Editor’s note: The following commentary appeared on CenterMaryland.org on January 16.
By Donald C. Fry
Governor-elect Larry Hogan is pledging to deliver to Maryland’s business community a customer service-oriented state bureaucracy and regulatory agencies whose role “will not be to punish job creators, but to work with them to find ways to get the job done so that everyone wins.”
Hogan and a panel of the Maryland General Assembly’s top leaders from both parties spoke to more than 200 members of the Maryland Economic Development Association on January 15 in Annapolis, the second day of the legislative session and six days before the new governor’s inauguration.
Senate President Mike Miller, House Speaker Michael Busch, Senate Minority Leader J. B. Jennings and House Minority Leader Nicholaus Kipke all pledged a bi-partisan spirit to work together to strengthen Maryland’s business climate and to address Maryland’s budget deficit challenges.
Hogan, the luncheon keynote speaker, vowed to transform Maryland government agencies to instill in them a palpable culture of customer service.
His vision? When businesses deal with state agencies, “they’ll be greeted by customer service agents, not by obstructionists and critics,” Hogan said.
“When I take the oath of office, you’ll have a new partner in Annapolis. With our administration you’ll find an open door, a sympathetic ear, a seat at the table and an advocate fighting on your behalf each and every day,” Hogan said.
Regulatory agencies will be a key focus, he noted. “It’s a worst-kept secret that our regulatory climate is onerous and unpredictable,” Hogan said. “That is going to change on Day One,” he vowed.
Meanwhile legislative leaders and Hogan agreed that this year’s General Assembly session will be all about getting Maryland’s budget under control. They vowed to emphasize harmony, rather than divisiveness in addressing the budget issue.
“We’re going to come together and stay together and make positive things happen,” Senate President Miller said. “We think people are not going to be disappointed in the budget.”
“We will have battles on some small issues, but for the most part I think we will get along on a lot of stuff,” Senate Minority Leader Jennings said. “People always ask me ‘is Annapolis like D.C.?’ No, it’s not. We really do get along.”
House Speaker Busch noted that Governor-elect Hogan has been open to communication and discussion. He pledged to work with Hogan on budget issues, and noted that it will be a “substantial task” to get to a balanced budget when 82 percent of Maryland spending is “pre-authorized.”
“Somewhere along the line you’re going to have to have a discussion about where the revenue is going to come from and how you want to spend it,” Busch said.
House Minority Leader Kipke said he has “great optimism for what’s ahead of us over these next four years.” That optimism is “rooted in the fact that the people of Maryland have said to all of us ‘you need to do something differently.’ ”
Hogan was crystal clear about his administration’s focus. “Our primary mission will be economic development,” he said. This and his vow to bring a customer-service orientation to state agencies are heartily welcomed by business leaders at the Greater Baltimore Committee and across the state.
The GBC, for example, has made “government leadership that unites with business as a partner, not an adversary” its first of eight core pillars for a competitive business climate.
Other pillars are a highly educated workforce, regulatory policies that are streamlined, stable and predictable, a tax structure that is fair and competitive, business costs that are competitive, superior and well-funded transportation infrastructure, strategic state investments in business growth and aggressive, well-funded business marketing.
Hogan, himself a businessman, proposes a very simple test for gauging the value of legislation in Annapolis: “Will this action make it easier for families and businesses to stay and prosper in Maryland? And, will it make more families and businesses want to come to Maryland?”
It’s a fundamental test worthy of being taken very seriously by lawmakers who must remember that business, not government, will ultimately define Maryland’s economic future.
Donald C. Fry is president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee. He is a regular contributor to Center Maryland.
View photos from the first day of the 2015 Maryland General Assembly session here.