It has been awhile since anyone has complained about Maryland's business climate, the pace of job growth in the state or other aspects of its economy.

And little wonder. Maryland's economy has been solid this year, exceeding the national averages of key economic indicators in some instances.

Recent reports show, for example, that jobs in Maryland grew 2.5 percent in May and 2.3 percent in June, ranking the state 13th nationally. In all, Maryland added 52,600 jobs between May 1998 and May 1999.

In fact, all major economic indicators remain robust, according to Maryland's Department of Business and Economic Development.

The state's overall economic performance prompted Anirban Basu, senior economist at Towson University's research institute, RESI, to say, "Rarely does one see almost all aspects of an economy functioning near capacity, but that's happening in Maryland."

Somewhere in the state, Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) must be chuckling, even if he's not yet in position to enjoy the last laugh at the expense of critics who were panning the state's economic performance as recently as a year ago.

Unemployment in the state then was close to 5 percent, corporate executives were complaining about the business climate and the Glendening administration was under attack for not doing more to fuel growth.

So what's responsible for the turnaround that began to unfold in late 1996 or early 1997?

Was it serendipity, or did Maryland improve its business climate overnight, triggering an explosion of new investment and jobs in the state?

The simple answer is Maryland was never the economic basket case that nervous business leaders, opportunistic politicians and uninformed observers depicted in the wake of the 1990-1991 recession.

Clearly, Maryland was hurt by the recession and didn't recover as quickly as Virginia and other neighboring states.

But it became apparent at least two years ago that Maryland's economy had begun to shake off the effects of the recession. The boo birds and the Chicken Littles apparently weren't paying attention to the leading indicators.

Even Maryland officials would agree, however, that the state has benefited from a strong national economy. But the fundamentals were there all along. So were most of the assets that provided the foundation for a strong economy throughout the '80s.

"Our work force has always been one of our strengths," said David Iannucci, deputy secretary at Maryland's Department of Business and Economic Development.

Iannucci said reductions in the personal income tax and business taxes over the past two years also contributed to the economic resurgence.

Even so, the reasons for the turnaround have more to do with a strong recovery in key sectors that were jolted by the recession.

"If you look at the areas that were hit very hard by the recession, [they] have either stabilized or rebounded," said Pradeep Ganguly, director of the office of business and economic research at DBED.

Maryland had been heavily dependent on federal spending for procurement, Ganguly said. Thus, anything that was related to federal contracting, downsizing and defense manufacturing was hard-hit by the recession, he explained.

The finance, insurance and real estate sectors also took lumps in the recession, as did construction, and transportation, communications and utilities were slowed by restructuring, Ganguly said.

In addition to rebounds in most major employment sectors, Maryland is being rewarded for positioning itself to take advantage of the rapid growth taking place in technology-related industries, he said.

With income levels rising, jobs increasing, unemployment down and the poverty rate now the lowest in the country, "the total picture is Maryland's economic growth is broad-based," Ganguly said. And the benefits of this growth, he added, "are reaching out to every segment of the population. We feel this growth will continue at least until the end of the year."

Not only have most questions about the economy been answered with this resurgence in growth, but a new study sharply rebuts claims that Maryland is a high-tax state.

Maryland taxes are the 37th highest in the country, according to the report by the Maryland Budget & Tax Policy Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization.

"After two decades of declining tax levels in Maryland, the evidence is clear that Maryland is a low-tax state," said Steve Bartolomei-Hill, director of the institute and coauthor of the report.

Small wonder then that the Glendening administration is so upbeat about the state's economy. The sky's not falling after all, and critics who affixed the high-tax label to the state have been discredited.