Maryland, You Rain-Taxing State, What On Earth Are You Spending So Much Money On?
Maryland's House Republicans have been discussing getting rid of the state's "rain tax." That tax actually -- I'm not making this up -- taxes homeowners, businesses, even churches on their "impervious surfaces," which means roofs and parking spaces, mostly.
The rain tax was supposed to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, but how the money it generates is actually spent is not all that linear in the state budget. As if to make the rain tax even more of a progressive comedy, it was to some extent forced on Maryland by the Obama Environmental Protection Agency. Not the particulars, but that the state had to tax its citizens to pay up for an EPA mandate. Gov. Martin O'Malley and the Democrats came up with the idea of taxing rain.
So after reading up on the effort to repeal that tax, and discussing Maryland issues overall with a friend of mine who still lives in the ironically nicknamed "Free State," I got to wondering: Just how much money does Maryland spend in the Martin O'Malley era, anyway? He is a potential Democratic nominee for president, after all.
Before getting into the budget figures, let's set the table. Maryland is a relatively small state. It ranks 42nd in total area, with about 10,000 square miles.
Maryland only has one city that can be classified as "large," which is Baltimore, population about 621,000.
Maryland's overall population is about 5.7 million, ranking it 19th among the 50 states.
So by these measures, Maryland is average to below average. It's a nice place to live, the bay is beautiful and the seafood can't be beat, but it's small, it only has one urban center, and it does not have a massive population. It's far from any international border, so it doesn't really have any security issues to speak of other than its ports. The Ravens are nearly always competitive. Camden Yard is an excellent home for the Orioles, or to watch the Yankees, Red Sox and Rangers when they come to town.
Maryland's annual budget as of 2012 is $35,511,000,000. That's $35.5 billion. But is it much when compared with another state?
Let's go in the opposite direction and pick out a big state. I moved from Maryland to Texas a few years back. So let's pick Texas. I realize that the following is a fairly crude comparison, a back-of-the-envelope effort.
Texas is a gigantic state. It has more than 266,000 square miles, making it the nation's second-largest in terms of area. It's the size of France. It has a long coast, a long international border with a fairly unstable neighbor, it has ports, and a whole lot of roads.
Texas has several large cities. Houston is America's fifth largest city, with more than 6 million people in the greater Houston area. That's more people in one region than all of Maryland. San Antonio ranks seventh in the country, with 1.3 million. These two cities by themselves have more people than Maryland. We haven't even counted Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, El Paso and McAllen yet. All of those cities except McAllen are larger than Baltimore.
Overall, Texas ranks second nationally in population, with more than 25 million residents.
So, for the sake of convenience, let's round things off. Texas is roughly 25 times the size of Maryland in land area, it has roughly 5 times the number of large urban centers, and it has roughly five times the number of people.
As of 2013 Texas' biennial budget was about $194 billion. That's a lot of money, but it also covers two years because Texas confines its legislature to one meeting every two years (a policy that I highly recommend other states and Congress adopt). Split the biennial budget in two, and Texas will spend about $97 billion per year.
If Texas spent money at the rate that Maryland spends money, it would not spend $97 billion.
If Texas spent money at the rate that Maryland spends money, it would spend $177 billion per year.
Texas, which is more than 25 times larger than Maryland, 5 times the population, a border state, with lots of urban centers and miles and miles of roads to maintain, would have to almost double its per capita spending to catch up with Maryland.
Having lived in both Maryland and Texas in the past few years, I have to be honest: Living in Texas is a lot better. For one thing, they don't tax us for the rain. There's no state income tax at all here. It's hot in the summer, but it's not cold in the winter. Jobs are plentiful here.
So, Gov. O'Malley, what on earth are you spending all that money on?
And when are you going to stop taxing the rain?