While revitalization and development plans have been moving forward in Howard County and the state General Assembly considered more than 2,600 pieces of legislation for the 2013 session, the Howard County Chamber of Commerce has been working to ensure the “voice of business” is heard.
As outlined in the chamber’s annual “Issues for Legislative Action” white paper, a positive business climate, particularly in comparison to neighboring states, is critical to encourage businesses to choose to operate in Howard County and expand their investment and employment base here. When companies of all sizes are successful, they create jobs, spur economic growth and support a high quality of life.
The white paper states: “Although Maryland ranks well overall in business characteristics because of such factors as an educated workforce, low unemployment and a high quality of life, the state ranks in the top 10 of those with the highest cost of doing business. Increasing taxes only add to that high cost and threaten our ability to attract or retain businesses and the jobs they provide.”
Throughout the year, legislative issues are discussed in-depth by a knowledgeable and dedicated group of members who serve on the chamber’s Legislative and Government Affairs Committee under the leadership of co-chairs Alexander Adler and Cole Schnorf.
Taxes and regulations are at the forefront of issues monitored by the committee and are regularly discussed in meetings between chamber leadership and elected officials. Beyond those issues, however, the chamber is also concerned about development, transportation, housing and education.
The chamber is encouraged to see revitalization plans developing for the Route 1 and Route 40 corridors, as well as the progression of plans for Downtown Columbia. Earlier this year, the organization offered its support for the concept of Symphony Woods as a renewed arts and entertainment destination, pending further discussions of specific plans and cost management.
Chamber President and CEO Pam Klahr has been appointed to serve on the Downtown Columbia advisory committee to continue to offer the perspective of businesses during this vital process.
The legislative committee is also watching the 2013 comprehensive rezoning process as it goes from the Department of Planning & Zoning to the planning board, and then on to the Howard County Council.
At the state level, some of the topics the chamber followed included proposed legislation to decrease the corporate income tax rate, legislation to implement unitary combined reporting, a proposal to increase the minimum wage, an increase in mandatory paid sick leave, wind farm legislation and support for public-private partnerships.
The committee monitored the progress and passage of the research and development tax credit, the biotechnology tax credit and the cybersecurity tax credit.
Transportation funding was a hot issue in the 2013 legislative session. The transportation funding package passed, and over the coming year the chamber will continue to watch details of a constitutional amendment to protect the integrity of the transportation trust fund (TTF), which will be decided by voters in the 2014 election. If passed, the amendment would require a three-fifths vote of each house and a declaration of a fiscal emergency to access the funds for other purposes.
“There is no question that businesses need to be vigilant about government activities at the county and state level and engaged in letting legislators know how they feel about the issues,” said Adler.
“Our committee has worked to not only follow key legislation and share information with fellow members, but to ensure local businesses have opportunities to learn first-hand from experts and make contact with their elected officials,” he added.
In July 2012, the chamber hosted speaker Jonathan Williams, director of the Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force at the American Legislative Exchange Council. Williams is coauthor of Rich States, Poor States, a publication that ranks states’ economic competitiveness based on 15 factors related to regulation, labor cost, taxes and other issues.
He explained how states that have lower taxes on individuals and businesses see higher gross product growth, population growth, job growth and total tax receipts than states with higher taxes.
In March 2013, approximately 200 chamber members attended a luncheon with guest speaker Dominick Murray, secretary of Maryland’s Department of Business and Economic Development. Murray discussed ways to make government processes more efficient and government programs more supportive of business.
Appointed by Gov. Martin O’Malley in February, Murray hopes to streamline processes, increase the use of technology and support new tax credits to encourage growing business in Maryland.
The chamber kicks off its legislative efforts in November each year with the release of its White Paper. Representatives from the Maryland State Legislature, the Howard County Council and the business community gathered at a legislative event in 2012 to release that paper and discuss important issues effecting business owners in Howard County.
In January, the chamber hosted its annual State of the County Address, delivered by County Executive Ken Ulman. Ulman provided guests with an intimate discussion of county events over the past 12 months, as well as what he sees on the horizon for the coming year.
Last month, chamber members and guests discussed the ups and downs of the recent legislative session at the Legislative Wrap-Up breakfast. Each year, this well-attended event allows members and residents direct access to their delegates and senators to catch up on what transpired during session and to ask questions about issues that are important to them.
Information on the chamber’s legislative activities and upcoming legislative events is available online at www.HowardChamber.com.