Northern Exposure

April 19, 1992

The roadside stand advertises "soft crabs." The fast-food restaurant serves drinks in promotional Orioles cups. The chain supermarket, its parking lot a sea of black-on-white Maryland license plates, sells more Baltimore Sun papers than any other.

It's another fine spring morning in the Land of. . . Pennsylvania?

Southern York County, Pa. is increasingly becoming part of the Baltimore metropolitan area, in practice if not on paper. Lower housing costs -- a comparable property may cost $20,000 to $35,000 less in southern Pennsylvania than in Baltimore County -- have driven thousands of people to the Keystone State, even in the face of an hour's commute to Baltimore. There's less crime, less pollution, a tad more breathing room.

In turn, however, all those new Pennsylvanians are placing heavier demands on schools, police and other local government services -- the same pressures that have bedeviled metropolitan Maryland over the past several years.

With commuting figures from the 1990 census not yet available, getting a firm handle on this migration over the Mason-Dixon Line isn't easy.

Without a more reliable method, York County planners opted to count cars during the morning rush hour on southbound Interstate 83. They figured about 3,200 people from south-central York County commute to Maryland -- nearly the population increase in that section of the county during the 1980s. The fact that a house in that area now costs more than in any other part of the county, even higher than near the county seat of York itself, is another measure of heightened demand. Local Realtors estimate that at least 60 percent of the people buying new homes in York County and neighboring Adams County come from Maryland.

The Hanover, Pa., area above Carroll County has become a perceived tax haven for many former Marylanders, too, although the tax gap between the border states is closing. The average Marylander still pays about $600 more a year than does the average Pennsylvanian, who pays about $1,900 in taxes annually.

Even the Maryland income tax office is hard-pressed to confirm the trend. Because Maryland has tax reciprocity with all surrounding jurisdictions, except Delaware, it doesn't track how many Maryland workers pay their income taxes to Pennsylvania -- or vice versa.

The measure of these migrants, at least for now, is left to anecdotal evidence, such as the string of headlights at dawn down I-83 or the requests to the grocer in Shrewsbury that he expand his seafood selection to satisfy tastes acquired by those who've spent succulent summers along Chesapeake Bay.

Can the Old Line State afford to lose these residents? We'd rather look at the bright side. Judging by tourist surveys, they, like many Pennsylvanians, will be back here soon enough -- to drop their Maryland-earned moolah at the Inner Harbor and Ocean City.

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