Lawsuit Filed to Overturn Tax Increases
Posted by David Keelan on Thursday, December 13, 2007
Special Session Actions Challenged on Constitutional Grounds
The Minority Leadership in the House and Senate, along with a computer services business owner from Carroll County, filed suit today challenging the constitutionality of legislation passed by the Maryland General Assembly during the recently-concluded special session. The lawsuit was filed in Carroll County Circuit Court.
In a motion filed on behalf of these Maryland taxpayers, attorney Irwin R. Kramer of Kramer & Connolly, requests that the court review irregularities that occurred during the special session, including the six-day adjournment by the Maryland Senate. This adjournment was in direct violation of Article III, Section 25 of the Maryland Constitution which precludes either house from taking prolonged adjournments without obtaining the requisite approval of the other.
Emphasizing that the Constitution must be enforced, Mr. Kramer wrote in a memorandum of support that “Although special sessions are designed to handle state emergencies, the General Assembly has no greater license to suspend constitutional procedures in these sessions than they do in regular legislative sessions. . . .When it comes to the law, you cannot make it if you break it.”
“This action was not taken lightly, nor was it arrived at without very serious considerations. This lawsuit is about government transparency and the integrity of our state Constitution,” said House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell and a plaintiff in the case. “Constitutional restrictions on the legislature can never be ignored. Doing so puts all of Maryland’s citizens at risk now and in the future.”
As part of the relief requested, the suit asks the court to set aside the numerous increases in taxes and fees, including a new tax on computer services. Plaintiff John C. Pardoe, Chief Executive Officer of Byte-Right Support, Inc., expressed concern for his small business customers, whose “computer services budget has now essentially been slashed by 6%.” Surprised to find a new sales tax on computer services, Mr. Pardoe first learned of the new tax at the last minute on the news. He added, “I guess we were the easiest targets for them to hit. We have no lobbyists, no heads up at all, no time to get to Annapolis to speak out on it and let legislators consider the impact on small business.”
The court is also asked to review the legislative scheme by which state appropriations are made contingent upon a public referendum through the Constitutional Amendment for slot machine gambling. “Obviously, the General Assembly has the power to approve slot machines without altering the Constitution,” said Senator David Brinkley, Senate Minority Leader and a plaintiff in the case. “By disguising a public referendum as a Constitutional Amendment, this runs afoul of previous court rulings prohibiting state appropriations from being subject to a vote of the public. Legislators should have accepted the responsibility themselves and just passed a slots bill.”
The issues raised in the suit are not new but were previously raised during the floor debates in both chambers of the General Assembly. Delegate Michael Smigiel, also a plaintiff in the case, raised a point of order during the special session with regard to the required House of Delegates concurrence with the Senate’s elongated adjournment but left the session frustrated by unsatisfactory responses from House leadership: “All legislators swear an oath to uphold the Constitution – and we must strictly follow the Constitutional requirement to ensure that the rights of all Marylanders are protected.”
Senator Allan Kittleman, Senate Minority Whip and a plaintiff, objected to the flawed process on the Senate floor. Senator Kittleman believes: “The special session was an injustice to citizens of Maryland. We are asking the court to review the procedural irregularities, lack of transparency and Constitutional violations with the just result that these tax increases be overturned.”
House Minority Whip and plaintiff Christopher Shank views the entire matter as a guarantee for good government in Maryland: “The people of Maryland have a constitutional guarantee to good government that was abrogated by this special session. The constitution of our state is worth defending, we are asking the court for a review of these constitutional errors that were made.”