Complaining CEOs need to take a hike

Gripes about Maryland's business climate become tiresome

I took a walk early Wednesday morning. Azaleas and dogwoods were in bloom. Green-again trees and shrubs were damp, dripping from Tuesday's rain. A zillion birds were singing, and even the starlings sounded sweet. The Orioles had won another game. A horse with a Maryland owner had won the Kentucky Derby.

There were several things about which to be pleased.

There was the usual ugliness in the news — the shootings that go on in Baltimore, no matter the season — but I gave myself 15 minutes to walk and appreciate the peace of the 6 a.m. sidewalk.

I don't know what got into me. Looking at flowers, listening to birds, walking slowly enough to appreciate the shapes of leaves — those are usually the things you do when you're feeling blue, having regrets, or worrying that time is slipping away, that your baby is about to graduate, or that your old friends are dying off.

I wasn't thinking about any of that. I just enjoyed the walk and the spring morning.

Unfortunately, at the end of the walk, I checked messages that had arrived on the electronic device in my pocket. There was this from Chief Executive magazine by way of the Maryland Business Roundtable for Responsive Government: "Maryland drops to 41st from 40th in a national ranking by CEOs of Best and Worst States for Business."

Here we go again: The good old CEOs, the chief executive officers who are never happy, always grumping about taxes and regulations, always calling Maryland an anti-business state. What a bunch of sourpusses.

Really, things are that bad?

The state government of Maryland has Triple A bond ratings from Moody's, Standard and Poor's and Fitch. The state's public education system is consistently rated one of the best in the nation by organizations that measure school performance.

With the unemployment rate at 6.6 percent, Maryland has added thousands of jobs over the last year, recovering all but about 5,000 of those that were lost during the recession. We've outpaced all but three other states in the rate of job growth so far this year, according to the U.S. Labor Department. Most of those jobs are in the private sector — there has actually been a decrease in government jobs — so it makes you wonder what the CEOs are complaining about. If they're the "job creators," they are apparently still creating jobs in one of the worst-for-business states in the country.

Here's some insight from the email I received: "Although the CEOs scored the state high on its workforce quality and living environment, Maryland lost ground on its tax climate and regulatory policies."

There you go, folks. Taxes and regulation are apparently so bad they trump our "living environment." These business leaders have extra complaints this year because taxes are going up on the sale of gasoline to help pay for the roads and bridges all of us use — and that, of course, includes businesses.

The CEOs are even complaining about things that the General Assembly rejected: an increase in the minimum wage and the institution of mandatory sick leave.

"Job creators are watching and listening to what the Maryland General Assembly has to say and they don't like it very much," Kimberly M. Burns, president of the roundtable, said in the email. "Again, it has proven true that just the mere introduction of these anti-job proposals by our state elected officials, even if they don't pass, sends a message that is heard everywhere but Annapolis it seems."

Of course, there was no mention of the several bills that proposed lowering the state's 8.25 percent corporate income tax.

I looked up the 2012 report of the Council on State Taxation, which has been around since 1969 and describes itself as "a nonprofit trade association consisting of nearly 600 multistate corporations engaged in interstate and international business."

COST's tally of state and local business taxes for Maryland was $9.3 billion, which comes to 3.8 percent of private-sector gross state product. By that measure, Maryland ranks sixth lowest in corporate taxation, behind only Delaware, Connecticut, Utah, North Carolina and Oregon.

Really, things are that bad?

Maryland ranks in the top five states for per capita income, and I'm sure some of these whining CEOs are included in that accounting by the Census Bureau.

Bloomberg, the financial news service, recently compiled data on CEO compensation and found the average package to be — here's a shock — 204 times that of the average pay for a worker at an S&P firm. That's an increase of 20 percent since 2009.

And these are the same people who fight minimum wage increases.

It gets tiresome, doesn't it? We've seen a massive accumulation of wealth by the wealthiest, income tax cuts, and outrageous compensation packages for the heads of companies who trimmed workforces or sent jobs overseas. And still they complain even when, relatively speaking, things aren't that bad for them.

These people need to get out more, take walks other than on a golf course — and enjoy the season, and not just the next quarter.

dan.rodricks@baltsun.com

 
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