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Franchot: Do not overlook tax-saving efforts of Latino lawmakers | READER COMMENTARY

Legislators work in the House Chamber during a session of the Maryland General Assembly on Wednesday. April 7, 2021. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun).
Legislators work in the House Chamber during a session of the Maryland General Assembly on Wednesday. April 7, 2021. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun). (Kim Hairston/The Baltimore Sun)

The dust has settled on the 2021 General Assembly session and the pundits have opined on the winners and losers. There is, however, a group that received far too few accolades or attention despite the victories they achieved on behalf of tens of thousands of Marylanders. Allow me to recognize and thank the members of the Maryland Legislative Latino Caucus. Its members either led the way or were leading voices on several key initiatives including the Dignity Not Detention Act, the Maryland Driver Privacy Act and a bill creating a Governor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.

The issue that I would like to focus on didn’t generate the most media coverage this session, although it is arguably one of the most consequential to have passed. Senate Bill 218 started as a child tax credit bill, but evolved to include a provision allowing low-income working Marylanders who file taxes using an Individual Tax Identification Number, or ITIN, instead of a Social Security Number, to be eligible for the state Earned Income Tax Credit (”Maryland expands tax credit to more immigrants, seeking to aid additional workers in pandemic-induced recession,” Feb. 26).

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This is largely, if not entirely, due to the advocacy of the Latino Caucus.

I had a front-row seat working with legislators as they sought to expand the EITC which is an important tool to lift people out of poverty. My staff provided data showing 60,000 of the 86,000 Marylanders who pay income taxes using ITINs would benefit from this expansion. ITIN filers paid more than $100 million in state and local taxes last year, so any claim that they do not contribute to the state’s economy because they may be undocumented immigrants is simply false. ITIN filers are hardworking taxpayers trying to make a better life for themselves and their families.

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At a time when low-income earners are particularly struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic, their government should be making it easier for them to make ends meet. When the inclusion of ITIN filers was removed from the comprehensive RELIEF Act of 2021 — so as not to delay state stimulus payments and the broader EITC expansion — Speaker of the House Adrienne A. Jones and her staff, General Assembly leaders and members of the Black Caucus pledged to pass separate legislation incorporating this group of Maryland taxpayers. To their credit, they kept their word and the Latino Caucus made sure to get this expansion for ITIN filers across the goal line. In the final bill, the ITIN expansion will be in effect for three years, but I would certainly like to see the provision made permanent, as California and Colorado have done.

With such an unusual and incredibly productive General Assembly session, there are bound to be unsung heroes and the quietly impactful legislation they championed. But when it comes to economic justice and fair treatment of hardworking immigrants who pay taxes, let’s give credit where credit is due. In the end, we should treat all taxpayers fairly and the work of the Latino Caucus gets us closer to this goal.

Peter Franchot, Annapolis

The writer is Comptroller of Maryland.

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