This commentary was published by The Daily Record on January 12, 2022
By Donald C. Fry
President & CEO, Greater Baltimore Committee
The 2022 version of the Maryland General Assembly, which commences on January 12, will be an intriguing 90-day session mixed with election year politics and major public policy debates. It will be contentious and active as it is the last year for elected officials to impress upon the electorate the value of their public service.
Legislators seeking re-election will propose or support proposals that will demonstrate to their constituents that they are in tune with issues close to home. Remember, as late former Speaker of the House of Representatives Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill reminded us – “All politics is local.”
Meanwhile, Governor Larry Hogan, entering the last year of his term as the state’s chief executive, will take one last stab at legislative priorities that have failed to advance over the previous seven legislative sessions but help to solidify his governing philosophy and legacy as he contemplates further political aspirations.
The issue likely to dominate the beginning of the session is legislative redistricting of Maryland’s 47 Senate and 141 House of Delegates seats. The General Assembly addressed Congressional redistricting in a recent special session by adopting a map put forward by the Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission, which was appointed by the Democratic presiding officers. The Governor vetoed that map immediately, citing it as gerrymandered and a “mockery of our democracy,” only to see it overridden quickly.
The proposed legislative redistricting maps are certain to set the stage for heated debate early in the session as elected officials cast a watchful eye on their political fortunes.
There are a number of other important issues that the Greater Baltimore Committee (GBC) will be watching closely and taking positions on during the legislative session.
Some of the top issues on the GBC legislative radar include:
Workforce Development: The GBC’s Regional Workforce Development Initiative identified bolstering apprenticeship programs as a way to ensure a future skilled pipeline of workers for jobs that pay a family-supporting wage. The GBC will be watching for legislation that expands funding, eligibility and incentives for workforce apprenticeships, not only in careers such as plumbing and construction, but also non-traditional career pathways such as healthcare and IT.
Tax Credits: The GBC will work to educate legislators on the importance of business tax credits and the return on investment that they provide in job creation, entrepreneurship and innovation. The GBC will watch for legislation that alters business tax credits paying particular attention to advocating for changes that ensure more small, minority and women-owned companies qualify for credit programs, as one study found the funding tends to go to large businesses.
Child Care: The child care industry in Maryland has yet to recover to its pre-pandemic level and the lack of affordable, reliable care is one of the reasons some parents have not returned to the workforce. With more child care options needed, the GBC will be advocating for proposals that provide incentives to start or expand child care operations.
Small Business – Pandemic Recovery: Unfortunately a number of small businesses, particularly minority and women-owned operations, have not recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic, with some experiencing acute labor shortages. This is prevalent in business sectors where in-person customer contact is key, such as hospitality, dining, retail and tourism. Legislators may seek to propose legislation that provides incentives or programs to encourage job applications targeted to these sectors.
Federal Pandemic Relief and Infrastructure: As a result of federal funding associated with pandemic relief and infrastructure legislation, Maryland is the beneficiary of a “once in a lifetime” windfall totaling billions of dollars. This significant influx of federal dollars should be spent on government programs that suffered due to the pandemic and on transformational projects that will provide greater education and employment opportunities with an eye to ensuring equity and accountability. The GBC will be watching closely to ensure state officials commit the funds for investments that will have a sustained long-term benefit to citizens and the growth of the state’s economy.
Transportation: The GBC will continue to advocate for our elected leaders to provide the Baltimore region with a fair share of state transportation funding, as well as to adopt steps to improve equity in the region’s transit system to provide those living in disadvantaged communities easy access to a reliable mass transportation network for employment opportunities.
The last year of a legislative term provides elected officials the opportunity to return home and proudly proclaim their accomplishments over the past four years. The flush state budget provides an even greater opportunity to bring about change. It’s important to watch and advocate that these changes are done thoughtfully and with an eye toward long term positive impact for all Marylanders.
Donald C. Fry is President & CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee.