May 6, 2014

Business group rolls out Roll Call report card

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Blair Lee IV

By Jeremy Bauer-Wolf

jeremy@marylandreporter.com

Roll Call LogoPassage of the minimum wage increase has worried business owners and their advocates, who already fret that Mayland’s economic climate is hostile to corporations and mom-and-pop shops alike.

This year’s Maryland Business for Responsive Government’s Roll Call, an annual report card rating lawmakers on how “business friendly” they have voted, also offers analysis of how the hike to minimum wage, signed into law Monday by Gov. Martin O’Malley, will affect the future of the business climate in Maryland.

MBRG, founded in 1985, touts itself and Roll Call as a non-partisan endeavor, representing the interests of state businesses and holding legislators accountable. But inevitably MBRG’s positions tend to fall more in line with Republicans and their pro-business attitudes. Virtually no Democrats earn top scores, but Democrats did do well on a new list of “most improved” legislators.

Duane Carey, MBRG’s new president and Howard County business owner, stressed that MBRG does not lobby lawmakers, and does not offer testimony during session on any legislation to ensure their nonpartisan status remains. Carey unveiled this year’s Roll Call to MBRG members and lawmakers at a BWI Hilton hotel luncheon Tuesday.

The full Roll Call report is not yet online, but here are some of the key lists MBRG culled from the report.

Study says minimum wage hike will cost jobs

Roll Call cites a study into the minimum wage increase conducted by a George Mason University professor, commissioned by MBRG’s research arm. The study suggested the hike would result in job cuts and loss of personal and gross state product income by the time the minimum wage reaches $10.10, as it is scheduled to by July 2018.

Carey said the study examined not only O’Malley’s initial proposal, which scheduled the minimum wage to peak at $10.10 by 2016, but also other potential compromises.

The study’s analysis, presented as the introduction to this year’s Roll Call, also laments that the legislation fails to prevent counties, specifically Montgomery and Prince George’s, from enacting a higher minimum wage than the state’s. Those local governments approved a measure to push their minimum wage to $11.50 an hour.

“It is this dismissiveness (some even say disdain or contempt) of businesses and employer in Maryland that sends a profoundly negative signal about Maryland’s business climate,” the Roll Call summary concludes.

MBRG included other descriptions of legislation that would have a significant influence on businesses, Carey said, and MBRG’s position. MBRG advocated for repeal of the stormwater fees — the notorious “rain tax” — and a cut to Maryland’s estate “death” tax, approved by both chambers this session.

Blair Lee on O’Malley legacy

The luncheon culminated with commentary from Blair Lee IV, a pro-business columnist for The Gazette. Lee criticized O’Malley’s tenure as governor and his administration’s handling of the budget.

blair lee

Blair Lee IV

Lee said that to regain momentum for the business community, a two-pronged approach is needed — one: redraw the gerrymandered districts that allow Democratic incumbents to “select their own voters,” and also reform the state’s primary election model that he described as closed.

The state is overwhelmingly liberal, Lee said, but for businesses to have a fighting chance, more of their advocates need to reach office.

“I truly believe the lawmakers are more liberal than the people that live here,” Lee said.

The luncheon was attended by House Minority Leader Nic Kipke, Del. Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio, an Eastern Shore representative and candidate for lieutenant governor, Baltimore County Delegates Kathy Szeliga and Patrick McDonough; Dels. Warren Miller and Susan Krebs, among other conservative lawmakers. All six garnered a 100% pro-business rating this year from MBRG.

Most improved

Kipke was among MBRG’s “most improved” lawmakers, increasing 33% from last year’s rating. Del. Donald Elliott, R-Carroll and Frederick counties, jumped 43% to a 100% rating. On the Senate side, the top two most improved were Democrats. Sen. Jim Brochin, Baltimore County increased by 18%, while Sen. James Mathias, Eastern Shore, improved his score by 15%.

Brochin’s district has been heavily redrawn to incorporate new, more rural, conservative areas of Baltimore county and he faces a serious primary challenge. Mathias is being challenged by Republican Del. Mike McDermott.

Some of MBRG’s top-rated lawmakers are retiring, and Carey said he hopes that void will be filled by some of the “most improved” lawmakers, particularly the Democrats.

Sen. Allan Kittleman, R-Howard is leaving the senate to run for county executive. Sens Nancy Jacobs, R-Cecil and Harford Counties, and Barry Glassman, R-Harford county, is making a run for his county executive seat.

Kittleman, Jacobs and Glassman hold overall ratings of 93%, 91% and 83%, respectively.