By Len Lazarick
Efforts to make Maryland more business friendly, reduce the burden of regulations, improve customer service and even reduce taxes and paperwork for many small businesses advanced in the state Senate Tuesday.
Several of the proposals came from a commission formed by the Senate president and House speaker to improve Maryland’s business climate, and the tax cut was a scaled back version of a proposal from Gov. Larry Hogan.
There was prolonged debate on HB939, legislation creating a new advisory council to review all state regulations for their impact on business.
Several progressive senators argued that the bill went too far in slowing the regulatory process.
“It undercuts and reduces all authority of the legislature,” said Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s County. “This is not a little bill. This could second guess our actions” since agency regulations often implement legislative action.
Pinsky pointed out that state agencies promulgate over 400 regulations per year, and yet only one staff person was going to review them all for the advisory council.
Any proposed regulations would have to be submitted to the advisory council 15 days ahead of publication, and if they find a significant impact the regs could be held up for months at a time.
Most senators say bill is needed
Other senators, both Democrats and Republicans, argued that the legislation, which already passed the House, was needed to improve how the state interacts with business.
“We need a sea change,” said Sen. Bob Cassilly, R-Harford. He described his interaction with a service station owner who thought the state was trying to put him out of business.
Sen. Catherine Pugh, floor leader on the bill and a member of the commission, said the commission in public hearings across Maryland constantly heard complaints about regulations.
Time and time again, said Sen. Andrew Serafini, R-Washington, businesses told the commission they were more concerned about strangling state regulations than about high taxes.
Sen. Ron Young, D-Frederick, who spent 11 years working in state agencies but had also been a business owner, said “We’ve got very systemic problems in state government.”
“If we don’t keep our small businesses strong, we’re not going to have the taxes to keep the things we want going,” Young said.
Sen. Jim Rosapepe, D-Prince George’s, objected, “This is a feel-good bill… It sets up another committee. Let’s meet, let’s talk, let’s write reports.”
The bill ultimately passed 42-5. Because of some Senate amendments, it must return to House where it passed 134-3.
There was no opposition to another bill recommended by business climate commission, HB940, that would create customer service training programs for all state agencies overseen by the business ombudsman in the governor’s office, another commission idea.
Personal property tax
The Senate also gave preliminary approval to a Hogan administration bill, SB590, that would eliminate the personal property tax on businesses with less than $10,000 in physical assets, but delay its implementation for two years. The bill was amended to require the state Department of Assessments and Taxation to do an audit of the personal property tax to make sure businesses were complying with the law.
Rosapepe said that this bill, as opposed to the earlier measure on regulations, actually did something for small businesses, and put money back in their pockets.
Sen. Richard Madaleno, D-Montgomery, who had opposed the advisory council on regulations but was the floor leader for the personal property tax bill, readily agreed.