Oh, the arrogance of power. The top Maryland lobbyist for telecom giant Comcast couldn't even wait for the dust to settle after Election Day to start bashing Maryland lawmakers.
At a Chamber of Commerce luncheon talk right after Larry Hogan's victory, Comcast lobbyist Sean Looney derisively dismissed ongoing legislative efforts in Annapolis to pass a corporate tax loophole-plugging reform known as "combined reporting."
"The far left wackos in the Democratic Party think it's a great idea," Mr. Looney told his high-powered business audience.
Nearly a majority of Maryland's Senate — apparently the "far left wackos" decried by Mr. Looney — want to stop huge corporations like Comcast from charging their business expenses to their Maryland operations while shifting their profits to subsidiaries or companies incorporated in low- or no-tax states.
It seems this tax scheme is popular among the big boys doing business in our state. Our Maryland comptroller's office reports that many multi-state, multinational companies pay less in corporate tax than you and I pay in personal income tax. This tax avoidance garners these big corporations a major competitive advantage over Maryland's small businesses — and costs our state over $100 million in lost revenue annually.
We must have a good many such wackos in America today. Over half our states with corporate income taxes — 24 states in all — already have combined-reporting laws on the books. And these combined-reporting states include Texas, Utah and a host of other hotbeds of far-left wacko-ism.
The passage of combined reporting in Maryland would most likely raise the corporate income tax bill significantly on large companies like Comcast. That logically explains why Comcast has been steadfastly objecting to any combined reporting reform in Maryland. But that doesn't explain why a top Comcast lobbyist, in a public gathering open to the press, would have the audacity to apply the "wacko" label to the 18 Maryland state senators who co-sponsored combined-reporting legislation in Annapolis.
What does explain this audacity? The election of Larry Hogan. Lobbyists like Comcast's Sean Looney see a "business-friendly" golden age now on the horizon. They don't have to play nice anymore. With Larry Hogan as governor, they have been unleashed.
Not all corporate lobbyists in Maryland, to be sure, have been as brazen since Mr. Hogan's election. At last week's Chamber session, two other corporate lobbyists quickly distanced themselves from Mr. Looney's "wacko" characterization.
But the fervor from the euphoric victory loosened at least one tongue. And while it may be that only one corporate lobbyist had the temerity to say what he was thinking, you can bet that plenty of corporate lobbyists are enthusiastic about Maryland's new political order. They see blood in the water, and they're getting ready to pounce.
Who knows, these lobbyists seem to feel, Maryland may soon be as "business-friendly" as a state like Delaware. Comcast's Mr. Looney boasted last week that if he tells legislators in that state that a proposed bill hurts business, they are willing to change or kill the legislation."
And if these corporate lobbyists do succeed, cutting taxes, killing combined reporting and all the other reforms we need to check unbridled corporate power, the people of Maryland will pay a heavy price. We'll see more assaults on our environment and have fewer resources to improve our schools and repair our bridges. We'll continue to see the 1 percent take a spectacularly oversized share of the wealth our labor creates.
But let's not consider this corporate victory preordained. Yes, Comcast and our other corporate big-boys believe they will shortly have a very close friend at the top of our state government. And, yes, governors in Maryland have broad powers. But we as the 99 percent have power, too, if we unite and stand up against any assault on economic or social justice.
I do know this: Many of my colleagues in the State House don't intend to roll over and let Comcast and friends have their way. While sticks and stones may break our bones, name-calling will not deter us.
Paul G. Pinsky, a Democrat, is a long time Maryland state senator representing Prince George's County. He is the lead Senate sponsor of the Business Relief and Tax Fairness Act which adopts combined reporting. His email is email@example.com.