If Maryland Lawmakers Raise Taxes, Will Maryland Taxpayers Blame the Courts?

October 16, 2007

If Maryland lawmakers approve tax increases during the special session that begins October 29, then Maryland’s taxpayers might lay some of the blame at the feet of the state’s courts. In fact, it is unlikely that Maryland would need to raise taxes in special session if it weren’t for court ruling a decage ago.

Back in 1996, a state court ruled (in the case of Bradford v. State Board of Education, information here) that the state government needed to spend more on schools in Baltimore County. After the ruling, the state created the Thornton Commission, which held lots of hearings about the state’s roll in education funding. Eventually, the Thornton Commission recommended a plan that would increase state education funding by $1.3 billion per year, and the legislature adopted this plan in 2002 without raising the revenues necessary to pay for it, with the exception of raising the state cigarette tax to $1 per pack.

The impetus of the legislature’s actions, however, was the 1996 court ruling. Without that ruling, the state wouldn’t have needed the Thornton Commission, wouldn’t have committed itself to spending billions more per year on education, and wouldn’t now be going into special session to approve the tax increases necessary to pay for the education funding plan.

According to data in our Appropriation by Litigation report, Maryland’s court-induced spending increase of $1.3 billion ranks sixth-highest among the 27 states where courts have ordered lawmakers to spend more money. If lawmakers approve a tax increase of $1.5 billion in the special session, Maryland will become the 10th state to explicitly raise taxes to finance a court-ordered increase in school funding.

I suspect that Maryland taxpayers will find it harder to choke down these tax increases when they learn the roll that the Maryland judiciary has played in the state’s education funding debate.


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