to rejuvenate the downtown district have also been unsuccessful. Indianapolis has actually lost high-paying downtown jobs since the NFL came to town. Furthermore, Baltimore showed no economic downturn related to the Colts' departure.
In addition, studies regarding corporate relocations indicate that sports franchises play almost no role in attracting new businesses to an area. What does attract new business is sound infrastructure, support of high technology and education and a well-trained work force. It makes better economic sense to spend limited tax dollars or lottery funds on these high-yield programs.
If Gov. Parris Glendening thinks Maryland can afford to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a stadium because it will increase civic pride, then he should say so. But to say it makes good economic sense is simply not supported by the facts.
The perception that Baltimore and Maryland can only become first rate by snagging an NFL team is completely off-base.
The city and the state can become first-rate only by addressing Baltimore's housing, education and crime problems on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis.
The economic boost that this NFL franchise would give to the city and the state has been demonstrated to be hugely inflated by stadium supporters. Let's face the facts: no NFL player is going to move into my neighborhood in Upper Fells Point. And I seriously doubt if anyone from my neighborhood will be purchasing a personal seat license. This NFL stadium, if it is built, would be built for residents of the counties surrounding Baltimore City, but with city tax dollars. This stinks.
Why are our Maryland government officials allocating millions of dollars to building two stadiums instead of providing shelter, etc., for homeless people who are often mentally incapable?
Oh, yes, the stadiums will generate revenue whereas shelters only generate goodwill. And I thought my tax dollars were being misspent. Silly me.
Lucia DeLabio Marzano
China's goal of unification
Regarding your editorial of Feb. 8, "China's feigned and real menace," I wish to point out that the Republic of China's upcoming presidential election on the island of Taiwan (the first direct popular presidential election in Chinese history) has nothing to do with the issue of Taiwan's independence.
The Republic of China, established in 1912, has always maintained the goal of a free and unified China.
There have been many political changes on Taiwan since our late President Chiang Ching-kuo lifted the Emergency Decree in 1987 and paved the way for democratic rule.
Throughout the course of these changes, which have taken place concurrently with a number of elections for our national legislature, the governor of Taiwan Province, and the mayors of all of Taiwan's major cities, a constant guiding principle of our government has been that the eventual unification of China is inevitable.
Unification is the will of the Chinese people, including those on Taiwan. Overwhelmingly, electoral returns have brought this fact home to the ROC's leaders.
The people on Taiwan, and the government of the Republic of China, look forward to peaceful unification under the terms of democracy and prosperity, not by means of threats and military coercion.
Shuang Jeff Yao
The writer is director of information at the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the U.S.
Light sentence for taking a life
What is wrong with this picture?
A teen-age boy is out one night with a friend and decides that he wants to throw rocks at people's cars. He hits a man driving a truck. This causes an accident and the man dies.
This teen-age boy gets eight years in prison, which he will probably only serve one-half of in accordance with our parole system.
This happened. The young man was 17-year-old Jason Wyvill. The man, Kevin Gallagher, was a husband and father of three young children.
Since Mr. Wyvill said he was sorry and showed regret he got a lighter sentence. Yet the state's attorney's office says that this is a tough sentence for a minor.
If they commit this type of crime they are no longer minors in my mind.
My sincerest apologies go out to the Gallagher family. I suggest that legislators take a serious look at our laws, especially in reference to minors.
It is a sad day for Maryland and the United States when this type of crime is committed and such a small sentence is given.
Gay-rights supporters need to act now
Thank you for the Feb. 9 report on HB 67, the Anti-Discrimination Act currently under consideration in the Maryland General Assembly which would, among other outcomes, prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Those of us who believe in fairness to all are now at an important crossroads.
Polls taken during the 1994 gubernatorial campaign show that 60 percent of Marylanders support ending discrimination based on sexual orientation. But do legislators know that?
They won't know if we who support nondiscrimination don't pick up the phone and call, pick up a pen and write, turn on the word processor and type or take the time to visit legislators while they're in Annapolis.
The legislators' immediate need is to hear from people who are identified neither as gays or lesbians nor as religious extremists. They need to hear from family members, friends and neighbors who know the benefit to society when fairness is offered to everyone.
The time for these voices to speak strongly is now.
John E. Hannay
Shame that funds for arts drying up
The Jan. 31 article by Holly Selby ("Culture groups face the music") on reduced activities in the arts and cultural scene of our area due to markedly less funding from national and state government was surely a downer.
When one considers the amounts of money that politicians and "politicians-to-be" spend on getting elected, this trend is even more disturbing.
And her depressing summary didn't even include the demise of "Shakespeare on Wheels," a summer offering of the University of Maryland Baltimore County Theater Department, which has been enjoyed by people throughout the state without charge. That project was ended because UMBC couldn't come up with $50,000. What a shame.
William H. Engleman