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Maryland Treads Water in Two Key Reports

In a nation where each state can (somewhat) determine its own destiny through the laws and regulations they adopt as well as the promises made to its citizens, two reports that came out this week determined the Free State needs a lot of improvement in both present and future policy.

The 2014 edition of the Tax Foundation’s State Business Climate Tax Index showed Maryland in a familiar position: lagging in the bottom ten of the country alongside a roster of states which mainly share the similarity of Democratic-controlled governments. For the second straight year, Maryland ranked 41st overall, with its lone bright spot an 8th-place rank in the sales tax category. While Maryland has a 6 percent sales tax rate, higher than several surrounding states, the complex calculations performed by the Tax Foundation give our state a better score. Ironically, applying the sales tax to gasoline, which the state began collecting on July 1st, may have proven politically unpopular but bolstered the state’s ranking in the eyes of the Tax Foundation.

As the report points out, however, a state can assist itself practically overnight. Despite its 44th place ranking, upcoming changes in North Carolina promise to vault the state into the top twenty in coming years:

While not reflected in this year’s edition, a great testament to the Index’s value is its use as a success metric for comprehensive reforms passed this year in North Carolina. While the state remains ranked 44th for this edition, it will move to as high as 17th as these reforms take effect in coming years.

One can speculate, then, that if a governor came to office willing to decrease the state’s corporate income tax – as many candidates promised to do at a recent manufacturing summit – and could make other key changes to the system, Maryland could place itself into a position at least competitive to its neighbors. While Delaware remains a top contender at #13, other surrounding states are in more pedestrian positions: West Virginia ranks 23rd, Pennsylvania 24th, and Virginia – somewhat surprisingly, given Martin O’Malley’s grudge against all things Bob McDonnell – is 26th.

Maryland may need to look into changing its anti-business policies soon, since another study from State Budget Solutions regarding unfunded public employee pension liabilities found that Maryland is staring at over $110 billion in promises made. This report, entitled “Promises Made, Promises Broken – The Betrayal of Pensioners and Taxpayers”, found that just 34 percent of the various pension programs (in Maryland’s case, these are the State Pool and Municipal Pool of the State Retirement and Pension System along with the Transit Authority Pension Plan) are currently funded. In actual dollars, the unfunded portion is just over $73 billion.

However, when compared to the rest of the country, Maryland fares a little more toward the average. While their 34 percent funding ratio ranks in a tie for 30th among the states, the percentage of GDP represented is 19th overall. Despite itself, Maryland has the potential to grow out of the problem if corrective measures can be taken. Indeed, $73 billion is certainly a lot of money – by comparison, the entire FY2014 state budget weighs in at just over $37 billion – but consider that Ohio, with roughly twice Maryland’s population, has a hole of $287 billion to fill. (Ohio’s funding ratio, however, is just about equal to Maryland’s 34 percent figure.)

Across the country, the amount promised to pensioners by states is staggering: over $6.7 trillion is pledged to retirees, with only $2.6 trillion in the bank to cover them. But it’s a small ticking time bomb of debt when added to the arsenal of unfunded federal liabilities that may be over $100 trillion.

It will take a lot of tax reform and GDP growth to make good on those demands.

Michael Swartz

Michael Swartz began his writing career with his home website, monoblogue. Since that modest beginning his words have been found on websites such as Red Maryland, Examiner.com, PJ Media, and now here on Watchdog Wire. He's also appeared in newspapers as a former syndicated columnist for Liberty Features Syndicate, and wrote his first book, called So We May Breathe Free: Avoiding Ineptocracy (2012).

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Categories: Budget and Finance, Business Climate, Must Read, Public Employee Pensions, Taxes, Uncategorized
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