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DOCUMENTS


The Tentacle


July 11, 2005

Maryland and Taxes –The Truth

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

Pundits speculate about where Maryland falls among the other 49 states on taxes. Writers, depending on the editorial bent of their paper, either beg for more taxes to pay for increased services (Baltimore’s Sun) or attack Maryland’s standing as anti-business (The Washington Times).

Politicians do the same thing, only louder. Liberals beg for more revenue to close the structural deficit; conservatives scream that we’re taxed too much already.

Every year, the Taxpayers Network, a non-profit, non-partisan social welfare organization produces a handbook of tax comparisons for all 50 states (plus the District of Columbia). Like Joe Friday said on Dragnet: “Just the facts.”

So how do we stack up?

Well, it really depends on what area you’re looking at to come up with an answer.

Total population: We’re 19th, with 5,558,058 people. California leads the nation with almost 36,000,000, and Wyoming brings up the rear with 506,529. That must be what they mean by wide-open spaces, huh?

Median Housing Value: We’re 12th, with a median house value of $186,139. Guess Western and Southern Maryland lowered the average, because you’d be hard pressed to find any $186,000 houses in Frederick County!

Median Family Income: Big surprise here. We’ve jumped to Number 3, at $69,087. New Jersey is in the lead at $70,263, so we’re very near the top.

Bringing up the rear? You guessed it, West Virginia, with a median family income of $38,568. YEE HAW! Maybe that explains why West Virginia leads the nation in Per Capita Pari-Mutual Revenue (that’s horse racing proceeds, for you do-gooders).

On the economic development side (warning: Lennie Thompson advocates, skip this paragraph, you’ll hate it!): Maryland ranks 4th in the nation on science and technology assets promoting economic activity. Massachusetts leads the nation, and Mississippi brings up the rear. Those at or near the top of this list also lead in most other job creation and job retention categories.

I’ll bet Frederick County is at or near the top within Maryland, thanks to Marie Keegin and her outstanding staff at the Office of Economic Development.

State and local tax burdens on major cities (Mayor Martin O’Malley fans close your eyes, this is not good news): Baltimore/MD rank 7th in the nation in major city combined state and local taxes. You see, a high tax burden is not a good thing. Think of the burden in terms of the heavy packs slung over a donkey’s back. The burden slows him down, makes him cranky, and affects how well he does his job. So who’s below us? Pretty much everyone! New York City is 5th, for heaven’s sake!

For my liberal friends, here’s a bone. I hear folks demand a higher corporate tax rate, since those awful job creators probably don’t pay their “fair” share. Maryland ranks 26th out of 50. Better get to work on those villainous corporate fat cats (that’s sarcasm, for the dim bulbs out there)!

Federal Government Expenditures Per Capita: No big surprise, we receive a ton of federal dough. We rank 3rd in the nation in this category. West Virginia, in spite of Sen. Robert Byrd’s pork barrel skill, is 11th on the list.

General Obligation Bond Ratings – We have carefully protected our rating, and Delaware, Georgia, Missouri, Utah, and Virginia are the only other states that share our great AAA rating. Interestingly, Arizona, Idaho, Nebraska, and South Dakota have NO debt! California and Louisiana are really hurting, though.

Ranking of relative government burden on small business – Here’s one where conventional wisdom would have you believe we’re in the toilet. Actually, we’re near the middle. We rank 21st, while South Dakota is best and California is the worst.

Here’s one to spark an argument. The total public school expenditures per pupil in Maryland ($9,186) ranks us 14th overall. The District of Columbia leads the nation with $13,317, and Arizona is dead last with $5,347 per pupil.

Interesting observation: Arizona is last in per pupil expenditures, but ranks 33rd in graduation percentage, ahead of the District of Columbia in percentage of students who graduate from high school. In fact, Arizona, while dead last in per pupil spending, leads 17 other states in graduation percentage. It sure causes one to wonder about those infamous arguments for increasing per pupil spending!

Crime per 100,000 population, both violent and property crime – Ugly number here, as we’re 4th in the nation in violent crime, and 19th in the nation for property crime. Thanks Baltimore, but we’d feel better with 15th or 20th. Can you guys take a few days off, maybe? It could be worse, at least we’re not numero uno, that honor (?) is reserved for the District of Columbia (see per capita police spending below).

State per capita spending on Natural Resources – The Chesapeake Bay and the ocean are the big drivers here, as well as a continuing commitment to land preservation. Maryland ranks 9th in the country, with $137 per person spent on natural resources. Number one is Alaska, no big surprise, with a per capita rate of $390 dollars. Virginia is dead last with $36 per person in natural resource spending. Soon, they’ll all have to drive over here to enjoy our green space!

Per Capita Spending on Police and Fire Services – Again, the District leads the nation in spending, further proof that more does not mean better! Maryland is 9th overall in police spending per capita, and 14th overall in fire services spending.

So what does all of this tell us? I have no idea! Some of the numbers are great harbingers of future economic success. Some tell a mixed story, and some are downright frightening.

The housing numbers should cause some concern, especially given the trends we’ve seen here in Frederick County. Our children and grandchildren will likely not be able to afford to purchase a home here, and our public safety employees and teachers will also be priced out of the local market.

If Baltimore cannot solve the criminal plague that is strangling that once great city, she will continue a decline towards catastrophe. Similarly, we’ll see the results of out migration to the western parts of the state, placing more growth burdens on an already tough market.

Finally, the numbers will be used by various ideologies to make whatever argument they feel appropriate. At least you can draw your own conclusions. If you want your own copy of the handbook, visit www.taxpayersnetwork.org.



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