First, there is the myth that Texas is cheaper to live in than other states. Go to any online cost-of-living calculator and you will find that the cost of living in Maryland is 4 percent to 4.5 percent less than living in Texas, even with the Maryland state income tax. If you earned $50,000 a year in Texas, you'd have an extra $20-$25 a week in your pocket simply by moving to Maryland.
My experience is that property taxes in Maryland are half of those in Texas. I paid almost $8,000 a year in Texas for a home of similar value as the one I purchased in Maryland, which is only taxed $4,000. The state sales tax in Texas is 8.25 percent vs. 6 percent in Maryland, so anything one buys at a store is 2.25 percent cheaper here. While property values may have soared here during the last decade while Texas homeowners did not see a similar rise in home prices, since the housing bubble burst, you can buy a better house in Maryland for the same money than you can in Texas. I lived less than a mile from President Bush in the Preston Hollow neighborhood of Dallas and moved to Pikesville, and I can afford a bigger, better house here than the one I owned in Dallas. In Texas, I paid 10.9 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity versus 8.5 cents in Maryland. It costs more to cool your home in Texas than it does to heat a house in Maryland. I can afford to water my lawn here, not so much back in Dallas.
Additionally, Texas is suffering though a $28 billion budget shortfall, which is the direct result of Gov. Rick "Goodhair" Perry's cutting property taxes. You did not hear about this last summer when Mr. Perry was out selling his book because the Texas legislature only meets every other year. But Mr. Perry knew at the time that the state was over $9 billion in the red for the 2009-2010 budget. Former State Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn predicted a $27 billion deficit resulting from the property tax cut when she opposed Mr. Perry in the last governor's race, and she was right. The revenue reduction from that tax cut was supposed to be offset by an increase in the business franchise tax that was so easy to avoid that nobody paid it.
Texas, like many other states is blaming the shortfall on teacher salaries, even though Texas teachers make $40,000 a year to start and earn only $52,000 after 20 years on the job. And as a right to work state, teachers unions cannot be blamed for demanding unreasonable benefits. Because there is no state income tax, all revenues for schools comes from property taxes, which are among the highest in the nation.
The unemployment rate in Texas is higher than in Maryland. Texas is at the bottom of the list of states when it comes to air quality, poverty, education and literacy, teen pregnancy rates and uninsured citizens. All those jobs that Texas has created are not high paying ones — most have been low-pay, service industry jobs.
Tort reform did help the state retain doctors since before the reform, only one insurer was willing to write doctors' malpractice policies. But my health insurance rates only continued to rise there. I saw no savings from tort reform, although my doctor friends there enjoyed cheaper insurance from the competition that tort reform engendered.
Texas is really not the state to imitate. Does Maryland really want to attract high polluting industries like cement plants or feed lots then spend tax dollars fighting the federal government over clean air regulations so that they can operate? Do you want to live without any zoning laws like Houston where one can build an oil well and strip club next to a million dollar home? Do you want the state to spend more money on lawyers fighting health care reform than it does on health care for poor, uninsured children? I chose to move back to Baltimore. I will miss the great Tex-Mex and BBQ brisket found in Texas, but I will not miss the state's conservative policies. On the whole, even with all the local problems facing this state, I prefer living in Maryland to my old life in Texas. There's a reason that Maryland is the Land of Pleasant Living. Don't change it!
Mike Salditch, Pikesville