Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Tax cuts for some, miniature American flags for others…

Several low income households stand to benefit from a targeted tax break

Some of Howard County's oldest homeowners could see the metropolitan area's most generous property tax cut - a reduction of 25 percent for those 70 or older with incomes of under $75,000 a year - if a proposal by two County Council members proves as irresistible this election year as they predict.

The bill, allowed under legislation unanimously approved by the General Assembly this year, goes farther than measures enacted this spring by Baltimore and Carroll counties, which slightly expanded credits offered under the state's homeowner's tax credit program for low-income families.

If approved by the five-member Howard County Council, the proposal unveiled yesterday would freeze the lowered property tax bills for older homeowners until the home is sold.
So, as property assessments have risen dramatically over the last few years, senior homeowners on fixed incomes have had trouble keeping up with their increasing tax bills. And since they don’t have children in the school system – our county’s largest financial obligation – mitigating incentives to move through a tax break helps slow the growth of our student population. That, and is it really fair to ask people on fixed incomes to subsidize the education of other people’s children?

On the whole, it seems like a good idea. The county’s current “circuit breaker” tax deferral program for low-income seniors places a lien on the property, which many people likely want to avoid, and it requires repayment of the deferred taxes when the property is sold, meaning families may lose a home that’s been passed down for generations. When this measure passed last year, however, actual tax breaks, rather than defferals, for seniors were not legal under state law.

My only real concern, which is in reality a much broader concern about taxes in general, is our penchant for carving up the tax code for certain groups. To be sure, the power of the tax code and the benefit of tax breaks can be used for good, but eventually we’ll cross a point where the whole thing is too complicated, too fragmented. We lose a bit of fairness with every each additional targeted tax break.

But what about the timing of this proposal? After all, Democrats on the council have taken a lot of heat -- particularly from Councilman and bill sponsor Charlie Feaga -- for having the nerve to do their jobs during an election year. Yet, here they (mostly) resist the urge to follow suit and instead express support for this Republican-led proposal.
"I think it's ironic that every piece of legislation we've introduced this year Feaga has called a political stunt; however, I don't care where or when a concept comes from. If it helps people and it's affordable, I'll support it," said Democrat Guy Guzzone.

Ulman said that "it sounds interesting. Clearly, I believe we ought to be helping seniors on a fixed income when we can."
I’m glad to see the Democrats supporting this; but, how could they not, especially if it's price tag -- $2 million -- is reasonable?


Tom Berkhouse said...

I am surprised at your subtle, and ill-founded swipe at Mr. Feaga. You are comparing apples to oranges, not apples to apples. let me explain to you how what Ulman, Guzzone, and Ball did with their spat of "zoning process" legislation is NOT the same as the Merdon/Feaga tax legislation. During COMP LITE, Mr. Ulman, who was chairman of the Zoning Board, if my memory serves me, violated a number of specific County laws that deal with the general zoning process (eg: deadlines for applications to be accepted) and also violated a number of long standing legal precedents relating to zoning matters (eg: spot zoning is illegal) with the approval of the COMP LITE bill. Now - to be fair - Mr. Feage voted for the bill, and he should be held accountable for that. However, it was Mr. Ulman, Mr. Guzzone, and Mr. Ball (who was not on the Zoning Board when Comp Lite was decided so he's innocent of that mess) that proposed their zoning "reform" legislation under their self-described premise of improving the system to make it more open to the citizens. So, you see, for Ulman and Guzzone to propose legislation to "fix" the system after they pillaged it is a TOTAL POLITICAL SHAM, and Mr. Feaga rightly called them on it. Now, had Mr. Feage sponsored that legislation, he would have been just as big a SHAM as Ulman and Guzzone. As for Mr. Feaga's tax legislation, unless he somehow violated the tax process, he hasn't done the same thing as Ulman and Guzzone. I hope that clears it up for you.

hocoblog said...

Tom, I agree with you 100%. I have written the same thing on comp-lite on my blog, and the same about the zoning legislation, and testified to county council on the same, and when confronted by Feaga on another issue I confronted him on comp-lite. I will go a step further. He is doing Wayne Livesay a disservice by coaching Livesay to support comp-lite and oppose COPE.

Was the tax cut politically motivated? I don't know. I am willing to go along and say SURE.

As I wrote before. As far as politcially motivated legislation "They don't get much better than this." This is good legislation. The zoning bills were window dressing for a huge comp-lite fiasco.

Hayduke said...

Tom: Thanks for your thoughts. A couple points:

1. Comp Lite was a legislative process, meaning the Council acting as the Council was in charge of the process, meaning that the Zoning Board had nothing to do with it. That Ulman was the Zoning Board chairman is irrelevant.

2. It is your belief that the process was illegal. Others agree with you. However, legality is not in the eye of the beholder. Until or unless someone charged with interpreting our laws -- i.e. a judge -- rules that the Comp Lite process was illegal, simply saying it was will not make it so. And I find it hard to believe that the county's Office of Law would really allow the council to proceed with something knowing that it wouldn't stand a legal test. I've read the charter and Keelan's take on the issue, and I'm not convinced that claims of illegality hold any weight. If Comp Lite was patently illegal, why did those opposed to it focus on a voter referendum to overturn the legislation rather than challenge the entire package in court?

mary smith said...

OH, the numbers of things running through one's mind after reading the Hayduke response. So, so flawed, from the basic foundation of premise through the concluding claim.

If I could just start with premise that illegality is not in the eye of the beholder and until a judge..... Yow!

The innocence and naiveté packed into this statement seem incongruent coming from one so well-spoken.

Few who have ever been close to anyone involved in a significant court action would make this statement. It is unequivocally in the eye of the beholder (judge)!! Holy cow. (someone get me a brown paper bag to breathe into, before I pass out from the stress of reading that line). I guess it really does require one to be intimately involved in court action to realize the reality of outrageous decisions that are being made across the US, daily. None come to mind?

I could go on, but my point is made for the readership.

Hayduke said...

Mary: Should I have said layperson rather than beholder? Regardless of your thoughts on judges, in our system of government they are the only ones charged with interpreting the law. You and I can call something illegal until we're blue in the face, but unless a judge with jurisdiction agrees with us, we'd be wrong.

Tom Berkhouse said...


Actually, the first judge to act on the COPE referendum lawsuit said that it was his belief that the Comp Lite bill violated the law, leaving open the door for COPE to file a different lawsuit to challenge the basic legality (or illegality) of it.

You are unbelievably naive, and your credibility level is lessening every day that you make excuses for Ken Ulman and defend his questionable actions. Regardless of whether he voted for Comp Lite as a Zoning Board member, or as a Councilman, he did vote for it, and it DOES violate the written law. Nobody needs to have a law degree or be a judge to be able to interpret and understand the law, and know when someone has broken it.

mary smith said...


Maybe you're still upset because I referred to you as Mr. Magoo. I apologize, and will try to be as mature as you have been. The point about Magoo was that some environmentalists are like some Christian evangelists in that, they'd rather convert the populace to their group, than save the environment (or soul). It would serve everyone's goal if environmentalists would come to terms with the fact that some will never affililate with that title but can still help with the goal ("I am not a tree hugger" - Nixon N. Gore).

Ok, back to a more mature countenance. Ah hem. (straightening attire)

To address the statement above, "You and I can call something illegal until we're blue in the face, but unless a judge..". Does that mean a murderer on the loose has not committed a crime? If a judge has not decided, then it's not illegal. Cops, go home, take a rest.

Everything about Law is unequivocal. A judge is supposed to apply law to facts, but often that is not what happens, and because a human being (in this case a commissioner) says that an confessed child abuser is innocent and can move back into the house where his victim lives, does not mean that he is innocent (see WBAL news today).

You are most definitely not wrong to disagree with anyone's interpretation, whether judge, commissioner, or blogger, any more than the girl in that house yesterday was wrong to disagree with the release and admittance of her attacker into her home.

mary smith said...


You were too hard on Hayduke and now he's gone into hiding. Maybe the two events are linked.

Hayduke, you're not really that easily offended, right? You've tired of us, and I'm going to have to write another poem to draw you out. Further silence will only encourage me.


mary smith said...

Hayduke set up shop for Thoughtful Collusion
But after one year, mulls deflated illusion
Caught up in blog-world, full of barbarians
Looking for cohesiveness, finding contrarians

He works for solutions, a clean environment dream
In a world that wants dollars, and power from schemes
Some wonder why reporters become cynical, gritty
When once they were fresh, the whole world looked pretty

Let’s not hasten the trip to innocence lost
Inevitably following the onslaught of accost
Intellectual discussion and near southern manner
Would truly be new and, for some of us, banner

My promise is this, I will commit to weave
the next stanzas to music, but stay and don’t leave.

Hayduke said...

Mary: Sheesh, I go a day without posting and you send out the search party. I'd say I was busy today, but that's not going to suffice, I know.

Anyway, I wrote something today (with pictures!) but pulled it on account of lameness. Maybe I'll put it up tomorrow. For now, though, I'm off to watch a couple episodes of The Wire.

mary smith said...

Now, you must feel important. Maybe you could recruit some liberal minded people (yes, left-leaning) to help with the blog. Where's anonymous? The one who you asked if he'd thought of starting his own. Maybe he would like to suppliment.

mary smith said...

Now, how can I leave that alone? OMGoodness... The mental picture is too funny.

There once was a young man from O'Mills,

On his bike, he had a few spills,

The basket held Reeds, as he let out a sneeze,

Food lion sent him a cryin'
Ain't got no supply'n
Dr. got him preparin'
Wife is a darin'
Dog wants his attention
Gets only dissention,

Last seen heading for the hills.

It's Sunday! Seriousness is not due until 8am Monday morning.