Op-ed: `The moral lens of public policy’

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Rev. Kevin Slayton

By Rev. Kevin Slayton

The General Assembly is hard at work and has already taken major steps forward for Marylanders. Overriding the governor’s vetoes of the digital ad tax and the Kirwan Commission’s blueprint for education reform were huge moments, as was passage of a critically needed COVID-19 relief bill.

All of these items are built on what I would call obligatory moral legislating. In a political climate where we rarely consider the moral lens of public policy, I have not lost hope that our leaders will rely on the moral aspects of their policy making on a more consistent basis.

That should apply especially to how the state raises and spends money. Budgets stand as the defining moral documents of our society. Where we spend our resources and how we generate revenue are two of the most important decisions state leaders make.

With that understanding, I urge Marylanders to keep an eye on bills that have important moral underpinning. That includes a bill sponsored by Senator Paul Pinsky, a longtime legislator from Prince George’s County, that would bring greater fairness to our tax system by leveling the playing field for our local businesses.

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His legislation would require major corporations who benefit greatly from public resources generated in our state to pay their fair share in taxes. The idea of companies paying what is deemed fair is at its core a moral obligation. When corporations seek to avoid those obligations, many of us tax-paying citizens and smaller businesses are left holding the bag. In fact, the Maryland Center on Economic Policy estimates that our state could have raised an additional $2.8 billion in revenue between fiscal years 2014 and 2018 by eliminating corporate loopholes, ineffective tax subsidies, and other special interest tax breaks.

Pinsky’s bill, SB 511, would close a major corporate tax loophole that has allowed many of these large corporations to avoid paying any Maryland taxes. Many of those companies would argue that they are only doing what the law allows them to do. By requiring them to use combined tax reporting we can fix the law, so they can no longer hide huge profits in other states allowing them to avoid our state tax.

Closing this loophole would put smaller Maryland businesses on a more equal tax footing with competing corporations that are operating in other states, as well as Maryland. The local businesses that we frequent simply don’t have access to these tax loopholes. But their large competitors do and they use them.

We send our elected officials to Annapolis to be our voice and to fight for our best interests. But far too many of them pay more attention to large corporations than to us. They believe they can only raise campaign resources by making business interests happy.

The reality is that working people are busy and can’t pay attention to everything the General Assembly does regarding tax policy. That’s why we have to trust our legislators to have our backs and vote to uphold the moral values that undergird our communities.

Most of my neighbors don’t have the ability nor the desire to have their checks deposited in Florida or some other state where we don’t live. We don’t have extra income to place money in places where we can claim that we didn’t earn it in Maryland. If we did, that would be dishonest and of no benefit to our state and local government. So why should corporations be allowed to do so?

My hope is that the members of the legislature will have the courage and moral fortitude to close this corporate loophole this year. We could use the revenue generated to invest in our children’s education, more reliable transit, and our neighbors who are living on the margins of society as a result of the pandemic.

In this time of racial reckoning it would be a great way to begin dismantling the economic barriers that too often hold back Marylanders of color. Legislators must do what is morally right.

The Rev. Kevin Slayton is coordinator of the Maryland Fair Funding Coalition.

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