High Taxes? Compared to What?

WILLIAM G. ROTHSTEIN

March 18, 1993|By WILLIAM G. ROTHSTEIN

Maryland is not a high-tax state. Marylanders paid 11.2 percent of their personal income in state and local taxes in 1990, compared with an average of 11.5 percent for all states. Because Marylanders have higher-than-average incomes, this amounted to $2,305 per person, compared to an average of $2,017 per person for all states.

We don't borrow that much either. Maryland state and local debt per person was $3,407, compared to an average of $3,460 for all the states.

If we compare specific sources of revenue, Maryland got $526 per person in federal aid, only $24 below the national average. We paid $590 per person in property taxes, $36 below the average for all states, and $329 per person in sales taxes, well under the national average of $488. Corporations paid corporate income taxes of only $61 per person, compared to a national average of $95. Taxes on tobacco products came to only $13 per person compared to a national average of $23, and those on liquor were $6 per person compared to an average of $14 for all states. Parimutuel betting brought in 62 cents per person, compared to an average of $3.44 in the 35 states where it is legal (1991 data).

We get our licenses cheap ($50 per person compared to an average of $79 for all states), and also our user charges ($350 per person versus $465). Motor-fuel taxes in Maryland amounted to $94 per person, compared to a national average of $81.

Marylanders take their lumps in individual income taxes. We paid $887 per person compared to an average of $425 per person for all states.

Where did this money go? Not to bloated state and local governments. In 1990 we had the equivalent of 519 full-time state and local employees per 10,000 population, compared to an average for all states of 526 employees. We spent $1,133 per person on education, compared to an average of $1,107 for all states, $139 per person for police, compared to the national average of $123, and only $567 per person on public welfare and hospitals, compared to a national average of $744. We spent $316 per person on roads, compared to a national average of only $245, even though we are one of the smallest states in the nation.

Why are we spending so much per person on roads and so little on social needs compared to other states? Why do we have such low taxes on alcoholic beverages and tobacco, when our police and courts spend much of their time on alcohol-related problems and our hospitals are filled with patients suffering from the effects of alcohol and tobacco? Why do we get so little from parimutuel betting, licenses, user fees and corporate taxes compared to other states?

The answer is the special interests that influence both parties. Republicans complain about Democratic spending for education and welfare, but I never heard the Republicans accuse the Democrats of spending too much money to pave the state with concrete. The real issue in Maryland taxes is reducing the influence of special-interest groups.

William G. Rothstein is professor of sociology at the Uni- versity of Maryland Baltimore County.

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