With the so-called “fiscal cliff” and its potential for substantial federal budget cuts looming, the Maryland Chamber of Commerce’s legislative agenda for next year puts more emphasis on improving the state’s business competitiveness to create more private-sector jobs, CEO Kathleen Snyder said Monday.
“We’re looking forward to helping position Maryland for vigorous growth in private-sector jobs,” Snyder said.
Calls for a more competitive tax system and fewer regulations are not new, but the emphasis is greater in light of the fiscal cliff and trends such as several Fortune 500 companies in Maryland being bought by out-of-state companies, she said.
The chamber’s board approved the agenda during its board meeting Nov. 8.
Maryland’s regulatory climate results in it taking “too long to get anything accomplished,” said James Cornelsen, a member of the Maryland chamber’s board, and president and CEO of Old Line Bank of Bowie.
He said bank officials have been working to build a new office building in Bowie for four years.
“We’ve got to turn up the advocacy,” Cornelsen said.
Some workers advocacy groups such as the Job Opportunities Task Force in Baltimore want to see a bill filed next year to mandate paid sick leave. If that passes, it would hurt some retailers, although others already provide that, said Patrick Donoho, president of the Maryland Retailers Association.
“It would be another mandate by state government,” he said.
One new chamber recommendation supports legislation that would relieve landlords of strict liability for injuries caused by pit bulls owned by tenants. The issue has been clouded by recent court decisions after a Maryland family filed a lawsuit against a dog owner following the mauling of a boy.
“There is confusion over who is liable if a pit bull bites someone,” Snyder said. “We believe it should be the dogs’ owners liability, not the property owners.”
In health insurance, most chamber recommendations remain the same. One to urge that users of the insurance exchange network pay operating costs replaces another urging retention of a 50-employee size limit for the small-group market.
The chamber board this month approved the formation of a coalition of industry leaders across the state to help unite the business community’s advocacy on fostering the state’s competitiveness. The chamber is in the process of forming a steering committee to get the coalition going, Snyder said.
The chamber’s legislative agenda also includes the following:
— Advocate for the protection of the integrity of the Transportation Trust Fund by ensuring transportation funds are not diverted for other uses, and the restoration of funds previously transferred, including local Highway User Revenues.
— Support an increase in the state fuel tax, dedicated for transportation infrastructure investment and maintenance.
— Oppose additional individual income tax increases and sales taxes on business services.
— Oppose changes to the state’s corporate income tax such as rate increases, alternative minimum taxes and adoption of a system of mandatory unitary combined reporting.
— Support further reforms of state pension and employee health insurance benefits to relieve pressure for higher taxes.
— Promote the private health insurance market operating in fair competition with the Health Benefit Exchange.
— Recommend that users of the state health care benefits exchange bear primary responsibility for the costs of operating the network.