From State Sen. J.B. Jennings:
Two weeks ago, Maryland’s 438th General Assembly convened to act on thousands of bills, including the state’s annual budget. These bills will cover a wide range of topics, including taxes, healthcare, crime, education, transportation and the environment. I look forward to keeping you abreast of legislation that is introduced by me and my colleagues in both the House and Senate over the next three months. Every single bill has the potential to impact the lives of all Marylanders, and I feel a tremendous sense of pride and great responsibility as your representative in Annapolis. Session is always a busy and exciting time, and I’m ready to get down to business for the people of the 7th District.
As we start a new year and usher in another legislative session, now is a good time to reflect on how far the state has come over the past three years. Maryland has gained over 125,000 jobs and the unemployment rate has dropped to 3.8%, the lowest it has been in nearly a decade. The private sector is growing and Maryland continues to be a leader in key areas like Biotechnology, Information and Technology, and workforce educational attainment.
However, while the Free State continues to compete with other states in the region as a preeminent place to live and conduct business, more can and should be done to capitalize on the assets that make Maryland both unique and competitive. I plan to help keep this momentum going, not only over the course of Session 2018 but throughout the year, and also address issues that are hindering the business community from reaching its fullest potential.
It’s no secret that in order to cultivate a more favorable business environment, Maryland needs to increase incentives and reduce regulations. For instance, last year the More Jobs for Marylanders Act was passed to incentivize and encourage manufacturers to create jobs where they were needed most, and to offer new and expanding manufacturing businesses a ten-year tax credit for each new job created. Two new tax credits under this plan are budgeted for FY 2019, and a new expanded proposal for 2018 will open the program to industries outside of manufacturing. This plan has the potential to create thousands of jobs and attract businesses by reducing state taxes for employers that offer opportunities in qualifying high-unemployment zones. Other business tax incentives budgeted for FY 2019 include the Biotechnology Investment Incentive Tax Credit and the Cybersecurity Investment Incentive Tax Credit, which will help the Greater Baltimore region in particular capitalize on these key areas of business for which it is so widely known.
Last week it was announced that the Office of Small Business Regulatory Assistance was formed in an effort to help small businesses comply with the flawed Paid Sick Leave Bill, which was recently passed by the Maryland General Assembly over the Governor’s veto. In its current form, the new law will place huge compliance burdens on small businesses, which could ultimately force them to close or create disincentives for growth, potentially eliminating thousands of much needed jobs. The office will be required to report problems encountered by small businesses complying with the law and its regulations to the governor and the legislature, and recommend policy improvements.
Anyone who has traveled Baltimore’s beltway and the surrounding I-95 corridor can attest695_image.jpg that it doesn’t serve the needs of such a highly traveled and densely populated area. These thoroughfares are not only lifelines to millions of commuters, but countless enterprises rely on convenient access to these roads to sustain themselves. As part of Governor Hogan’s $7 billion investment in Baltimore region transportation, new traffic relief initiatives such as the addition of 27 miles of highway to alleviate congestion on I-695 and I-95, and the addition of four new lanes to the entire length of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, will help alleviate the amount of peak-hour congestion. Other notable regional transportation projects in the pipeline include design and construction of a new configuration of the I-695 and I-70 interchange, which directly addresses six of the top 15 congested road segments in the state, and extending the northbound I-95 Express Toll Lanes from north of MD 43 in Baltimore County to MD 24 in Harford County.
With regard to improving Baltimore City transit, the $135 million BaltimoreLink bus system has launched, and the entire North Avenue Corridor, which plays a vital role in connecting residents and institutions across the city, will receive much needed upgrades including dedicated bus lanes, bike facilities, transit station enhancements, bus stops, sidewalks and road re-paving.
Investing in Education and Workforce Development
Maryland ranks second in the nation in percentage of technical and professional workers in the workforce, and given the investments that continue to be made in education and training statewide, this impressive standing is one I’m confident we will maintain. For the fourth consecutive year, the Hogan administration is providing record funding for K-12 education without raising taxes, cutting services or raiding funds. The FY 2019 budget includes a $6.5 billion state investment in public schools and fully funds state aid programs. For the third year in a row, tuition growth at Maryland’s public, four-year institutions is held to 2 percent while funding for community colleges grew to a record level. Programs like P-TECH (Pathways in Technology Early College High School), an innovative education program that blends high school, college and workplace skills required for 21st-century jobs, continue to prepare our students for the workforce and provide a steady pipeline of skilled professionals to some of the state’s biggest employers.
Overcoming Crime in Baltimore
Violent crime continues to negatively impact the lives of Marylanders that live and work in Baltimore. This is undoubtedly a deterrent for visitors, new business opportunities and potential residents. Attractions, restaurants and sporting venues, all of which rely heavily on people traveling from outside of the city to survive, are losing revenue daily. We need to start addressing the issue of crime by using a three-prong approach of tackling short term, mid-range and long-range problems to achieve lasting results.
First, in the short term, I’m happy to report that focus is being placed back on giving law enforcement officers, prosecutors and judges the tools they need get violent criminals off the streets and into prison. Truth-in-sentencing legislation, which will require second-time violent criminals to serve their full sentence and make them ineligible for parole will be a focus over the next few months, as will the problem of repeat gun offenders failing to serve adequate time for their crimes. Governor Hogan will introduce legislation to double the minimum sentence from five to ten years for repeat offenders who use firearms to commit felonies and violent crimes. Simply put, until there is a zero-tolerance policy for repeat violent offenders, crime rates in Baltimore and surrounding areas will continue to soar.
Second, a large percentage of people are out of work because businesses do not want to hire people with non-violent, minor offenses. If we want our community to flourish, we need to rally around this segment of the population and give them the chance to get back to work. Mentorships and partnering with government programs that offer workforce training, like P-TECH, are two ways the business community can help make a difference.
Finally, it’s safe to say the youth of Baltimore are in real crisis. Particularly those in their early teens who are at risk of getting involved in gangs and other violent criminal activity. This is another segment of the population that needs the help of citizens, businesses and community partners to mentor, tutor and offer other means of support to end the vicious cycle of violent crime in Baltimore. If we can intervene while they are still young, the long-term results could be incredibly beneficial for the city. It is my sincere hope that my colleagues in the legislature will work together this year to find common sense resolutions for the crisis Baltimore City is currently facing.
One of my favorite things about serving in the Senate is meeting residents with unique experiences and diverse backgrounds, and relaying their vision for a better Maryland to my colleagues in Annapolis. A lot of progress has been made over the past three years to make the Greater Baltimore region a better place to live, work and visit. I hope that over the 90-day legislative session, the legislature will work together to build upon the successes of our current pro-business climate, and agree on solutions to bring reform to the areas that need improvement. When the Greater Baltimore region succeeds, all of Maryland succeeds.
What are your thoughts on the first two weeks of Session 2018, and what are some things you hope the legislature will achieve over the next few months? Your feedback is important to me and helps me more accurately represent your interests in Annapolis.
Senator J.B. Jennings