Maryland Business for Responsive Government’s (MBRG) new president, Kim McCoy Burns, brings a passion for free market economics and policy to her new position, which she assumed in February. An alumnus of the College of William & Mary’s graduate business school, Burns concentrated on Law and Economics, and Antitrust Law, during her years at the University of Baltimore School of Law.
Admitted to the Maryland Bar in 1993, she also has studied International Economic policy at Oxford University through the University of San Diego’s Law School program. Other matriculation includes interning at the Federal Trade Commission in the Division of Advertising Practices.
Since 1989 (and prior to joining MBRG), her focus has been on representing corporate clients and professional and trade associations before Maryland state and local legislative bodies and executive branch agencies.
Burns is the former chairman of the Anne Arundel County Democratic Party and twice was elected to represent Legislative District 33 on the Democratic Central Committee. She most recently was appointed to the board of trustees for Anne Arundel Community College in July 2010 by Gov. Martin O’Malley, and is also the board’s chairman of the Audit and Finance Committee.
Do you feel that there are too many decision makers in Maryland who figure that the state’s economy is so well-fueled by its proximity to Washington, D.C., and the federal government that they don’t care to make it more competitive on a national scale?
Yes. The Obama Administration and House Republicans are debating the size and scope of federal government spending — a debate we will have for years to come. The question is not if, but how much, discretionary spending will shrink in the years ahead. The Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) helps mitigate that issue; but overall, Maryland is too dependent on federal government spending. As we have seen with Pittsburgh (steel) and Detroit (automobile), too much reliance on one economic driver leads to trouble. Maryland cannot surrender its economy to the federal government.
What are your thoughts on the state economy’s diversity?
Maryland has a great deal to offer in terms of economic diversity. I think that the governor’s vision is clear in regard to industries where he sees economic development opportunities, like cybersecurity and biotechnology. That being said, there are some areas that Maryland has not taken advantage of, like lowering the corporate income tax. Here, the rate is 8.25%, but in Virginia it is 6.5%.
The Obama Administration places a priority on manufacturing and exports, but how is Maryland tapping into those sectors if we lose traditional manufacturers, like Black & Decker? GM recently announced 200 new jobs to manufacture electric motors at a facility in White Marsh, but that does not make up for the thousands of jobs lost as a result of the closure of the GM plant on Broening Highway several years ago. What is the state doing to bolster traditional manufacturing and exports in line with Obama’s stated goals?
What are you finding to be the biggest challenge of your job to this point?
My biggest challenge is quitting at the end of the day. I started my job in the middle of this year’s legislative session, so I’m not only doing outreach to members while educating our constituencies about policies and priorities on both sides of the aisle, but I have to explain the pros and cons of a given issue in a reasonable, educated fashion.
Furthermore, we started working on our annual flagship publication, Roll Call, on March 3. It affords an advisory council the opportunity to grade legislators on their support for a pro-business agenda in Maryland.
What do you find to be the state’s biggest business issue?
The biggest issue facing Maryland business is non-partisan: job creation and job growth. Our economy is showing some signs of recovery, but with unemployment still hovering around 7% (and 10% in some counties) and with non-government employment still stagnant, we’re far from being out of the woods. The General Assembly needs to hold the line on spending and taxes to help spur growth.
What made you want to make the move from working at your private law office to running MBRG?
I have spent the last 20 years representing clients before administrative, executive and legislative branches of Maryland’s state and local governments. This job is a natural bridge and an opportunity to reach out and extend my passions for and beliefs in free market economics.
What are your feelings about Maryland’s national ranking for business among the other states?
The non-partisan Tax Foundation ranked Maryland 45th in 2010, a drop of 19 points since 2006 — which speaks for itself. Plus, we have the challenge of significant competition from our neighboring states. If Maryland’s policy makers want to improve our state’s rating, they have to walk the walk, just not talk the talk.
What do you envision MBRG facilitating in a best-case scenario?
Introducing and facilitating free market solutions to some of the state’s economic development challenges.
Crafting policies should be a win-win for all involved and it should send the message that Maryland is a great place to live, work and play. MBRG would like to make sure the state’s decision makers weigh free market concerns when making their decisions and setting policy.
What are your feelings about the bill promoting $15 million in film incentives in Maryland?
A tax credit is no substitute for a sound business climate. Will film incentives help attract movie production operations to Maryland? Yes. But they also come at a cost of time, human capital and funding availability, and we shouldn’t forget that. It makes headlines when a movie is filmed here, but then they pack up and go back to Hollywood. What I would like to see built in Maryland is a long-term industry facility, such as a state-of-the-art film studio, like those that have risen in recent years in Louisiana and New Mexico.
Having said that, 40 other states offer such tax incentives (and rebates); Maryland, which has also been called “America in Miniature” because of its diversity — which equates in this case to an impressive variety of shooting locales for production companies — should compete in this market as effectively as possible.
What are you feelings about attracting more corporate headquarters to Maryland?
Corporate headquarters signal a certain degree of stability and attractiveness to the state’s business climate. Maryland’s seem to primarily be small- and medium-sized firms, unlike those of Pennsylvania and Virginia. We would like to find ways to not only attract corporate headquarters to the state, but grow them here as well, as they also contribute to the state’s philanthropic.
What are your feelings about Maryland’s overall reputation in the national business community?
Maryland’s business reputation is mixed. Our state budget has grown from $28.8 billion in 2007 to $34.1 billion in 2012. The state’s spending problem fosters a need for more revenue which, absent severe budget cuts, begs tax increases. This “tax and spend” culture puts Maryland at a competitive disadvantage with neighboring states that have lower corporate, sales and individual income taxes like Virginia. Maryland measures up well compared to other states in terms of our workforce, however.
Still, when CEOs look at objective criteria like regulatory climate and taxes, Maryland falls far short. That’s where the need for a strong statewide pro-business, free market organization like MBRG can — and will — help.
What county’s approach do you feel is working best?
One of the great things about Maryland is its diversity. Each jurisdiction is innovative in its own way, from Howard County’s green transportation program to Baltimore County’s permitting process to Anne Arundel economic development activities. I think that they are all innovative, depending on their needs, in their own way.