Monday, July 20, 2015

Holocaust Victims Receive Special Tax Relief in Maryland---9/11 Survivors Do Not

The article below was published originally in a suburban Maryland section of the Washington Post. I located the text archived at Highbeam.

At issue was a legislative effort in the Maryland General Assembly to provide exemptions from "certain one-time taxes and fees," as well as other benefits and reliefs to Maryland families who had lost loved ones in the attacks of September 11th, 2001,

However. a "a single, powerful state Senate leader," Sen. Walter M. Baker (D-Cecil), who chaired the Judicial Proceedings Committee, was opposing the plan. The federal government successfully enacted similar special tax relief for the families of 9/11 victims, This made all of the millions paid out by the victim's compensation fund, the millions of dollars aquired by private charitable gifts, and the slews of millions in personal insurance policy payouts to surviving familes entirely free of inheritence and other federal tax

Doubtlessly, the enacting legislation in Congress enjoyed the same near unanymnous support as found in the previous session's Patriot Act.

The obstructionist lawmaker explained it as being a matter of principle--that special catagories of benefits for the 9-11 survivors didn't take into account the victims of other terrorist tragedies, or even your typical, everyday victim of crime and mayham. It turned out that the survivors og the Oklahoma City bombing did express their peeved feelings publically at their perceived exclusion from all the public and private benefits that fell to the 9/11 survivors.

It was understood by all that Baker could only act on his principles because at age 75 he wasn't going to seek reelection, as his act would be viewwed as wildly unpopular by voters---such was the depth of shared cathartic experience.

One of the lost benefits was an exemption from probate taxes and state inhereitence tax on the settled estates of the dead.

According to a state legislator who supported the tax relief, Sen. Leo E. Green (D-Prince George's)
"the idea for the fee waiver bill originated with Lynn Loughlin Skerpon, the Prince George's register of wills. She had been trying to make some accommodation for the families she was meeting as she processed their estates but could not do so without the legislature's help."

As register of wills for Prince George's County. Skerpon said she was aware there had even been a precedent for the action:
The only similar waiver ever offered was afforded to relatives of Holocaust victims, she said, and she thought this was another rare case that warranted relief from the fees.Since estate taxes and fees grow with the size of an estate, thus giving the greatest benefits to inherators of the richest legacies, it would seem to be an entirely different matter than that which motivated Edgar Bronffman, in his World Jewish Congress lawsuit against Swiss banks, which sought for some security and peace of mind for pennyless survivors in their great old age.

Another benefit which was being being proposed for the surivor's of 9/11 was a tuition-free education in any of the Maryland state colleges and universities. Although costs of the inheritance-tax proposals could be measured---they would effect 59 estates in various Maryland counties, each valued in the millions from the special benefits alone---it isn't clear how many school-age childrin survived, or if "survivorship" extended downward like a dukedom or earlship---to the seventh son of the seventh son.

As far as events go, the holocaust and the attacks of 9/11 seem nearly reversed engineered. 9/11 was a matter of life and death to only a tiny fraction of the number of people said to have been so affected by the holocaust, which was almost a shrouded event whose public significance took years to fully sink in and germinate.

On the other hand, through repeated televison viewings of a plane crashing and the buildings collapsing into dust, a nearly universal imprinting with deep cathasis occured almost simaltaneosuly across the planet, while the total numbers of dead shrank and shrank But how that catharsis has manifested in individuals in the years since varies widely.

A number of voices in the article seem intent on minimizing the practicle value of what was being proposed, with Skerpon callling it a "mostly symbolic gesture," and "an accomadation," adding that we need "a recognition of the unusual character of this loss." But the only thing unusal of the loss on 9/11 was that it was so widely and publicly shared.

That is a mirror opposite to a discovery that Holocaust survivors had a law on the books in Maryland that absolved them from paying their death duties, which, in the nature of these thngs--must be borne by the rest of us. Why should we relent to the politician''s call for "a show of unity" when we could have the real thing instead?

January 17, 2002, The Washington Post, Tax Break Doubtful For Terror Families, by Matthew Mosk, 
An effort to exempt relatives of Marylanders who died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks from certain one-time taxes and fees has encountered unexpected resistance in the Maryland General Assembly.
Obstructing the legislative proposal is a single, powerful state Senate leader, who contends it is unfair to favor families of terror victims with benefits not also available to the many others who lose loved ones to violent crime.

"Is it worse being killed by a terrorist than being killed by a robber?" Sen. Walter M. Baker (D-Cecil), who chairs the Judicial Proceedings Committee, asked during an interview. "We shouldn't be making a law that separates one class of individuals from another."
The bill would exempt victims' families from probate fees and inheritance taxes. Advocates need Baker's support because he can -- and he says he will -- prevent the measure from coming to a vote in his committee, a move that would greatly reduce its chances of becoming law.
Equally significant, however, is the identity of one of the bill's chief sponsors: Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's), one of the few lawmakers with enough clout to persuade Baker to reconsider.
"I think Senator Baker might not understand that this bill is a very important show of unity with the families of victims of this terrible tragedy," Miller said yesterday, noting that 24 victims hailed from Prince George's County and 35 lived in other Maryland counties.
"I don't tell committee chairmen what to do, but I feel it not only deserves a hearing, it deserves a vote," Miller said. "The state of Maryland does not need to benefit financially from families whose members made the ultimate sacrifice." 
The bill will be the first in a series of measures related to the terrorist attacks that Maryland lawmakers will consider. Others aim to enhance security, and one -- which Baker also opposes -- would provide victims' children free tuition to any state university. Virginia and many other states and the District are also considering measures stemming from the attacks, including tighter restrictions over the way driver's licenses are issued and new benefits for members of the National Guard. 
Sen. Leo E. Green (D-Prince George's) said the idea for the fee waiver bill originated with Lynn Loughlin Skerpon, the Prince George's register of wills. She had been trying to make some accommodation for the families she was meeting as she processed their estates but could not do so without the legislature's help.
The only similar waiver ever offered was afforded to relatives of , she said, and she thought this was another rare case that warranted relief from the fees.
The cost of probate fees varies widely, depending on the assets of the victim, but Skerpon said she thought a waiver for terrorism victims would amount to no more than a few hundred dollars per family -- a mostly symbolic gesture. 
"I think it's an accommodation and a recognition of the unusual character of this loss," Skerpon said. 
Families of victims in Maryland were mostly unaware of the effort underway in Annapolis. But several contacted yesterday said they appreciated the gesture, even if it did not amount to much savings for them. 
"We're going through some very difficult times," said Reginald Carver, 44, a Waldorf man whose sister was 38 and just two months
"It would be nice if there was some type of gesture to the families, even if it's small," Carver said.
Baker said he was sympathetic to the plight facing those who lost loved ones in the attack. And the 22-year Senate veteran conceded that his opposition to such small concessions for terrorism victims is, politically, almost suicidal.
Leaning back in his padded leather desk chair, the 75-year-old senator said his age and the clear possibility that he won't seek reelection are allowing him to take this position without regard to the political fallout.
"To me, it's just a matter of what's fair," he said. "And this is not fair."
Maryland Sen. Walter M. Baker (D-Cecil) says all crime victims should get equal treatment.