By Donald C. Fry
January 12, 2021
With the COVID-19 pandemic threatening the health of Marylanders and disrupting the economy, the 2021 session of the Maryland General Assembly is shaping up to be unique and challenging.
In a recent virtual meeting with business leaders, Senate President Bill Ferguson and House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones said addressing the public health and economic effects of the pandemic would be a top priority during the 90-day session.
The crisis has put unprecedented economic pressures on businesses throughout Maryland, especially small and minority-owned businesses, which often lack the resources or capital to sustain a significant loss in revenue for a long period. The pandemic has also highlighted challenges to child care access and the magnitude of the digital divide.
The Greater Baltimore Committee plans to advocate for policy funding and solutions to accelerate economic recovery with an emphasis on support for small and minority-owned businesses. Some specific principles the GBC will urge legislators to follow include:
- Providing recovery resources that are directed to the most impacted industries, including restaurants, hotels, retail, tourism and nonprofits.
- Approving policies or programs to increase access to capital for small and minority-owned businesses including traditional and non-traditional capital sources (CDFIs, PPP, venture capital, etc.).
- Investing state dollars to assist efforts to bridge the digital divide, including expanding broadband access and connectivity.
While addressing the effects of the pandemic will be a key focus, there are other important policy priorities the GBC will focus on to ensure the Baltimore region and Maryland remain competitive. These are:
The creation of a strong and competitive business climate is among the most important roles of government. Job creation, a key outcome of a strong business climate, not only provides additional tax revenue, but new opportunities for citizens at all levels of the employment ladder. Some specific measures the GBC will urge legislators to consider include:
- Policies that ensure that the cost of doing business in Maryland is competitive with other states, including regulatory policies that are streamlined, stable and predictable.
- A strong and inclusive economic development ecosystem that improves the business climate, creates jobs and cultivates entrepreneurship.
- Maintaining state investment in Maryland’s most innovative industries, including bioscience, cybersecurity, health care, information technology, education technology, medical devices and other cutting-edge industry sectors.
Violent crime and public safety concerns threaten the health, well-being, and economic prosperity of communities. Persistent violent crime rates in Baltimore require strategic action by state and city officials. Policymakers must join together in a coordinated approach that reduces violent crime while simultaneously addressing the root causes of crime. Some of the specific measures the GBC will recommend legislators consider include:
- Strengthen laws and coordination of criminal justice agencies to prioritize focus on repeat violent offenders.
- Increase funding for programs that address trauma, addiction, and mental health, and provide access to rehabilitative treatment, education and workforce training.
- Support evidence-based policies and programs to promote successful reentry from incarceration and remove barriers to employment, including restrictions on access to education, training grants, scholarships, professional and occupational licenses and housing.
Education, workforce training
Preparing the workforce to be successful in tomorrow’s economy requires innovative thinking, industry-specific training programs and career pathways. Policymakers should enact legislation that ensures the state’s workforce has well-trained workers at all skill levels. Some of the specific measures the GBC will recommend legislators embrace include:
- Ensure that school funding is adequate and targeted to prepare all students to achieve academic proficiency standards and succeed in post-secondary education and the workforce.
- Enhance support for Career and Technology Education and dual enrollment in high schools. Support work-based learning programs in all grade levels.
- Provide additional state funds for adult basic education and workforce training.
Policymakers should strategically invest in interconnected multimodal transportation networks that actively contribute to economic growth, connect workers to employment, and move people and goods safely and efficiently. Some of the specific measures the GBC will advocate for include:
- Additional state transportation funding across all modes to the Greater Baltimore region and oppose efforts to disproportionately direct state dollars to other regions in the state.
- Consistent and adequate capital and operating funding levels for the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) to ensure the safe and efficient operations of the current system and to reduce the multibillion-dollar backlog needed to maintain the existing system in a state of good repair.
- Prioritize funding for projects that provide enhanced multimodal connectivity to major workforce and distribution centers including the Port of Baltimore, BWI Airport, Tradepoint Atlantic and Port Covington.
- Advocate for policy and funding to advance key MARC projects and to restore service cuts as workers return to the office during phased economic recovery.
- Advocate for additional resources to support implementation of the Central Maryland Regional Transit Plan.
Donald C. Fry is President and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee. He is a frequent contributor to The Daily Record.
Source: The Daily Record
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