- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 9, 2006

Taxes were up in the past 10 years for Maryland and Virginia residents, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, disappointing both lawmakers and anti-tax advocates.

The tax burden in Virginia increased by 55 percent in that period, with a per capita amount of $1,903 in 2004.

In Maryland, the tax burden increased by 46 percent, with an individual tax burden of $2,214 in 2004.

The District’s tax statistics are computed with cities’ and local governments’ financial data, which won’t be available until April, the Census Bureau said.

Arthur Purves, president of the Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance, said he was not surprised at Virginia’s ranking. He called the state’s spending habits frivolous, particularly in the public schools system, where he said expenses are rising 10 times faster than enrollment.

“Our state is spending like a drunken sailor,” Mr. Purves said. “The legislature has no idea how much money we’re pouring into the public schools system, or how little we’re getting in return.”

James Parmelee, president of Virginia watchdog group Republican Action, said the numbers reflect what he has been saying for years. He said he is “cautiously optimistic” that the data will pressure Virginia lawmakers to provide tax relief.

“It’s certainly an uphill battle,” Mr. Parmelee said. “The numbers are very helpful, because we now have nonpartisan numbers that show that taxes have been rising. I hear a lot of politicians say that taxes aren’t going up; these numbers show they are clearly wrong.”

A member of Gov. Timothy M. Kaine’s Cabinet said the census study is misleading.

Secretary of Finance Jody M. Wagner said the numbers do not take into account that much of the state’s income tax is used for local funding or the state’s car-tax rebate.

The high numbers also are reflective of the state’s prosperity because more residents are in higher income brackets, Mrs. Wagner said.

But Virginia Delegate Timothy D. Hugo, Fairfax Republican, said the state’s rising taxes could “kill the golden goose.”

“One reason we’ve had such a booming economy is we are a low-tax state,” he said.

Sen. Jay O’Brien said budget spending has grown exponentially since he took office in the early 1990s. “Trying to be all things to all people costs a heck of a lot of money,” the Fairfax Republican said. “We are not the low-tax Virginia that people knew over the years.”

Maryland’s tax burden, which is $693 more per person than it was in 1994, ranked 15th in the nation.

Hawaiians last year paid the most to state government — $3,050 per person on average. Texans paid the least — an average of $1,368.

Maryland House Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve said he was surprised his state ranked so high.

“That’s hard to believe because we cut [state] income taxes 10 percent during that time,” said the Montgomery Democrat. “My impression has always been that until [Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.] was elected, Maryland was a moderately taxed state.”

Mr. Barve criticized Mr. Ehrlich, the state’s first Republican governor in more than 30 years, saying he raised too many fees since taking office in 2003. Mr. Barve’s comments echoed the Maryland Democratic Party’s charge that Mr. Ehrlich has raised taxes, fees and tolls that have brought in $3 billion since he took office.

“I don’t know where [Mr. Barve] is getting his information from,” said House Minority Leader George C. Edwards, Western Maryland Republican. “Maryland has always been one of the higher-taxed states.”

He said he was not surprised by the state’s ranking and suggested that Maryland’s income-tax code was probably due for an overhaul.

Delegate Michael D. Smigiel Sr., Eastern Shore Republican, said Maryland would top a tax survey if his Democratic colleagues had their way.

“If we wouldn’t have stopped $7.5 billion in additional taxes, we would probably be No. 1,” he said, referring to an administration tally of Democratic tax proposals blocked by the governor since 2003.

Richard Falknor, executive vice president of the nonpartisan group Maryland Taxpayers Association Inc., said he was disappointed with the state’s ranking.

He pointed out that despite sniping between the two parties, Mr. Ehrlich and the General Assembly were jointly responsible for more than $2 billion in tax increases in 2004.

Christina Bellantoni and S.A. Miller contributed to this report.

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