The Daily Record: The session’s top business priorities

Editor’s note: The following commentary appeared on TheDailyRecord.com on January 20, 2017.

When the Maryland General Assembly wrapped up its 2016 session last April, there was a consensus throughout the business community that legislators on both sides of the aisle were being more open and receptive to proposals to strengthen Maryland’s competitive edge as a place to do business.

Gov. Larry Hogan’s efforts to promote Maryland as a great place for business were heartening, too.

With these positive trends in mind, the Greater Baltimore Committee has rolled out a number of legislative priorities for the 2017 General Assembly session focused on further improving Maryland’s competiveness and business climate. The ultimate goal is a welcoming attitude toward business that fuels growth in the economy and job creation, thereby improving the lives of all Maryland residents.

What is interesting to note is that a number of the GBC’s 2017 Legislative Priorities align with some of the governor’s own goals, including the areas of workforce readiness and job creation. They also align closely with Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh’s 2017 agenda, which the GBC supports, such as improving public safety, preserving State Center jobs in the city and ensuring that the Preakness remains in Baltimore.

The General Assembly session opened Jan. 11 and, with the governor’s recent submission of the proposed 2018 fiscal year budget, legislative rhetoric and activity is moving into high gear. With battle lines forming, it’s worth taking a look at the GBC’s 2017 priorities:

Building and strengthening the workforce: A global economy means global competition for jobs. With that in mind, our education system must prepare students to be successful in tomorrow’s workplace.

Among the specific initiatives the GBC advocates under this umbrella are: ensuring that Maryland’s public education system and community colleges are preparing students to succeed in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM) careers; and providing incentives to encourage more high schools to follow the early college model where students graduate with a diploma or an associate degree. One such promising model is Pathways in Technology Early College High School, or P-TECH, which Governor Hogan announced he is seeking to expand in Maryland.

Innovation and entrepreneurship: As Maryland competes to be a leader in emerging technologies and grow an entrepreneurial community, state policies and programs must reflect these priorities.

Specific public policy initiatives the GBC proposes include: establishing an early-stage investment fund that increases availability for follow-on capital investments in technology start-up companies – and keeps them in Maryland; and expanding initiatives that stimulate commercialization and technology transfer from Maryland’s research universities.

Building a competitive, predictable and fair tax system: A fair and predictable tax structure is a key factor that determines business location and expansion, yet Maryland’s tax structure remains uncompetitive in some areas. The state’s spending process and tax structure require reform to ensure necessary government needs are met without placing an undue burden on individual or business taxpayers.

Some of the taxation measures the GBC will focus on: promoting tax restructuring for pass-through entities to a level comparable to neighboring states; and opposing the passage of combined reporting, which would hurt many corporations in our state.

Growth-oriented transportation policies: A competitive business environment is one that ensures employers and workers benefit from an interconnected multimodal transportation system that provides meaningful connections to employment hubs. Elected officials should focus on strategic investments in roads and mass transit projects that provide an integrated and efficient transportation network.

Among the specific transportation proposals the GBC is promoting: developing a 10-year strategy that lays out a balanced, comprehensive plan to invest in all modes of transportation; funding for the Howard Street Tunnel so it can accommodate double-stack cargo to increase the Port of Baltimore’s competitiveness, and essential transportation access improvements to major job sites such as Port Covington and Tradepoint Atlantic.

Ensure public safety to protect business interests and employees: You don’t need to be an economist to know that public safety is key to a strong business climate.

With this in mind, the GBC supports the police reform measures called for in the recent 227-page consent decree between Baltimore City and the Department of Justice. The reforms hold the potential to put the Baltimore Police Department on a new footing, build community trust and address violent crime.

Another public safety-related issue the GBC will promote this year is substantially reforming or eliminating the cash bail system in Baltimore City. This would ensure that low-income individuals charged with a crime do not remain unnecessarily incarcerated pending trial because of their financial status. When they are, they risk losing their jobs and the ability to support their families.

Promoting tourism as an economic engine: Hospitality and tourism are important source of jobs and business activity in the Greater Baltimore region.

Convention business and tourism are very competitive fields. This means a destination’s facilities and assets must be at their maximum usage and maintain their attractiveness. To ensure that our region remains competitive, significant infrastructure improvements must be addressed. These include:

  • Expansion of the Baltimore Convention Center.
  • A new or modernized arena in Baltimore City.
  • A modernized Pimlico Race Course to ensure a world-class venue for the Preakness.

These priorities advanced by the Greater Baltimore Committee outline a number of important steps that should be taken to strengthen the state and region’s business climate and competitive edge. Passage of these initiatives by the General Assembly will pay dividends, not just for the business community but for all Maryland citizens.

Donald C. Fry is president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee. He is a frequent contributor to The Daily Record. 

 

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