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Legislative Update

By Ron Resh, Public Affairs Consultant

MONTGOMERY COUNTY – At the local level, the major focus is on the FY 2007-2008 County Operating Budget. This was developed by the County Executive and will be acted on by the County Council later in the spring. In budget hearings before the Council, our chamber stressed a number of issues important to the Greater Bethesda Chevy Chase business community. We provided similar input to the County Executive prior to his preparation of the budget. Among other things, we emphasized transportation and transit programs, street maintenance and lighting, public safety, and small business incentive programs. As we have done in previous years, we strongly supported the programs and operations of our many partner organizations responsible for delivering services and promoting safety, quality of life and economic well-being in the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase area.  

We are pleased to report that the budget submitted by the County Executive appears to address most of our major issues and concerns. We have every reason to expect similar positive reaction from the Council.

ANNAPOLIS – With a new governor and many new members of the General Assembly getting acclimated to the workings of state government, few major measures resulted from this year’s session in Annapolis. Among the more widespread enactments was a statewide ban on smoking in all public places, including restaurants and bars. This measure, which was under consideration for a number of years, is similar to smoking bans adopted by at least 20 other states. There are provisions for certain temporary hardship exemptions, but these will expire in a few years when the entire state will be smoke-free.

The General Assembly also enacted a so-called “living wage” bill applicable to certain contractors dealing with state government. This mandates payment of wages at a level several times more than the minimum wage. Businesses throughout the state generally opposed this measure based on the added cost of doing business and the increased cost to taxpayers for government goods and services. 

We regret that number of important matters did not receive positive action this year. Among these was the much anticipated health care reform. Issues such as the availability and cost of health insurance, incentives for small business health care coverage, small group insurance programs and others were deferred until the next session of the General Assembly. This topic is extremely important to our chamber and to other business organizations throughout the state. When it became clear that nothing productive would result during this session, representatives of our chamber met with key legislators to reemphasize our commitment and to offer assistance in organizing support and pressing forward with this issue next year.

State transportation funding and general revenue and fiscal issues are other critical areas that saw little progress this year. Numerous proposals were raised to test the waters, but any definitive action was withheld until the next session of the General Assembly. Recognizing the critical importance of revenue and tax issues to the business community, the Board of Directors of the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce adopted a formal statement on this subject. The Chamber acknowledges the need to address transportation funding requirements and to correct structural deficits in the state budget. However, before any revenue increases are enacted, a number of considerations must be met. Foremost among these are measurable accountability and fiscal responsibility. The complete text of the Chamber’s position statement can be viewed by going here.