By Ashley M. Latta, Capital News Service
Gov. Martin O'Malley pledged his commitment to job creation and solicited input from business leaders Friday on what he said will be a package of regulatory reforms and other pro-business initiatives to be introduced in the legislative session that kicks off next month.
Despite Maryland's economic strengths, including a highly educated and skilled workforce, business leaders and others argue change is needed to make the state a more attractive place to do business.
"We've weathered this recession better than most," said O'Malley, speaking at a symposium in Annapolis that drew business leaders, state officials and others. "We do have a better array of strengths than any other state in the Union."
Maryland has created 20,400 jobs this year, more than 19,000 in the private sector. At 7.2 percent, the state's unemployment rate is among the lowest in the nation, according to the most recent statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor.
But the governor said there is still work to be done.
"We need to restore that balance," O'Malley said, referring to the balance between protective regulations and business growth.
Identifying ways to achieve this balance, through discussion between government and business leaders, was the goal of the symposium.
O'Malley issued an executive order nearly two months ago requiring state agencies to review current regulations and make recommendations for changes or repeals no later than Dec. 17. To date, the governor has received 352 public comments and suggestions for regulatory reform.
"It's a very timely discussion but what's more important is not the discussion but a commitment to make the changes needed so that business can thrive," said Donald C. Fry, president of the Greater Baltimore Committee and former state senator and delegate.
Regulations that have been suggested for repeal include the requirement for oyster harvesters to obtain power dredge permits from the Department of Natural Resources and the requirement that nursing home developers obtain pre-approval for construction from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
The Competitive Edge Report, produced from a 10-month study by the Greater Baltimore Committee, echoes the sentiment that, despite the state's strengths as a place to do business, changes in policy and regulations are needed to become a more competitive business location.
Some areas of concern to business leaders are high corporate and individual tax rates and high operating costs.
"Business is tough, and we need the government's help," said Daniel White, executive vice president of Whiting-Turner Contracting Company and one of several speakers at the symposium. "I think we'd all agree that excessive regulations can strangle the free flow of business."
The symposium is timely, given the recent failure of Congress' super committee, which could lead to automatic cuts in federal spending. These cuts will result in job losses in Maryland because so many jobs are connected to the federal government.
But critics argue that Friday's symposium falsely gives the impression that something will be done to create jobs for Marylanders who need them now.
"There is no magic bullet," said Todd Eberly, a professor of political science at St. Mary's College. "If it were truly that simple, just government and businesses working together, we wouldn't be in this situation. We would have jobs."