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Tomlinson: After mortally wounding state businesses, Legislature should back financial literacy bill

On the Ides of March in 44 BC, Julius Caesar was stabbed 23 times by legislators in the Roman Senate. Plutarch, the Greek biographer who became a Roman citizen, recorded that a soothsayer warned Caesar that he would meet his doom on the Ides of March. Caesar reportedly passed this clairvoyant on his way to the Senate and remarked, “The Ides of March are come,” to which the soothsayer replied,"Aye, Caesar; but not gone."

Recently, the 2019 Ides of March came and went, and the Democrats in Annapolis took several stabs at Maryland’s businesses that will mortally wound many, especially small businesses.

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The Maryland Senate and House of Delegates jointly approved raising the State’s minimum wage to $15 an hour. Both chambers of the General Assembly approved a ban on polystyrene foam containers, becoming the first state to do so. Lastly, the Democratic-controlled Legislature overrode Gov. Hogan’s 2016 executive order that mandated Maryland schools to begin classes after Labor Day.

Each of these bills will have a devastating impact on Maryland’s business climate. Business owners will be forced to pay their starting employees a whopping $15 an hour by 2025, be required to trash their foam takeout containers or risk a fine, and, if they own a business in a summer-resort town, they will see most of their customers disappear by mid-August. Any person with a basic understanding of business or finance can understand that these bills will hurt our state’s economy.

Some of Maryland’s Democratic state legislators could benefit from going back to high school to learn a thing or two about financial literacy. As a matter of fact, every Carroll County high school graduate is required to pass a “Financial Literacy” course in order to walk across the graduation stage in June.

Carroll’s own Delegate Haven Shoemaker has introduced a bill this session, House Bill 1138 (HB1138), which would make this course a requirement for all public high school graduates across the State. Unlike the several anti-business bills that have passed recently in Annapolis, Del. Shoemaker’s bill will help young men and women become financially literate, an asset that could benefit Maryland for generations to come.

The bill will require every board of education in Maryland’s 23 counties and Baltimore City to implement a half credit course in financial literacy by the start of the 2020-2021 school year. Furthermore, passing the class will be a graduation requirement. At the bill’s hearing, Del. Shoemaker told the House Ways and Means Committee that he was required to take a high school financial literacy course while attending Cecil County Public Schools. He explained that the course taught him essential skills such as balancing a checkbook, writing a check, and how to complete a tax return.

Seven counties in Maryland already require their high school students to pass a course in financial literacy: Allegany, Calvert, Caroline, Charles, Frederick, Garrett, and of course, Carroll. In Queen Anne’s County and St. Mary’s County, a financial literacy course is offered, but not required in order to receive a diploma.

The financial literacy course offered in Carroll County Public Schools (CCPS) is “based on national standards in economics and personal finance that is designed as part of the transition from high school into the adult world and independent living.” According to CCPS’s High School Program of Studies, the course will help students “gain knowledge and skills in the areas of income, money management, consumer rights and responsibilities, spending, credit, saving, and investing.” Frederick County Public Schools gives its students numerous options, by allowing students to choose from among 13 different courses that include financial literacy-related content that meets his or her high school graduation requirement.

How important is financial literacy in 2019? According to consumer credit data reported by the Federal Reserve, total credit card debt in the United States was more than $1 trillion as of 2018. The National Endowment for Financial Education concluded in 2017 that only 24 percent of millennials demonstrate basic financial literacy. A 2018 Forbes article reported that 44 percent of Americans do not have enough cash to cover a $400 emergency.

“I think that financial literacy, including how to balance your checkbook, do your taxes, and avoid getting into credit card debt, is just as important as reading, writing, and arithmetic,” said Del. Shoemaker. “I think all jurisdictions should teach it. I hope this bill will educate our students across the State and give them the knowledge they need to become financially responsible and competent citizens.”

With all of the anti-capitalist bills being passed by the Democratic majority in the General Assembly, it is nice to see a bill such as HB1138 being presented that will educate young adults about the importance of money and finance. Unlike the legislators who voted in favor of the aforementioned bills, students who complete a course in financial literacy will have more than a modest understanding of finance.

Marylanders may do well to heed the warning, “Beware the Ides of March,” when the Democrats are conspiring to murder the financial lives of taxpayers and businesses with daggers of financially unsound legislation. We can and should, however, make sure that the next generation of Marylanders have a solid understanding of money and finances, so that they and our state have a solid financial future.

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