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In gauging Maryland's competitiveness, stick to the facts

In his recent State of the State speech, Gov. Martin O'Malley said, "Our story, Maryland's story, is the story of better choices and better results."

This is certainly the kind of high rhetorical flourish we have come to expect from state leaders during legislative session time in Annapolis. Mr. O'Malley's rosy rhetoric reminded me of another former governor who harbored presidential ambitions: Ronald Reagan, who once said, "Facts are stubborn things."

In assessing the economic health of our state, I'm inclined to focus on the facts. Skillful rhetoricians tell us what they want us to believe. The facts tell us what we know.

For example, we know that Maryland's budget is nearly 30 percent, or $9 billion, larger today than it was in 2007. While Governor O'Malley claims he has cut spending by $8.3 billion, the numbers demonstrate that state spending has grown each year he's been in office.

Despite calling his most recent budget a "jobs budget," we know that 207,000 unemployed Marylanders currently can't find jobs.

We know the state's ruling Democratic establishment raised taxes, tolls and fees 24 times since 2007, siphoning an additional $2.4 billion out of the pockets of Marylanders each year.

Despite the fact that gas prices in Maryland are inching up toward the $4 mark, we know that Governor O'Malley and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller are pushing gas tax proposals which would make drivers pay even more.

According to a new study, we now know that our state's largest city is on a glide path to financial ruin, with a total budget shortfall for Baltimore of $2 billion or more projected during the next decade.

We also know that three Fortune 500 companies call Maryland home, compared to 11 in 2007. By comparison, Virginia and Pennsylvania are home to, respectively, 24 and 23 Fortune 500 companies.

We know that CEO Magazine ranked Maryland 40th in its 2012 "Best and Worst States for Business" ranking, while Virginia ranked sixth.

We know that Maryland shed 6,500 small businesses during the governor's first term, according to a Change Maryland study.

Also during the governor's first term, we know 31,000 taxpayers fled Maryland, according to IRS data, taking $1.7 billion a year out of the economy.

We know that Maryland's top income tax rate is 8.95 percent, compared to 5.75 percent in Virginia, where many expatriate Marylanders landed.

We know that Governor O'Malley increased Maryland's corporate tax rate to 8.25 percent, compared to 6 percent in Virginia and 6.25 percent in New York, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently lowered it.

And we know the liberal lawmakers firmly in control of Annapolis are advancing boutique legislative proposals that appeal to very narrow constituencies.

I hear a lot about wind power and repeal of the state's death penalty but virtually nothing about proposals to repair the state's business climate.

Finally, we know from experience that, if we wait indefinitely for our leaders in Annapolis to prioritize private-sector job growth, we will continue to fall further behind competitors like Virginia and Pennsylvania.

This week, Change Maryland is convening a bipartisan gathering of 400 business and community leaders from across the state. A panel of recognized business leaders, economists, policy experts and government officials will lead us in an honest and candid assessment of what actions the state must take to improve conditions for private-sector job growth. The purpose of this sold-out gathering is to unleash the kinds of ideas, creativity and energy that will led to more creation and retention of jobs.

I'm also looking forward to engaging our leaders in Annapolis in this conversation. When Governor O'Malley speaks of "better choices and better results," I'm sure he believes Maryland's private sector deserves them too.

Larry Hogan is chairman of Change Maryland and of the Annapolis-based Hogan Companies. His email is lhogan@hogancompanies.com.

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