Much has been written about the difficult fiscal challenge that greeted lawmakers as they returned to Annapolis on January 12 for the 2011 General Assembly session facing an estimated $1.6 billion budget deficit without the benefit of more than a billion dollars in federal stimulus funding.
That’s how much stimulus money lawmakers have been able to count on during the last two sessions, which also began with similar-sized projected deficits. But, as the Daily Record proclaimed to its readers last week: “This year the state is on its own.”
What will this mean for business advocates? It means that we face a session where Maryland lawmakers, including 30 new delegates and 10 new senators, again run the risk of being consumed with plugging budget holes and losing sight of the one big thing that will ultimately resolve our state’s fiscal situation – business growth.
The Number One priority for Maryland’s elected leaders now and in the foreseeable future must be job creation and economic growth.
That’s why the Greater Baltimore Committee is urging state leaders to commit to a strategic plan for business growth fashioned around eight core pillars for a competitive business environment and for job creation that reflect a broad consensus of business leaders and economic development experts in Maryland.
Here’s a summary of the eight core pillars, contained in a December 2010 GBC report entitled “Gaining the Competitive Edge:”
• Government leadership that unites with business as a partner. A competitive business climate is characterized by elected leaders who project, from the highest levels, that business is welcome and viewed as a partner, not an adversary.
• A workforce that is highly-educated and meets Maryland’s business needs. Maryland has quality secondary and higher education institutions, but business CEOs suggest that education leaders concentrate on a common strategic approach and strengthen combined efforts to produce graduates in specific fields needed by Maryland employers.
• Regulatory policies that are streamlined, stable and predictable. Regulatory policies that are reasonable, relevant and free of surprises and redundancy are hallmarks of a good business climate. Businesses thrive on consistency, but are hampered by an unpredictable policy environment.
• A tax structure that is fair and competitive. This does not mean that Maryland has to be the lowest tax state – just somewhere in the competitive ballpark and devoid of elements that unreasonably target specific businesses or business sectors.
• Competitive costs of doing business. Cost of doing business is a major consideration when a company chooses to locate or expand in a state. The state could benefit if elected officials develop a keener eye for how legislation and policies impact business overhead.
• Superior transportation infrastructure with reliable funding mechanisms. Businesses depend on a safe, efficient, reliable and updated transportation system. The state must find a way to replenish its depleted Transportation Trust Fund, CEOs and economic developers agree.
• Strategic and effective state investments in business growth. Maryland’s government tends to be lukewarm to the idea of tax credits and incentives as state investments that yield returns in the form of jobs and economic growth. But Maryland needs to strengthen its incentives for businesses seeking to expand or to locate here.
• A business marketing strategy that is aggressive, coordinated, long-term, and well-funded. Success breeds success. CEOs and economic developers agree that Maryland needs a stronger investment in marketing the state’s business successes and its strengths as a place to live and work.
These key tenets constitute the core message that business advocates must deliver this year as we work with lawmakers on policy agendas and sift through the myriad of legislative proposals that are filed during the General Assembly session.
We need to ensure that our message resonates, not only with new lawmakers, but with veteran lawmakers. We’re asking them to make job creation and economic growth top of mind for virtually any decision that they face – whether on budget issues or seemingly simple pieces of legislation.
We must ask them to view all proposed actions with a critical eye toward potential unintended consequences, potential short-term and long-term effects on the state’s economic well-being and, specifically, how legislative proposals relate to these consensus pillars of a successful environment for job creation and economic growth.
During last year’s election campaigns, strong commitments to “jobs, jobs, jobs” policy agendas were voiced by virtually all candidates. Now we must respectfully ask them, as lawmakers, to embrace their pledges, using these eight pillars as a roadmap to guide our state through the legislative maze to the healthy economy and high quality of life that we all seek.