“A discussion piece”: UMD professor’s proposed tax bill used as classroom content

Maryland State Del. Eric Luedtke (D-14) lectures his Public Leaders and Active Citizens students on Sept. 5, 2019. (Julia Nikhinson/The Diamondback)

By Madison Peek
For The Diamondback

Eric Luedtke is no stranger to questions, whether it’s related to the controversy surrounding his proposed Maryland tax bill introduced in late February, or from the classroom.

Luedtke, the Maryland House of Delegates majority leader and as a public policy clinical associate professor at the University of Maryland, divides his time between teaching policy in College Park and creating it in Annapolis.

One of those policies is his recently proposed tax bill. If passed, HB 1628 could have decreased Maryland’s sales tax from 6 percent to 5 percent and implemented a new 5 percent tax on professional services. And though it was eventually rejected March 6 in a House subcommittee, it wasn’t a total loss — University of Maryland students learned a lot and enjoyed having a personal connection to policy and being engaged in the conversation, said one of his students, Samantha Wehmer.

Wehmer vividly remembered a particular lecture of Luedtke’s that took place shortly after he proposed the bill in late February. He had come into the class seeming upset and asked the class the ways they would try to raise revenue, then listing different ways Maryland has tried to raise tax revenue, building up to something, she said.

“He kind of laid it all on us, telling us this was the only way to raise this money,” Wehmer said. “That was one of my favorite lectures because you could tell that was real policy — maybe the closest to real policy we’ll get.”

Given that Maryland hasn’t had a tax on services in recent years, HB 1628 has proven to be a controversial piece of legislation. Gov. Larry Hogan — who has actively cut taxes throughout his time in office — has come out very strongly against the bill, saying it would “destroy our economy,” according to The Washington Post.

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But the general public is not told the whole picture of the tax bill, Luedtke said. The Post reported that the tax bill would raise $2.9 billion a year by 2025, which would be allocated to improving Maryland’s public school systems.

However, students point out that everyone, including Luedtke, will bring bias into issues they’re passionate about.

The bill is “a little bit too extreme,” said Wehmer, a freshman criminal justice major enrolled in Luedtke’s Policy 1oo class. However, Luedtke recognizes his bias in presenting his bills and asks for feedback and input from students in the class.

Other students in Luedtke’s class said they also enjoyed his perspective as a policymaker and professor.

“I think it’s cool when he brings policy into class,” said Jessica Heller, a freshman psychology and public policy major said. “We could see that policymaking isn’t all rainbows and sunshine and we could see his frustrations and struggles. I value his perspective.”

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Luedtke introduced the bill to the class last semester, said Gabriela Rodriguez-Velez, a freshman who is enrolled in letters and sciences and was in Luedtke’s policy class. She said she he got a lot out of the class and learned skills that applied to real life, unimpeded by political bias.

“I identify as a Republican, but I lean towards the middle,” Rodriguez-Velez said. “I understand that we’re not going to agree on everything, but he was a nice guy.”

All three students said they enjoyed Luedtke’s class and that his personal politics didn’t affect the course, regardless of whether they agreed with him.

“Politics doesn’t make a difference to class applications, but I like hearing his opinions because we share similar ideas,” said Heller, who identifies as a Democrat.

The bill’s intention was to be “a discussion piece more than anything,” Luedtke said.

And although he intended it to be a discussion piece for the Maryland legislature, it became one for his policy class, too. Creating policy and teaching policy are closely intertwined, he said.

“Balancing any two jobs is difficult,” Luedtke said. “But it’s important to be here and make a difference.”

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