Bear in mind the following words are written by a Democrat in Maryland. It’s an extremely long blockquote of an entire release but I thought readers deserved full context.
We convene today to write down our already cautious revenue projections for Fiscal Years 2015 and 2016 by more than $405 million. Far more important than what a $405 million shortfall means for the state budget is the painful reality that it indicates for the budgets of Maryland families and small businesses.
We’re writing down individual income tax receipts – the largest individual source of state revenue – by over $350 million, between the shortfall in individual income tax receipts carried over from Fiscal 2014 and our write down of expected revenues for Fiscal Year 2015. Six years removed from the economic collapse, and far too many families and small businesses are still waiting for the recovery they keep hearing about.
We can classify a year or two outside the ordinary as simply abnormal. But more than a half decade later, we need to accept that sluggish growth and challenging economic conditions have become our new normal. It feels like we sit at these meetings every quarter, hopeful and determined that ‘next year will be the year’ when the recovery takes hold and is felt broadly throughout the economy. Yet, another year has passed, and ordinary families and small businesses haven’t even recovered to where they were before the financial collapse, much less made up for the wages they’ve lost over the past six years. We need to recognize that hope is not an economic strategy.
The same challenging conditions I’ve discussed in past meetings haven’t substantively improved. Wages and salaries are essentially stagnant. Local, independent businesses are struggling to meet payroll, cover their costs and turn a profit. Working families have cut back their spending because they just don’t have the money, they’re scared of losing their jobs, or, in many cases, both.
In a consumer-driven economy, it should come as no surprise that when consumers are struggling, businesses inevitably feel that pain, particularly in an environment where margins have often already been trimmed down to the bone. Add that to Maryland’s unemployment rate – traditionally a major strength – not keeping pace with improvements seen in the country as a whole.
Maryland’s 6.4 percent unemployment rate is higher than the national rate of 6.1 percent – something we’ve only experienced twice in the past three and a half decades – during the tech boom of the late 1990s and the 1980 recession. In terms of wages – the oxygen working families need to survive – Maryland’s average wage growth was just 0.4 percent in the first quarter of 2014, far below the rate of inflation for the same period.
Essentially, workers perceive that their take-home pay is headed in the wrong direction and the purchasing power for Maryland families is, in reality, diminishing. The housing market has failed to rebound in a sustained and meaningful way, particularly with Maryland second worst in the nation in home foreclosure rates.
Combined, these economic indicators led to a Maryland economy that didn’t grow at all last year – with a 0 percent GDP growth for 2013. As we know, an economy that isn’t growing is actually retracting. This all means uncertainty for families and businesses. They are unsure about their prospects and, as a result, unwilling to make the purchases and investments our consumer-driven economy needs to grow. As great a state as we are and as robust an economic system as we have, uncertainty serves as a serious deterrent to economic growth.
Whether it’s sequestration, unpredictability in the tax and regulatory environment or an inability to make long-term federal budgeting decisions, most of the uncertainty is based on political problems and decisions, as opposed to global economic conditions. While the federal government has always been and certainly remains a major economic advantage, our over reliance on the public sector carries significant risks. We can embrace our proximity to Washington as a strength without depending on it as our sole basis for economic stability.
We simply can’t assume that we’re around the corner from returning to the way it was, and back to the decisions we could afford to make in Maryland as a result. The fact remains that we’ll only see the economic growth we’re accustomed to when we get the private sector economy growing. We can only make that happen if we provide a sense of predictability for Maryland families and small businesses.
As state policymakers, we need to be smart in how we spend taxpayer dollars, recognizing that to invest in the things we need, we have to forego many of the things we simply want. We have to be more forward-looking about how we borrow money as a state. We simply can’t sustain our current patterns of debt accumulation without provoking actions that could do further harm to an already fragile economy — amplifying the significant fiscal and economic challenges we already face.
As we all know, a sustained economic recovery is going to come down to jobs, both here in Maryland and throughout the nation. As long as we see continued weakness in wages and job growth, consumers will inevitably pull back, causing businesses to struggle and the economy to underperform.
We simply cannot create any unnecessary road blocks that would make employers reluctant to invest, grow and hire. But if we maintain a cautious mindset and provide a sense of predictability to Maryland families and small businesses, our economic bones are strong enough and our people are resilient enough to withstand this write down and the economic challenges it represents. (All emphasis mine.)
That’s the entirety of a press release put out by state Comptroller Peter Franchot as the Board of Revenue Estimates calculated our state would yet again be short on revenues to the tune of $405 million, or slightly over 1% of the current budget.
But let’s read between the lines, in the passages I highlighted.
(W)e need to accept that sluggish growth and challenging economic conditions have become our new normal.
No we don’t. What we need to do is realize our policy prescriptions over the last eight years or so have done little to help the local economy. States are succeeding in this country, whether it’s through ambitious exploitation of energy resources like North Dakota or smart, pro-business policy such as the sort Texas seems to use. (Heck, Rick Perry even encouraged Maryland businesses to relocate to his state.) To attain growth, it has to be encouraged and the only thing we’re encouraging the growth of in this state is government.
The same challenging conditions I’ve discussed in past meetings haven’t substantively improved.
Peter Franchot became Comptroller in the same 2006 election we elected Martin O’Malley as governor. Perhaps that should give an indication as to why these conditions persist.
Essentially, workers perceive that their take-home pay is headed in the wrong direction and the purchasing power for Maryland families is, in reality, diminishing.
This is reflective of national conditions, since real household income has declined since reaching a peak anywhere from 7 to 15 years ago, depending on income quintile. And with wage-earners having to string together a series of part-time jobs to make ends meet thanks to the impact of Obamacare and a higher cost of living, the budgets of Maryland families are indeed stretched to the breaking point.
(M)ost of the (economic) uncertainty is based on political problems and decisions, as opposed to global economic conditions.
Families continue to wait for the other shoe to drop. Spend over $100 million on a botched website? Don’t worry, we’ll make up the shortfall by figuring out some new revenue stream. This is the state that experimented with the “tech” tax some years ago before the computer business threatened to bolt, so they decided to tax millionaires instead – and watched many move out of state. Even taxing rain to supposedly help clean up Chesapeake Bay has become a boondoggle as different counties decided on different approaches, while a select few counties (including Wicomico) figure they are next on the firing line to be stuck with the “rain tax” like 10 other Maryland counties.
While the federal government has always been and certainly remains a major economic advantage, our over reliance on the public sector carries significant risks. We can embrace our proximity to Washington as a strength without depending on it as our sole basis for economic stability.
This is a very prescient statement, but Franchot is only looking at it in terms of tax revenue from federal workers. Surely he’s less inclined to speak out about the fact that it’s actually Uncle Sam – not income tax receipts – that is the largest source of state revenue. I know the unsuccessful campaign of Charles Lollar made overtures about slaying that beast, but it’s just as bad to be dependent on the federal government for operating revenue as it is to make it as much as a significant economic driver as it tends to be for the Capital region. Meanwhile, jobs which create real value – whether it’s extracting natural gas in Garrett County, making steel in Baltimore, or growing chickens on a rural Somerset County farm – get short shrift from an administration which has tried to thwart that sort of growth at every turn.
Whether Peter Franchot wants to admit it or not, the damning economic statement made by a Comptroller who still endorsed the candidate who most represents this failed status quo in Anthony Brown makes the case that a new broom needs to sweep Maryland politics clean. If you haven’t heard about GOP candidate for Comptroller William Campbell, it’s time you did.
And Anthony Brown? I’m sure he knows that Franchot is pretty much correct in this assessment, which is why he’s trying to paint Larry Hogan as a Republican extremist (there is no such thing) and not talk about his own accomplishments or plans. “More of the same” just won’t sell for a large number of Maryland’s working families.