Challenge to Maryland Tax Increases Dismissed

January 11, 2008

Carroll County Circuit Judge Thomas Stansfield yesterday dismissed a lawsuit challenging Maryland’s recent tax increases. The suit alleged that during the special session called to enact the tax increases, the Senate violated a constitutional requirement to obtain consent of the House before adjourning for more than three days. The case turned on what the state constitution means by “consent.”

Submitted into evidence was a letter dated November 9, from the Senate Secretary to the House, requesting permission to adjourn. However, depositions revealed that the letter had actually been written to memorialize an oral agreement after November 12—already well into the adjournment—and backdated.

This angered the judge, but he ultimately concluded that this constitutional violation does not justify invalidating the legislation:

Although the court is inclined to agree with the plaintiffs regarding the reprehensible nature in which the legislature conducted itself, the remedy they seek in redress is too drastic a notion to accept. The court can simply not agree that when a technicality in procedure is violated, the entire slate of lawfully enacted legislation should be invalidated.

The judge was worried that interpreting the “consent” provision literally would allow “one chamber of the legislature…to defeat the actions of the other by simply refusing to participate in the legislative process.” Of course, that’s probably the purpose of the provision, which has now been effectively nullified.

The legislators who backed the tax increases are of course miffed at any challenge to what they wrought:

“This is … one of the biggest abuses of taxpayer dollars that I have seen here,” said House Speaker Michael E. Busch, who estimated the cost of defending the suit was more expensive than holding the three-week special session.

Well considering the legislative session approved nearly $2 billion a year in tax hikes, that’s not likely.

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