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The Baltimore Sun

Secure public trust in the trust fund

The Sun's editorial supporting a gas tax increase stated that the proceeds go "chiefly into tangible projects and not into the general fund" ("Paying at the pump," March 12).

In fact, over the past two decades, more than $1 billion has been transferred from the transportation trust fund into the general fund to balance the state budget. Millions of dollars have yet to be repaid.

While emergency transfers to balance the budget have a rational basis, it is imperative that transferred monies be replenished within a set time- frame to honor the state's promise to the taxpayers.

This was a key recommendation of the 1999 Hellman Commission on Transportation Investment.

The fund is called the "transportation trust fund" because motorists trust their government to spend gas tax revenue collected at the pump on transportation improvements.

Legislation has been introduced in recent years that would create a constitutional firewall to require the repayment of transportation trust fund dollars transferred to the general fund.

Such a protection exists in a number of states and is sound public policy.

Any discussion or initiative to increase gas taxes must be preceded by the creation of a foundation of trust for transportation policy.

John R. Leopold


The writer is county executive of Anne Arundel County.

Gas tax rise hurts rural Marylanders

I'm not sure I've ever seen a tax that The Sun opposed ("Paying at the pump," editorial, March 12).

Today, the price of gas is heading toward $3 per gallon again. Yet state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller wants to raise the gas tax?

While this surely isn't popular, it also just isn't logical.

And as a resident of rural Maryland, this kind of tax hurts me especially.

It's bad enough that many residents of Cecil County have to pay tolls to visit other parts of the state - or that visitors to our county have to pay a toll to visit us or spend their money here. Now an increase in the gas tax would be just plain silly.

Are there transportation concerns that need to be addressed? Surely.

But as a registered Democrat, I believe that fiscal responsibility should be practiced by the stewards of the people's money.

Yet instead of investing in mass transit around Baltimore, the state continues to pump money into highway projects.

Taxes (and fees) are too high in Maryland already.

David Hamm


Up to legislators to plug loophole

For more than 15 years, Maryland lawmakers have tried to close a huge tax loophole, according to The Sun's article "Realty tax loophole costs state millions" (March 14). But Senate Finance Committee Chairman Thomas M. Middleton says they have been unable to do so because, as The Sun paraphrases his remarks, "powerful real estate interests have lined up in opposition to the bill and killed it year after year."

But it is our elected legislators who kill bills or enact them, not special interests. And it is thus our legislature that must take the blame for this dereliction of duty.

It sounds to me as if Mr. Middleton, The Sun's reporter and perhaps our entire legislature need a refresher civics lesson.

Alice C. Cherbonnier


The money belongs to state taxpayers

By using phrases such as "depriving ... Maryland of ... tax revenues," The Sun's article "Realty tax loophole costs state millions" (March 14) operates under a false premise - that is, that tax money inherently belongs to the state more than to the citizens from which the state collects it.

The reality is that closing the loophole would just give the state an excuse to steal more money from the people who actually earn it.

Adam Bargar


Need death penalty for repeat offenders

If The Sun's front-page article on Lawrence Banks proves anything ("Killer casts a shadow of violence," March 14), it is simply this: Maryland needs to have the death penalty and must use it in a timely manner.

Jay M. Slater


County students deserve much more

It's great that the Baltimore County schools are planning to pay more attention to building maintenance and curricula ("Schools stymied, audit shows," March 13). These areas are extremely important and in need of improvement.

However, the problems in county schools run much deeper than that. And as long as there are power-hungry administrators, teacher-trainers and department chairs who micromanage the teachers, the problem will persist.

I am afraid that the recommendations from the recent audit will result in more endless meetings where more excessive paperwork and speeches are given to teachers who are already overstressed and not adequately supported when conflicts arise.

I am one of many former Baltimore County teachers who resigned in frustration. Many of my colleagues have left teaching, have transferred schools or have stayed in their jobs and now look aged beyond their years.

Students in Baltimore County deserve better than this.

Until we look at teacher morale and make an effort to retain dedicated and caring teachers, problems with educational progress will persist.

Hannah M. Heller


Why is legislature protecting Morgan?

Now let me see if I've got this message from Annapolis straight: Morgan State University cannot be expected to compete with other universities but can only function with governmentally imposed academic program monopolies ("Senate OKs bill aimed at ending Towson University MBA program," March 14).

What's next? Abolition of biology majors in all universities except Morgan? Legislatively written course syllabi?

This is madness.

Donald N. Langenberg


The writer is a former chancellor of the University System of Maryland.

Court must confront imperial presidency

I am not as optimistic as The Sun's editorial board when it comes to ending the imperial presidency ("Swinging back," March 11).

The Democratic majority in Congress can provide oversight of the president, but it will take Supreme Court rulings against the administration's domestic spying program and the president's use of signing statements to restore real balance to our government.

The president's warrantless domestic spying program is surveillance without a paper trail.

And President Bush has used signing statements to claim the powers of the legislature and the courts. He signs legislation into law and then, in effect, interprets and rewrites it in a signing statement.

Until the Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of these practices, our democracy remains in jeopardy.

Richard L. Ottenheimer


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