State Bussiness Issues
Through its participation in the Montgomery County Business Coalition, the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce and the entire county had a particularly successful year in Annapolis in 1999. The Coalition was able to defeat a number of measures, which would have impacted adversely on transportation and economic development in the county. In addition, it was actively involved in the passage of a number of bills and funding initiatives, which will provide significant benefits to county businesses.
Listed below is the action taken by the state legislature on bills of particular importance to Montgomery County businesses and our Chamber.
Defeated two anti-ICC bills (HB 585 and HB 822), opposed by the chamber, which would have halted further consideration of a cross-county parkway.
Passed SB 247/HB 921Transportation Services - Fiscal Assistance - Repeal of Termination ProvisionsThe bill repeals the termination date on State funding for complimentary paratransit services. In Montgomery County, this program provides paratransit service, complimentary to the fixed route Ride On service, for those disabled clients who are unable to use accessible public transportation because of physical/mental disabilities. Currently Montgomery County provides 42,000 trips via paratransit services. This legislation will guarantee continuation of a $1 million State grant to the County.
Passed HJR 6, supported by the chamber, which will establish a commission to study transportation investment options. This will include issues such as additional revenue for the Transportation Trust Fund, a possible gas tax increase, and mass transit funding options. The commission will make a report to the General Assembly prior to the start of next year's session.
Defeated SB 254, opposed by the chamber, which would impose burdensome restrictions on future road projects by requiring them to meet arbitrary vehicle miles traveled reduction standards.
Defeated two bills, HB 417 and HB 418, opposed by the chamber, which would have blocked further consideration of the Montrose Parkway. This facility is an important component of Montgomery County's transportation infrastructure program.
Passed SB 390, supported by the chamber, which will provide Maryland employers tax credits to offset up to 50% of the cost of providing mass transit subsidies and other commuter benefits to employees.
EDUCATION WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT
Passed H B 71 O/SB 83, supported by the chamber, to expand eligibility for participation in the Maryland Science and Technology Scholarship Program.
Passed SB 423, supported by the chamber, which will provide credits to workers who enroll in education and training programs in areas where critical skill shortages have been identified.
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT BUSINESS CLIMATE
Defeated MC 903-99, opposed by the chamber, which was intended to block further progress on Montgomery County's North Bethesda Conference Center.
Defeated HB 687, opposed by the chamber, which would have required contractors and certain other businesses involved with the state to pay employees a "living wage" equal to 130% of the poverty index.
Passed HB 703/SB 300 providing for electric utility deregulation in Maryland. The purpose is to keep Maryland in step with other states, promote customer choice, and foster a competitive market for electricity. Residential customers will realize a modest temporary rate reduction.
Passed HB 8, supported by the chamber, to provide an affirmative defense against frivolous lawsuits brought against Maryland businesses who take reasonable steps to address, correct, and avoid Y2K computer problems. (Governor has threatened to veto this bill.)
Defeated HB 551, opposed by the chamber, which would have replaced Maryland's current contributory negligence tort liability standard with a more permissive comparative negligence standard. Businesses throughout the state believe that the proposed new standard would increase the number of lawsuits filed against them. This would drive up the cost of insurance, legal expenses and the overall cost of doing business.
Passed HB 432, supported by the chamber, which would provide a phased-in reduction of Maryland's inheritance tax rates.
Passed HB 897, supported by the chamber, which mandates that local jurisdictions allow real property taxes to be paid on a semi-annual basis. This measure, which has been a priority of business for years, would reduce settlement costs and would provide a one-time windfall rebate to property owners who have their tax payments escrowed by lenders.
Defeated HB 186, opposed by the chamber, which would have expanded the jurisdiction of the Maryland Human Relations Commission to cover small businesses currently, excluded from this law. Also, the bill would have expanded the nature and amount of damages, which could be awarded. The bill has been referred to summer study.
Defeated HB 1182, which would have raised by $60 per employee the cost of unemployment insurance paid by employers.
Passed SB 779/HB 1148, Tax CreditsNew or Expanded Business PremisesThis legislation enhances an existing property tax credit program to provide a greater economic development incentive tool designed to retain or attract significant private investment. Under the provisions of the bill, a company occupying at least 250,000 square feet of new business premises, retaining at least 2,500 current employees, and hiring at least 500 new employees would be eligible for a 12-year credit equal to 90% of the assessed value of the new property. A company would also be eligible for this credit if they occupied at least 250,000 of new premises and created 1,250 new jobs. This legislation was crafted by the County and the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development as part of the successful effort to retain Marriott's international headquarters in Montgomery County.
School ConstructionThe States FY2000 budget includes $255 million for public school construction projects around the state. The Governor has pledged $50 million for projects in Montgomery County. FY2000 state funds will be used for the modernization of Bethesda-Chevy Chase High, Churchill High, and Wootton High, and additions to Blake High and Whitman High, as well as renovations and improvements to 43 other schools in the county.
Aid to EducationThe FY2000 budget provides Montgomery County with $159 million in direct operating aid for education. This includes $17.2 million in funding programs created by the Counihan Task Force to assist at-risk students. The FY2000 also contains $1.4 million in additional state aid to help fund the county's class size reduction plan for 1st and 2nd grade reading classes. This funding will cover the salaries of more than 30 new teachers.
Montgomery CollegeThe state budget includes $5.6 million for the first phase of the expansion of the College's Takoma Park Campus expansion. When completed, the expansion will provide new facilities for health sciences, student services, and business training. The expansion will also include an auditorium, community space, and a local health clinic. The General Assembly also enacted legislation to increase the cap on state funding for English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) programs operated by community colleges. This change will result in a $300,000 increase in state aid for Montgomery College.
Silver Spring Redevelopment$5 million is included in the capital budget for this project. The state has previously appropriated $25 million for this project and is committed to funding another $5 million in FY01. When completed, state funding for the redevelopment of downtown Silver Spring will exceed $35 million. An additional $18.5 million is programmed for the construction of phase II of the new transit center in Silver Spring. The new center will combine the Metro station with a new MARC rail station and an expanded bus terminal.
The FY2000 budget also contains funding for several projects around the county designed to enhance the cultural activities available to county residents and generally improve the quality of life. $3.6 million is provided to finish the planning of the Strathmore Hall Performing Arts Center. Funding for the construction of the center is anticipated over the next two years.
The budget also contains a $6 million state commitment to the rehabilitation of Glen Echo Park with $1 million appropriated in FY2000. This funding be will matched by federal and county funds to pay for this $18 million plan to renovate 19 buildings at the park. Funding was also included for a new theater for the Bethesda Academy for the Performing Arts ($750,000), renovation of the auditorium at the old Blair High School ($500,000), and the construction of the Germantown Cultural Arts Center ($700,000).
Smart Growth InitiativesThe Governor and General Assembly include FY2000 funding for several local smart growth projects in Montgomery County. Funding is provided for the continued revitalization of downtown Gaithersburg ($1.5 million) and the development of a community center in Takoma Park ($500,000).
Detention CenterThe FY2000 capital budget contains $8,955,000 in funding for the new detention center in Clarksburg. This is the third installment of state funds for this project. Total state funding pledged for this project is in excess of $30 million.
Links to Additional Legislative Information
Maryland Chamber of Commerce
U.S. Chamber of Commerce
National Federation of Independent Businesses