The Free State Commentary by Mark Uncapher

Mark Uncapher, President, Montgomery County Republican Club

Mark Uncapher

President

Mark Uncapher, is serving as President of the Montgomery County Republican Club. Mark is a long-time party activist who previously served as the Chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Central Committee.

Marylanders Voting with Their Feet: Baltimore City, Montgomery & Prince George’s Lose Population – Does County Executive Elrich Realize MoCo is Now Losing Residents?

Three jurisdictions, Baltimore City, Montgomery, and Prince George’s lost a combined 47,000 people in 2022, nearly four times the total loss experienced by the entire state of Maryland (13,000). Montgomery’s decline represents a profound sea change for the jurisdiction, which has averaged about 4% annual growth for the past century.   

Now that it has begun losing population, Maryland joins other “Blue” states as places where people “used to be from.”[i]  These include California, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts. All are experiencing declines as people move toward economically attractive states like Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. 

However, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich is apparently unaware of these demographic changes. In late March, he tweeted the utterly bogus claim that: “Montgomery County continues to grow” and that the population had grown by 27,000 since 2020. [ii]

In fact, according to the Census Bureau, his county had 37,000 fewer people than Elrich claimed. (1,052,521 not 1,089,000.)

Shifting demographic trends will significantly impact the county’s budget since education costs comprise half of the county’s spending. Projections from the Maryland Planning Department are that the Montgomery County Public Schools enrollment will remain flat for the next 8 years rather than the once-expected 7% increase. The budget consequence of 11,000 fewer students translates into hundreds of millions in reduced spending.

That County Executive Erlich is not updating his budget assumptions to reflect these changing realities should give the County Council pause when considering his proposed 10% increase in the real estate property tax rate.   

Of course, a declining population impacts more than spending on services. The loss of higher-income taxpayers affects revenues. However, this migration data takes longer to accumulate.

Each year the IRS publishes data on the migration of taxpayers and aggregate adjusted gross income between states. Last year the IRS’ release for 2020 reflected migration from high- to low-tax states that surged amid pandemic lockdowns and a shift to remote work. The biggest winners were Florida ($23.7 billion), Texas ($6.3 billion), Arizona ($4.8 billion), North Carolina ($3.8 billion), South Carolina ($3.6 billion), Tennessee ($2.6 billion), Nevada ($2.6 billion), Colorado ($2.3 billion), Idaho ($2.1 billion) and Utah ($1.3 billion).

The biggest losers: New York (-$19.5 billion), California (-$17.8 billion), Illinois (-$8.5 billion), Massachusetts (-$2.6 billion), New Jersey (-$2.3 billion), and Maryland (-$1.9 billion). [iii]

The COVID pandemic has dramatically upended the work location for the 2.1 million-employee Federal workforce. Growing evidence suggests that remote work is here to stay. Indeed, the Biden Administration has signaled that it is moving toward making work-from-home permanent for many Federal workers. [iv] [v]   COVID seems to have accelerated population changes among states and regions. Many jobs once tied to the Capital area can now more easily be performed where a worker wants to live, not where her employer is.

Population trends are a barometer of states’ economic fortunes and government finances. More people being attracted reflects an area’s general desirability. More jobs and consumers add to economic activity, generating more tax revenue. A growing economy, in turn, can attract even more workers and their families. The reverse is usually valid for states with shrinking or slow-growing populations. 

Population changes among jurisdictions, then, are a barometer of the relative attractiveness of localities. The shift away from Maryland and its “Bluest” jurisdictions reflects an ominous trend for the state that elected officials such as Marc Elrich should not be ignoring. 


[i] https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2023/population-estimates-counties.html

[ii] https://twitter.com/MontCoExec/status/1641928404973809664

[iii] https://www.wsj.com/articles/irs-taxes-low-high-state-migration-moving-pandemic-remote-work-cost-of-living-11654289927

[iv] https://www.foxnews.com/politics/federal-telework-isnt-going-away-covid-ends-face-time-not-proxy-performance

[v] https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2023-04-24/federal-workers-don-t-need-to-go-back-to-the-office#xj4y7vzkg