By Rolando Garcia
ANNAPOLIS – As the General Assembly debates whether higher taxes or slot machine revenue should be used to close the state’s roughly $700 million budget shortfall, one legislator is proposing to pass the collection plate to see if Marylanders will voluntarily chip in.
Delegate Warren Miller, R-Howard, wants to allow taxpayers to check a box on their state income tax forms to contribute an amount greater than their outstanding tax bill to the state’s general fund.
Miller said he has no intention of voluntarily forking over more money to the government, but those clamoring for higher taxes should be able to pay more.
“You hear the argument a lot that people are willing to pay more for better government services, but I don’t believe that,” Miller said. “The people I represent feel they are already overtaxed.”
The bill is intended as a protest against efforts by some Democratic lawmakers to raise taxes, Miller said, adding he has no illusions that his bill would reap a revenue windfall for the state.
“There’s some mischief here,” Miller said.
Democrats were skeptical about the bill, saying it would do little to solve the state’s budget woes.
Delegate Jon Cardin, D-Baltimore County, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, said new revenue options, including raising sales and income taxes, should be considered and that little if any money would be raised through contributions.
If enacted, Cardin said he would probably not use the check-off to contribute to the general fund.
“I would give my money more selectively to other charitable organizations,” Cardin said.
Delegate Anne Healey, D-Prince George’s, vice chairwoman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said she is reluctant to add any more check-offs to the income tax form.
“There’s a lot of good causes out there, but every time you add another check-off, it just cannibalizes the existing ones. People aren’t going to give to each one,” Healey said.
The forms currently include a check-off for contributions to the Chesapeake Bay and Endangered Species Fund and the Fair Campaign Financing Fund.
Supporters of the measure say those who want to raise taxes should put their money where their mouth is.
“People always want to raise a tax that they themselves don’t pay,” said Delegate Jean Cryor, R-Montgomery. “College students want me to raise income taxes to fund higher education because they don’t pay income taxes.”
A similar measure was instituted by Arkansas Gov. Mick Huckabee. In 2001, amid calls to raise taxes to solve the state’s budget crunch, Huckabee refused to sign off on tax hikes and in a sarcastic response established the Tax Me More Fund, where citizens could send contributions to the state’s general fund. After two years, the fund raised less than $3,000.