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In Maryland, the people serve the government, not the other way around

George Washington said, "Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force; and like fire, a troublesome servant and a fearful master." But too often, in Annapolis and state capitals across the nation, it is a master we are too eager to serve.

Our state governments spend most of their time trying to find ways to obtain more revenue from the private sector so they can essentially protect their own members' wallets. Across the nation, state legislators have protected their own personal interests and those of state workers over the needs of their constituents. And this is especially true of states with overwhelmingly Democratic majorities and powerful unions.

In the United States in 2008, wages and benefits accounted for half of total state and local government spending, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics. The bureau found that total compensation in the public sector is 1.45 times higher than the private sector. Total wages and salaries in the public sector are 1.34 times higher than the private sector. Benefits, including paid leave, supplemental pay, health insurance and pensions are 1.7 times higher than the private sector.

Not only is the compensation higher for those employed by the government, but you are more likely to get that compensation, even if it is for a low level job. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, nearly 90 percent of state and local government workers get health insurance benefits, compared with 71 percent in the private sector. In the public sector, 90 percent get retirement benefits, compared to 67 percent in the private sector. Life insurance, 80 percent of the public employees take it, only 59 percent of the private sector. Paid sick leave? Eighty-nine percent of the public sector makes use of it, but only 61 percent of the private sector. The differences are greater in heavily unionized states.

During good times or bad, the chance of being laid off in the public sector is one-third the rate of the private sector. The rate at which workers quit is also one-third of that in the private sector.

Here in Maryland, legislators get an even better deal than regular state workers. Legislators can take $210 a week for meals during the 12-week General Assembly session, even though many meals are provided by lobbyists. They can take a hotel allotment of up to $10,800 for the session. Most do, even if they travel home half the time. Many have second jobs in local governments where they receive additional perks and pensions. The speaker of the House of Delegates receives a $110,000 salary from his job with the Anne Arundel County Department of Parks and Recreation. Legislators give themselves a higher pension than state workers get, which is already much higher than the average private sector pension.

According to the Maryland's Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, our pension liability for government retirees is over $17.5 billion. It is an unfunded mandate that sends our government scrambling to find added revenue. In addition, unfunded state retiree health benefits total more than $15 billion.

The Maryland state government grew while the job numbers and benefits in the private sector shrank. The average government employee in Maryland has tremendous job security, more benefits, and can afford more than the average private sector employee. All at a time when there are fewer in the private sector left to pay for the public sector's excess.

It appears obvious that the private sector in Maryland is being unfairly treated by a government that keeps taxing order to help and protect itself first. It is a state that enacted huge tax increases as the economy showed a downward trend. The state's budget has grown by over $4 billion during the economic downturn. And the executive branch of that government helped itself first to the revenue. Gov. Martin O'Malley increased salaries by $600,000 to his staff at a time when his contemporary, Virginia Gov. Tim Kane, cut his staff's pay.

Maryland's government justifies its spending by proclaiming the state the richest in the nation and No. 1 in education. Those claims are misleading. When the state's Democratic leaders tout Maryland as the richest state in the nation, they are not factoring in that we are 45th in cost of living, 43rd in cost of doing business, 36th in workforce, 43rd in transportation and 28th in quality of life, according to statistics compiled by CNBC. We are second in murders and second in robberies. The Tax Foundation ranks us 45th in economic competitiveness, and the Mercatus Center counts us last in personal freedoms. We have less discretionary income here, our mortgages are higher, and our businesses have more fees and regulations. Bankruptcies in Maryland are up 35 percent, 20 percent higher than the national average, according to the Associated Press.

We don't rank so poorly in these categories because our state government does not spend enough. According to the Tax Foundation, our tax burden is fourth highest in the nation.

People are leaving higher taxed states and moving to states with better fiscal sense. For example, my daughter and her family moved to North Carolina, a state of 9,380,884 and a budget of $19 billion, which that state considers to be high. By contrast, Maryland has a population of 5,699,478 and a state budget of $32 billion.

Ah, but we are ranked 1st in education, right? That No. 1 ranking is from Education Week, a magazine that factors into the rating how much a state is willing to pay for education. It ought to solely look at outcomes. For instance, SAT scores released this week showed Maryland students are average in reading and writing but 10 points below the national average in math.

Researching and getting out the facts requires there to be more voices in state legislatures to counter a one party rule of self interest and self promoting propaganda. This year is the best chance to make a difference. State and local governments were meant to work for you, not the other way around. Do not let this chance slip away. Your local races are extremely important. Vote!

Del. Ron George, a Republican, represents District 30 surrounding Annapolis. He serves on the Ways and Means Committee and the American Legislative Exchange Council's Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force. His e-mail is ron.george@house.state.md.us.

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