Maryland business community warily eyes General Assembly special session -- Gazette.Net







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Maryland business leaders have mixed feelings regarding the special session of the General Assembly, which is planned to begin Monday.

Kathleen T. Snyder, president and CEO of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, said she has heard frustration that there has to be a special session and, at the same time, heard the so-called “doomsday” budget that otherwise would be enacted in July is not the way to go about making strategic budget cuts.

“The chamber opposed the personal income tax increases that [legislative leaders] have apparently agreed on. We believe that will hurt Maryland’s competitiveness,” Snyder said. “We are talking with legislators about the personal income tax issue.”

Legislators passed a fiscal 2013 operating budget before the General Assembly’s regular session ended in April. But lawmakers did not approve bills that would have transferred funds, shared teacher pension costs with counties and raised taxes. That triggered a fiscal ’13 budget with $512 million in cuts that include smaller outlays for education, the biotechnology investment and sustainable communities tax credit programs, and the stem cell research fund.

The Tech Council of Maryland is lobbying legislative leaders and Gov. Martin O’Malley’s (D) office to let them know about the importance of the biotech investment tax credit and the stem cell research fund, said Brian Levine, vice president of government relations for the trade group.

“One cannot be confident of anything during a special session, so we are advocating for these important programs every day,” Levine said. “Eliminating either of these programs, we believe, would do irreparable harm to Maryland's innovation economy.”

Transportation funding should be an important component, said Donald C. Fry, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, which, along with other business groups, has supported an increase in the state tax on gasoline and diesel fuel to finance highway and other improvements.

“It's frustrating to watch our lawmakers rush to address operating budget issues, yet ignore our state’s most pressing capital challenge that impacts our economy — funding transportation infrastructure,” Fry said.

Transportation funding provides a direct relationship between improving infrastructure and private-sector job growth that ultimately increases government revenues, he said.

“Mobility is a key to economic growth, but clearly it has not risen to the top of [state political leaders’ minds],” Fry said.

With the compressed time frame of a special session, bills usually are introduced without the chance for public review and comment in committee hearings. In the 2007 special session, for example, the sales tax was extended to high-tech services, but was repealed months later in the regular session before it took effect.

“All kinds of mischief is possible in a special session,” Kimberly M. Burns, president of business advocacy organization Maryland Business for Responsive Government, said in a statement. “It’s a pretty sad day in Maryland when the legislature re-convenes just to raise taxes on hard working Maryland families and businesses to support its spending habit.”

With legislative leaders committed to making the session as quick as possible, Snyder said she doubted anything such as the tech sales tax would be passed next week.

“But the chance is always there,” she said.

Too early to talk Prince George’s casino again

Legislators have floated the possibility of a second special session this summer to revisit the expansion of gambling in the state to include a mega-casino at Prince George’s County’s National Harbor. But businesses involved in the matter say it still is too early to comment.

“We think it’s important the state takes care of what’s important to the state first,” said Karen Bailey, spokeswoman for Penn National Gaming of Wyomissing, Pa., which owns Rosecroft Raceway in Fort Washington and a slots parlor in Cecil County. Penn also has been pursuing a slots license for Rosecroft and was disappointed in lawmakers’ decision to structure the expanded gambling bill around a National Harbor casino.

“We were opposed to the bill last session. Absent new information, it’s speculative to comment on the issue right now,” Bailey said.

The Peterson Cos. of Fairfax, Va., which owns the $4 billion National Harbor development, did not return requests for comment.

Cordish Cos. of Baltimore, owner of the Maryland Live! casino at Arundel Mills that’s set to open next month and also has opposed the National Harbor bill, said nothing has changed since the end of session.

Staff Writer Lindsey Robbins contributed to this report.