Thursday, Feb. 7, 2008

Taxes, contracting top groups’ legislative concerns

Repeal of living wage law and new levy on computer services pushed

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Keeping a lid on business-related taxes and maximizing government contracting opportunities are among this year’s legislative priorities for the county’s business groups.

The Prince George’s Chamber of Commerce held its annual legislative dinner in Annapolis last week and presented its legislative agenda, along with information on bills sponsored by the county’s delegation.

‘‘When I taught U.S. government in the public school system, I expressed the need for people to interact with their elected officials,” said James A. Dula, chamber president and CEO, in an e-mail. ‘‘This has become extremely important for the business community in our county and state as the economy has shown uncertain signs and the workforce is in need of ongoing training and development.”

Besides expanding access to government contracts and keeping a lid on taxes, the chamber supports initiatives to maintain the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center and National Agricultural Library in Prince George’s, and wants to be engaged in the Pentagon’s Base Realignment and Closure plans.

M.H. Jim Estepp, president and CEO of the Greater Prince George’s Business Roundtable, said he is concerned about legislation creating BRAC zones. The legislature is considering a bill in line with what the Roundtable wants in terms of tax incentives and other breaks for such zones, but it excludes Andrews Air Force Base in Camp Springs, he said.

‘‘It may be an oversight. We certainly hope that that’s the case,” Estepp said. The group plans to work with the administration and county delegation so that Andrews is included.

The Prince George’s Black Chamber of Commerce is arming members with the information they need to persuade legislators to repeal the 6 percent sales tax on computer services passed in last year’s special session, said President Hubert ‘‘Petey” Green. The tax, an extension of the state sales tax, damages the competitiveness of small businesses, he said.

There’s also an effort to repeal the living wage bill passed last year, he said. That law, which sets a minimum wage for state contractors, can deter small businesses from bidding on such contracts, he said.

Businesses hire and compensate people based on their qualifications and experience, Green said. ‘‘It’s not in the best interest of business owners to have government set wages, and that is essentially what they’re doing,” he said.

The black chamber is also keeping an eye on legislation that will create opportunities for members, such as any bills addressing transportation, he said.

‘‘Transportation has the largest budget in the state, and there should be more opportunities coming out of that for small, local and minority businesses,” he said. ‘‘We’re watching that closely.”