For Maryland, going through 1976 has been akin to walking a threadmill - there's been lots of effort and progress in some areas, but the net effect has been that the state finds itself about where it was the end of 1975.
To the extent that state government revenues reflect the health of the economy in Maryland, budget director R. Kenneth Barnes summed up 1976 after he was told in November that a projected $176 million revenue-expenditure gap for fiscal 1978 represented the difference between 1978 government spending and 1977 spending.
"We're a year behind," Barnes told the State Board of Revenue Estimates.
Statistics tell much of the story. The port of Baltimore, which accounts for about 10 per cent of the gross state product, handled 30 million tons of foreign commerce through October, about 3 per cent less than during the first 10 months of 1975. In that year, though, tonnage dropped by more than 15 per cent from a record 43 million tons handled in 1974.
The port is the largest single economic factor in the state, public relations man Tom Johnson said.Its fortunes oftern reflect the state's, as they did last year, according to a gloomy picture painted for legislators by the General Assembly's fiscal expert, William Ratchford.
Ratchford told the state Senate early last month that Maryland's economy is in mahy ways "more sluggish" than the national economy. Last year's gross state product and industrial production were less than in 1973, he said.
Maryland's clouds seem to have a lining of lead. Unemployment is only about 6 per cent, far below a national level of more than 8 per cent, but most new jobs are to be found in trade, service, and government. Industrial employment is down by about 37,000 jobs, Ratchford said.
"The upshot of it is that whereas in the late '60s and early '70s, the state's product would almost automatically grow by 10 per cent, now we're down to 7 or 8 per cent. it doesn't sound like a lot, but we're talking about a state product which is $50 million or $60 million less than it should be," he continued.
There are positive aspects to Maryland's economic picture. Through all its political and economic troubles of the past several years, the state has maintained a AAA bond rating, testimony to the confidence of the investment community in the management of the state's money.
Although below the national level, construction is up over last year's rate, according to a study compiled by the C&P Telephone Co. of Maryland. The numbers of building permits issued and construction put in place are up over last year, the study indicates.
Prospects also are hopeful. Heavy subway construction is beginning in the Washington suburbs, and is projected for the near future in Baltimore.
The port of Baltimore is being dredged to expand its capacity, and oil drilling off the Eastern Shore is expected to provide a strong impetus to the economy.
Eugene Moore, executive vice president of the state Chamber of Commerce, noted many of the prospects for the state's economy in painting an optimistic picture of the coming years.
In 1976, "We've been in kind of a holding pattern, like the rest of the country is," Moore said. "But Maryland has a stable economy that's hard to hurt seriously all at once."
He pointed out that, of Maryland's 63,000 businesses, only one, Bethlehem Steel Co. in Baltimore, can be considered "big business." The rest, he said, are well-balanced and medium sized: There are fewer than 1,000 companies with 1,000 employees or more, he said, and only about 3,500 with more than 50 employees.
"You can see that this is made up of a lot of small businesses with a wide spectrum," Moore said. "This is what gives Maryland pretty good stability."
Nevertheless, the state comptroller predicts that state sales tax revenues will grow by only 7.5 per cent in fiscal 1977, and 7.8 per cent in fiscal 1978, projections which were revised downward from earlier estimates.
Maryland politicans admit they are stumped by some of the state's economic problems. Many of the counties, including Price George's, are making determined efforts to attract industries with big payrolls and small pollution costs, but with only mixed results.
"I really don't know the answer on Maryland's economy," said Lt. Gov. Blair Lee III. "I suspect that we're just on the fringe of a trend that's struck the whole northeast part of the country, with businesses and industry leaving and going south."