Republican Caucuses Stand With The Senate Leaders As They Hold The Line Against Tax Increases

By Delegate Jason Buckel, House Minority Leader, Senator Steve Hershey, Senate Minority Leader, Delegate Jesse Pippy, House Minority Whip, Senator Justin Ready, Senate Minority Whip

The “BRFA” has taken center stage in the last week in Annapolis as conflict brews between the House and Senate over passing taxes during the 2024 Legislative Session. While the headlines have focused on the impending showdown between chambers, attention should also be paid to the disregard for transparency and good government shown by House Democrats.

The BRFA (pronounced “Bur-Fa”) is a well-used acronym for the annual piece of legislation known as the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act. It is the ultimate inside baseball in the General Assembly.  Typically, the BRFA is the Budget bill’s sidekick and is introduced alongside the budget to temporarily adjust statutory spending formulas for that budget year. Earlier this month, the Senate passed both the Budget & BRFA free of any tax increases.

House Democrats have not been shy about their vociferous desire for new revenues. With the ill-advised passage of the $30+ BILLION Blueprint for Education four years ago Maryland is facing major budget deficits next year. In addition, with the Purple Line over budget by $4 BILLION and pouring HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS into the ever-floundering WMATA system, Maryland’s Transportation Trust Fund is nearly drained making little available for roads and bridges.

House Democrats began the year pushing the typical “fair share” and “tax-the-wealthy” tropes, even naming a massive tax hike where they targeted and demonized high earners and corporations the “Fair Share for Maryland Act”. There were also bills to increase fees, tolls, and other taxes. The pièce de resistance, however, was a late-filed bill that would expand the sales tax to virtually every service in the State of Maryland, costing hardworking Marylanders over $3 BILLION a year.

This sales tax proposal was likely a red herring. It’s a frequent practice in Annapolis to scare Marylanders with a draconian tax measure that Democrats never truly intend to pass and then come back with another enormous tax package which only seems more reasonable by comparison.

Instead of passing individual tax bills, House Democrats have instead opted to hijack the BRFA and stuff it with a variety of tax and fee increases. While not as extensive as their sales tax expansion, House Democrats picked from their buffet of tax proposals – targeting corporations and Maryland drivers – to raise $1.3 billion in revenue. This is designed to create political cover as they can claim they voted on the budget as a whole, and these taxes were a part of that. After all, passing a balanced budget is the ONLY thing Maryland’s Constitution requires the General Assembly to do during the 90-day Session.

This maneuver also deprives the citizens of Maryland from participating in the debate on these proposals. Because these increases are included in the BRFA and did not pass as individual legislative proposals, there is no opportunity for a public Senate Committee hearing, so in effect, one-half of the legislative process has been bypassed, and Marylanders have been denied their right to testify on this proposal. This process is disingenuous, and it is wrong. It is the definition of back-room sausage-making and flies in the face of good government and transparency.

While our members believe strongly that there is never a good time to raise taxes, there is a right and wrong way to do it. Unfortunately for the citizens of Maryland, House Democrats have chosen the least transparent way to take an additional $1.3 billion out of their pockets.

As we write this, we are awaiting the start of the Conference Committee, consisting of a small number of Senators and Delegates who will iron out the differences between the two proposals in another backroom process and then present that compromise (if one can be reached) to each chamber for approval.

While we do not know how this process will ultimately pan out, there are things we do know. First, the FY 2025 Budget is already balanced without tax increases, and the House Democrats’ tax package is not needed. Second, this $1.3 billion in tax and fee increases make buying a car, driving one, or doing business more expensive for Maryland’s families and job creators. Finally, these new obligations would come as these same Marylanders continue to struggle to balance their own family budgets as inflation continues to drive up the cost of living.

So, what’s next?  Our Republican Caucuses stand with the Senate leaders as they hold the line against tax increases. Hopefully, these leaders are as committed to fighting taxes as we are. Hopefully, this is not another piece of Annapolis political theater where each chamber positions itself in a “Good Cop, Bad Cop” scenario that ultimately leaves Marylanders paying more. No matter how this tax battle ends, the people of Maryland will remember.