When the Chamber takes a position on a bill, offers testimony or reaches out to legislators, the voice of the organization is made powerful by the 650 businesses that are behind it.
The voice of the business community carries weight with elected officials who recognize local companies as the engine of the economy, job creation and community well-being. The Howard County Chamber of Commerce fills a key role in making sure the needs of businesses are considered and the opinions of the business community are part of the debate.
Efforts at State & County Levels
During the 2012 session, the Chamber stood up for the interests of businesses by opposing the proposed sales tax on gasoline. In its testimony, the Chamber said it is a bad time to impose this new tax as consumers, customers, business owners, and employed and unemployed people are still reeling from the economic downturn.
The statement also noted the lack of guarantees that the tax would be used only for transportation projects.
The Chamber helped to defeat combined tax reporting for corporations. It also joined voices against legislation that would have imposed more than $600 million in sales and use taxes on a long list of services, including vehicle maintenance and repair, tax preparation, personnel supply services, management, management consulting, public relations, business consulting, real property management, business brokerage and many more.
The Chamber worked with lawmakers to pass legislation that would expand the pool of small businesses who can procure with the state of Maryland through the Small Business Reserve (SBR) program.
The organization also worked with lawmakers to amend a bill that would automatically end tax credits for business development.
On the county level, the Chamber recommended that goals and strategies for economic sustainability be considered as part of the 2030 General Plan, which addresses the future growth of the county.
Legislative issues are discussed in-depth by a knowledgeable and dedicated group of members who serve on the Chamber’s Legislative Committee under the leadership of co-chairs Greg Lowe and Alexander Adler. Committee members were sorry to say goodbye to Mark Thompson, who was a co-chair in 2011, and wish him well in his new role as Howard County’s director of downtown development.
“The committee brings a variety of perspectives and experiences to the table,” said Lowe, “but we are united in our desire to see lawmakers create a positive business climate in Howard County and the state of Maryland, one that encourages economic development and keeps us competitive with neighboring states for attracting and keeping businesses.”
The Chamber kicks off its legislative efforts in November each year with the release of its White Paper. This document provides background and outlines the organization’s positions on various topics that affect the business community including regulations, fiscal responsibility, taxes, land use, transportation and environmental issues, among others. The paper and regular updates on legislative issues are available year-round on the Chamber web site at www.howardchamber.com.
In 2011, the White Paper was released at a Legislative Breakfast where attendees were invited to join a dialogue with county and state officials. Sen. Ben Cardin opened the event by remarking that job creation was a top priority. After that, a dozen legislators fielded questions about taxes, Plan Maryland and regulations.
“It is important for Chamber members to have an open dialogue with our elected officials about issues that affect businesses in our community,” said Chamber Board Chair Ron Meliker. “And it is important for them to hear our members’ perspective on how we continue to grow a healthy business climate in Howard County.”
In December, Maryland Transportation Secretary Beverley K. Swaim-Staley spoke at a Chamber luncheon about funding challenges and priorities in that area. That same month, the annual Economic Forecast Breakfast brought Economist Anirban Basu to share his perspective on the year past and the one ahead. He predicted an average of 2% growth in 2012, and he explained that with the lowest unemployment rate in Maryland and moderate housing sales, “Howard County is the least worst, and least worst is the new excellent.”
Chamber members and guests also have the opportunity every year to hear about the ups and downs of the recent legislative session at the Legislative Wrap-Up breakfast in April. At this event, members of the Howard County Delegation share their perspectives and respond to questions from the audience.
With numerous opportunities to learn about the issues, share opinions and engage with elected officials, the Chamber encourages members to actively use these tools to make sure the voice of business is a powerful one in the legislative process.