From the Mason Dixon Business Association:
Maryland Senator Barry Glassman was the guest speaker at the Mason Dixon Business Association’s May 18th meeting. Senator Glassman provided the following highlights of the work of the legislature during the 2011 session:
Budget – The legislature managed to pass a balanced budget for this session through a variety of actions including:
– Passage of additional taxes on alcohol raising the sales tax to 9%;
– Imposing assessments on hospitals that will likely be passed on to patients;
– Increasing fees on items like vanity tags and birth certificates; and
– sweeping available cash from dedicated funds.
Despite these actions, the State is still facing a structural deficit of approximately $1.5 billion that will have to be addressed in future sessions. Senator Glassman also noted that a substantial portion of the increase in the alcohol sales tax will be used to fund school construction in areas of the State other than Harford County and that the dual sales tax rates will require businesses to retrofit cash registers to accommodate the change.
Pensions/benefits – Major work was done on reforming pensions and health coverage for state workers including advancing the age for retirement for new hires and increasing copays and deductibles.
Immigration – Sen. Glassman also discussed the passage of instate tuition for illegal immigrants which may be put to a referendum of voters. K-12 age children are already being educated and have access to uncompensated health care. He felt extension of instate tuition is “a clear violation of federal law since they legally can’t be hired” but noted the issue is complicated and recommended the group access MDPETITIONS.com for more information.
Wind Energy – The wind energy farm off Ocean City which failed to pass may come back in future sessions. Senator Glassman explained that, as proposed, the developers of the wind farms face no risk; rather the risk falls on the backs of the ratepayers as they will be financing the project and he fears that small businesses could be faced with prohibitively expensive surcharges if the bill is passed.
Wine – Sen. Glassman was happy to report that the direct wine shipment bill which benefits the Maryland wine industry was passed.
Health Care – Maryland is studying setting up a health care exchange as part of the national health care reform which would allow employers to shop for health coverage. Although it is based on a brokerage model, the exchange could adversely affect small businesses involved in the insurance business.
Maryland legislators will go into special session in October to approve redistricting. Depending on the time that takes, the Governor may also bring up gas tax and gay marriage bills again.
Commenting on transportation, Glassman referred to the toll increases needed to pay off bonds coming due and noted that the elimination of the decal on the Hatem Bridge will impact local businesses that bring trailers over the bridge by charging them for extra axles.
Senator Glassman also expressed concern that state budget limitations have made it harder for the Harford Land Trust to match grant money that it has been offered and land trust opportunities may be lost.
Also present at the luncheon was Harford County Councilman Chad Shrodes. Shrodes thanked Sen. Glassman for his help in passing the noise nuisance and the landfill buffer bills as well as his support with the wetland program at North Harford High School. Shrodes was pleased to report that the county budget was approved and taxes will remain the same as last year. This is the first time in history that it was kept below the yield rate. The goal of the council is also to pay down debt. Councilman Shrodes also said that the county council, the board of Education and Council President Boniface have worked hard to establish a cooperative atmosphere and believes that the relationship has never been better. Work on the master plan will begin soon and he hopes they can establish establish a transfer of development rights plan for Harford County to preserve more land.