Legislators to Economic Development Professionals: Education and Healthcare, that’s what Maryland Does

Historic Inns of Annapolis hosted a gathering of economic developers from across the state of Maryland for the Maryland Economic Development Association’s (MEDA) annual Winter Conference. On the agenda was the “Maryland Legislative Outlook,” a panel discussion moderated by Laurie Boyer, Economic Development Manager for Montgomery County Finance Department’s Division of Fiscal Management. Panelists included Senator Thomas (Mike) Miller, President of the Senate; Delegate Michael Busch, Speaker of the House of Delegates; Senator J.B. Jennings, Minority Leader of the Senate; and Delegate Nicholaus Kipke, Minority Leader of the House of Delegates.

Boyer opened the conversation by asking the panelists what the biggest issues the General Assembly (GA) would be tackling this year. Speaker Busch was the first to respond and stated the GA is comprised of roughly one-third new members and committee assignments are currently underway. Speaker Busch went on to discuss just how busy the GA will be in reviewing various tax credits that have been proposed. One tax credit in particular, introduced by Governor Hogan, would allow parents to write off college tuition interest paid for students in college. Furthermore, Governor Hogan is intent on lowering the cost of doing business in Maryland by issuing new tax credits for businesses to take advantage of. Speaker Busch expressed his enthusiasm in continuing to work with the Hogan Administration.

The cost of doing business in Maryland being too high relative to surrounding states was a common theme in the panel discussion and panelists from both chambers and both political parties agreed. Delegate Kipke, who expressed his excitement for the upcoming session and touted Maryland being a model for bi-partisanship, acknowledged that Maryland’s economy has grown under Governor Hogan’s stewardship and threw his support behind Governor Hogan’s initiatives to relieve legislative burdens placed on businesses. “Maryland has one of the highest corporate tax rates in the country,” said Delegate Kipke. Senator Miller, who recently announced he is fighting cancer, admitted the corporate and personal income tax rate in Maryland is too high and announced he is looking forward to working with Governor Hogan on strategic tax initiatives.

It was education, however, that dominated the conversation. Speaker Busch announced that with the success of Maryland’s casinos, especially Prince George’s County’s MGM, Maryland’s school system will realize an additional $500 million in funding over the next four years. Senator Miller’s perspective echoed the panelists’ message of education being the focus of this year’s GA. Miller referenced Kirwan Commission data that stated the US is behind 28 countries in education and Maryland has fallen from having the #1 school system in the country to #5. Delegate Kipke stated, however, that while increasing education funding is important, developing mechanisms to ensure education funds are being spent wisely is critical.

When the conversation shifted to answering questions from the audience, a conference attendee asked if any legislation was pending to allow grocery stores to sell alcohol. Speaker Busch made it very clear that legislation like this was highly unlikely to get traction. “Education and healthcare are the main priorities during this session,” he stated. Speaker Busch went on to further discuss that Maryland has one of the best hospital systems and the best shock-trauma center in the country. Senate President Miller stated because so many changes are happening at the federal level, managing healthcare and extending insurance is going to be an issue that is studied very carefully by the GA.

Overall, the panelist touted bi-partisanship and respect for not only Governor Hogan, but fellow GA leadership. Outside of education and healthcare, issues that will draw attention and require careful analysis are minimum wage, making Maryland more competitive from a corporate tax perspective, and recreational marijuana.