The Berlin Town Council meeting was cancelled this week because not enough elected officials could attend to meet quorum rules. The cancelled meeting did not mean there was no drama this week.
Included in the council packet this was the town’s plan to seek bids from companies to take over trash and recycling operations. In what I think is a smart move, the town is looking to explore whether cost savings could be realized if the trash and recycling collections were outsourced. In our story this week, Town Administrator Jeff Fleetwood pointed out the three employees who handle sanitation for the town would not be fired and instead reassigned to other departments. If the bids come back competitive, the budget savings would largely come on the equipment and maintenance side over time. Currently, the town allocates about $500,000 a year for sanitation, including funding the three salaries and waste tipping fees, which would presumably be taken over by the contractor.
The story detailing this Request For Proposals by the town received a lot of attention online. There were more than 90 comments on our Facebook page in response to the story, but most commenters seemed to support the town’s position of exploring outside help if cost savings could be realized. However, as they have in the recent past, the comments took a bizarre turn when several citizens accused one individual by the name of Wayne Walls of being a town councilman in disguise. The comments are worth checking out on our Facebook page.
As most elected officials are prone to do these days, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has taken to Facebook to rally state residents against an expansion of the sales tax. In multiple posts this week, Hogan provided links for citizens to write their legislators opposing a plan that will raise $2.6 billion in new revenue for the state at the expense of Maryland residents.
According to Hogan, the sales tax expansion would apply to “everyday expenses,” like Netflix and Hulu, oil changes, car washes, haircuts, salon services, dry cleaning, babysitting, veterinary care, plumbing, tax prep, grocery delivery, personal trainers and lawn care.
“Legislators are proposing a $2.6 billion tax hike by taxing hundreds of services that are essential for owning a home, raising a family, and even dying in the State of Maryland,” Hogan’s Facebook post read. “On top of all that, this Wedding Tax will make it a whole lot harder for Marylanders to tie the knot. We are fighting to hold the line against out-of-touch, tax and spend politicians. Stand with us. Contact your representatives and tell them you won’t support these massive tax hike… This tax proposal — the largest in Maryland’s history — is scheduled for a hearing in the House Ways and Means Committee this coming Monday, March 2, at 1 p.m.”
The Baltimore Sun issued an interesting opinion on the sales tax expansion concept to fund the Kirwan Commission’s findings to better public education in the state.
“Anyone who supports the goals of the Kirwan Commission would have to be delighted with the results of the latest Goucher College poll — with one glaring exception. While a stunning 69% believe Maryland’s K-12 public schools are underfunded and a whopping 85% find teacher salaries too low, under results of the poll released Monday, about half of state residents believe they already pay too much in taxes. To be exact, 51% reported them as “too high,” while 44% believe them “about right.” How many of us are lining up to see their taxes increased? That would be the 3% who say taxes are currently “too low.” This kind of cognitive dissonance, a belief in two opposing ideas, is not terribly surprising when it comes to taxes (hated) and one’s children or grandchildren (loved). It’s not unlike health care and birthday presents. We want the best possible while paying the least possible. But there’s something missing from this particular equation: a realistic view of Maryland’s state and local taxes,” the editorial read. “It has become a widely accepted belief, particularly in recent years, that Maryland is a veritable tax hell where hardworking people are shaken down by the state comptroller and tax collectors on the county and municipal level. … The people of Maryland would like to have better public schools, and they agree that greater state funding, including tax dollars for higher teacher salaries, is at least part of the way to achieve that result. Public disdain for taxes is a given. It’s like opposition to higher prices of any kind. Yet people ultimately accept the price if they believe they are getting return on investment. How best to pay for Kirwan? That’s the real question remaining before members of the General Assembly. And it’s one that deserves a robust debate, but starting with a realistic view of the state’s complex tax situation.”
The problem I see in Annapolis is legislators are looking to bite off too much of the commission’s findings. A practical approach is needed to prioritize the objectives with realistic funding options that will not crush the state’s economy as a whole as well as specific industries across the state.