The commercial has been on my television screen nightly for weeks. It began before the Maryland primaries even announced that former Maryland governor Bob Ehrlich had won the Republican nomination and would run for governor against incumbent Governor Martin O’Malley yet again. The commercial’s premise is basic: an interview with Ehrlich, stating that he never raised taxes while in office, and then citizens noting that he did raise fees and property taxes. In their minds, the taxes and fees are one in the same. But are they?
With the rematch between former Republican governor Bob Ehrlich and the current governor, Democrat Martin O’Malley, looming, Maryland’s undecided constituents want to know the truth-what’s the difference between a fee and a tax, and how has it impacted them?
By definition, a fee and a tax are different, though many citizens may have trouble seeing it that way. In 2007, NC State professor Mike Walden noted that, “Taxes are paid for government services that are supposed to really help everyone.” He went on to list education and roads as examples of taxes. Tax money goes into a large pot and is geared towards the needs of the entire state or community at large.
Fees do work differently than taxes, in fact. According to the Tax Foundation, fees are more focused than taxes and are geared towards specific projects or groups and the services that they use. A citizen in the commercial in question notes that “if it comes out of her wallet, it’s a tax.” In fact, fees that come out of your wallet are for services you are making use of. That’s the distinction between taxes and fees.
The commercial, an advertisement for Martin O’Malley’s re-election, is clearly geared towards convincing audiences that Ehrlich isn’t telling the truth-raising fees for services used is the same as raising taxes. The distinction between the two is actually pretty clear. For example, though Ehrlich raised vehicle registration fees, my husband and I make the choice to own two cars. As such, we are willing to pay a fee for it. If we opted to take public transportation, we wouldn’t have to pay the vehicle registration fee at all. It’s not a tax because you don’t have to own a car.
So what about the assertion that Bob Ehrlich raised property taxes? A property tax might better be called a fee. Ultimately, if you don’t own property, this increase wouldn’t have impacted you, either.
Ultimately, the political semantics between taxes and fees may play a major role in the upcoming Maryland election between former governor Bob Ehrlich and Governor Martin O’Malley. Will Maryland voters pay attention and recognize the difference between the two? As a Maryland voter, I certainly hope so.
The Tax Foundation; http://www.taxfoundation.org/blog/show/24609.html