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Md. business climate must be improved, speakers say

Business EnterprisesExecutive BranchMartin O'MalleyU.S. Chamber of CommerceRobert L. Ehrlich Jr.

Nearly 400 people packed a conference room Thursday to hear conservative leaders argue that Maryland is in critical need of a better business climate as big federal spending cuts loom.

Change Maryland, a group started by a businessman who contemplated a run against Gov. Martin O'Malley in 2010, timed its first event well.

The day before, the Pentagon warned that it would be forced to furlough most of its civilian defense employees, including 45,000 in Maryland, one day a week if the federal "sequestration" budget cuts begin March 1.

State Del. Steven R. Schuh, an Anne Arundel County Republican, told the crowd at the Westin Annapolis hotel that Maryland has reaped years of benefits from high levels of federal employment and contracting, "but this policy of extreme dependence on federal spending has consequences.

"What we need to do is develop a new business plan for this state," said Schuh, a franchisee partner for Greene Turtle restaurants. "We need to reduce the overall level of income taxes and business taxes. … We need to reduce regulation. We need to reduce burdensome fees."

Larry Hogan, Change Maryland's founder and chairman, worked for Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and is an outspoken critic of Ehrlich's successor, O'Malley. But he argued Thursday that Change Maryland's efforts shouldn't be seen as partisan but rather "a fight for Maryland's future."

Speakers at Thursday's event pointed to the state's ranking of 41st on the Tax Foundation's business tax climate index and 40th on Chief Executive magazine's list of the best states for business as examples of problems.

The O'Malley administration countered with other rankings. Among them: Maryland was No. 1 on a U.S. Chamber of Commerce list for entrepreneurship and innovation, and No. 1 in "human capital capacity" — a measure of workforce quality — on the Milken Institute's State Technology and Science Index.

jhopkins@baltsun.com

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