O'Malley considering jobs bill

With the state unemployment rate inching upward, Gov. Martin O'Malley is considering several jobs measures when the General Assembly meets in special session next month, he said Wednesday.

A top administration official said the package could include an expansion of business tax credits for research and development and biotech investments, both of which have been popular.

The governor could add a third, yet-to-be disclosed, tax credit, according to the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the plan.

O'Malley, a Democrat, declined to provide details, saying that ideas were still being developed.

"We may well take up a couple of jobs items," he told reporters. "There may be a few things we do on the jobs front. We're still working on it."

The special session, at which lawmakers are set to consider a new congressional map for the state, follows three straight months in which the state's unemployment rate has risen.

After Maryland lost 2,500 jobs in August, the unemployment rate was 7.3 percent. That's still below the national rate of 9.1 percent, but the increase is a growing concern for a state that is heavily dependent on the sort of federal employment and contracting that now is threatened by talk of cuts in Washington.

Aides to House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said Wednesday that they were unaware that O'Malley was preparing jobs legislation for the special session. But Miller's past comments on the subject suggest he would welcome it.

"If anything, the special session should focus on jobs," Miller told The Baltimore Sun last month. "Whatever the governor wants to put forward in terms of job creation, I'm all for that."

O'Malley, who has been building a national profile, has helped the White House promote President Barack Obama's $447 billion jobs plan. State officials say the proposal could save or add about 18,000 jobs in Maryland.

The federal legislation would extend and deepen a payroll tax holiday for individuals, create tax breaks for businesses, pump $100 billion into infrastructure and extend unemployment insurance. But it has met stiff resistance from Republicans on Capitol Hill and will be a tough sell as the parties focus on the 2012 presidential elections.

The state tax credits that O'Malley is considering expanding have proved popular among Maryland businesses. The research and development tax credits were used by 129 Maryland companies in 2009, the most recent year for which statistics are available; demand far outstripped the $6 million the state set aside for the credits.

The biotech tax credit drew applications from 180 companies within minutes of beginning to accept them. The General Assembly made $8 million available for that credit this year, up from $6 million in previous years.

Any expansion of tax credits would mean less revenue for the state, and it is unclear how it would be made up. Comptroller Peter Franchot said Wednesday that the state has a $195 million surplus in the fiscal year that began in July.

Another O'Malley initiative that could be expanded is a program intended to streamline the permit process for developments.

The governor has sought jobs programs in the past. In 2010, O'Malley introduced a tax credit for companies that hired the unemployed. More than 900 businesses used it to hire nearly 2,000 workers.

Unlike the tax credits, the program drew less interest than expected: Only about half of the $20 million allocated was used. It expired after a year.

O'Malley won passage this year of InvestMaryland, a venture capital fund that aims to provide $75 million in grants to small businesses that need seed money to grow.



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