Ernie Colburn: Watching some key issues in the General Assembly

The 2016 Maryland General Assembly session is well underway.

Gov. Larry Hogan continues to put forth suggestions for tax reductions for individuals as well as businesses and while we appreciate these suggestions, a few need additional thought prior to coming on the floor of the Senate and House for a vote.

First, let me list a few of these suggestions:

  • Business Taxes: The Administration proposes to reduce the $300 annual filing fee to the State Department of Assessments and Taxation for all businesses $50 per year for the next four years beginning in 2018.  The Chamber fully supports this suggestion!
  • Manufacturing: Eliminating the corporate income tax for a 10-year period on new manufacturers locating in a manufacturing empowerment zone, and individuals employed by eligible manufacturers in those zones that make less than $65,000 would be exempt from State income tax. Counties and municipalities would also be authorized to provide property tax incentives to qualifying manufacturers in the empowerment zones.  The Chamber favors elimination of the corporate income tax for 10 years (actually favors reduction overall of tax to be more competitive with surrounding states) …however, we can understand why “existing” manufacturers would say “what about me?” Shouldn’t these long standing manufacturers be incentivized in some manner too? Additionally, concerning new hires with gross earnings less than $65,000 … the concern would be this would “strip” existing manufacturers/businesses of good tenured employees and middle management personnel….jumping ship to board these tax-exempt companies creating a hardship on existing companies. Furthermore, how long would these new employees be exempt from state taxes? When you add state tax savings on top of the $65k, it’s substantially more than $65k!
  • Third Bay Bridge: Senate Bill 56-Transportation-Chesapeake Bay Bridge Crossing-Environmental Impact study-Cost Estimate and Payment. Senator Jim Mathias and Senator John Astle have sponsored this bill.  The Chamber supports this bill and views it as necessary and timely. Traffic congestion continues to grow beyond the means of our current infrastructure. With the current and growing flow of traffic on the existing two-bay bridge spans, the need for maintenance and repairs will only increase. It’s imperative that we determine another means (crossing point structure) of the Chesapeake Bay in order to avoid future negative economic impact to the Eastern Shore and its business communities.
  • One final note….PMT (Phosphorus Management Tool) kicks in this year in Maryland.    If this regulation is upheld in its current state, it stands a great chance of destroying the farming industry. Furthermore, some environmental groups have suggested the owners and integrators of chickens take ownership of and in the removal of excess chicken manure. We would think that this would be contrary to the desires of the farmer since the farmer can sell this excess manure for $20-$40 per ton to help defray operational costs. Again, common sense needs to prevail here and more thought put forth prior to legislating these fundamental day-to-day operations in the farming industry. All we can say, at least the 5-cent chicken tax hasn’t surfaced this year!

Let’s think through proposed legislation and any new regulations prior to putting additional burden on our businesses and manufacturers. We’re all advocating “Maryland is open for business” and this would be a step in the right direction turning a slogan into positive action.

Ernie Colburn is CEO of the Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce.

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