Although some members wonder if any real legislation will be passed during an election year, job creation and taxes will be some of the major issues on the agenda of the Harford County legislators in the upcoming Maryland General Assembly session scheduled to begin Jan. 8 in Annapolis.
A panel of Harford County senators and delegates addressed the concerns of leaders from the Harford County business community, community organizations and county government agencies during a forum held at Harford Community College on Thursday morning.
The event was sponsored by the Harford County Chamber of Commerce, Harford Business Roundtable for Education, Harford Leadership Academy Alumni and Northeastern MD Technology Council.
The 100 member audience pre-submitted questions and concerns on note cards for the delegation to address.
Historically in Harford County, regional manufacturing companies like Bata Shoe, Glenn L. Martin and Bethlehem Steel were the crux creating upward mobility for families without formal education. As those legacy industries waned and disappeared, consumer oriented companies like Independent Can Company, The Clorox Company, Frito-Lay and Nutramax moved into the county to take their place, along with dozens of large regional and national distribution centers.
With some of those employers moving on or downsizing, audience members questioned the delegation's position on improving the climate of manufacturing jobs in the county.
Western Harford Del. Kathy Szeliga said Maryland's rain tax, among other state levies, is pushing Harford County manufacturing companies and other businesses out of the area. Under the rain tax, business owners are taxed based on their area of impervious surfaces like roofs and parking lots, which create runoff from rain and pollute the Chesapeake Bay.
"The rain tax will hurt manufacturing in Harford County," Szeliga said. "A warehouse needs a roof and a parking lot, under the current administration they are being taxed for those impervious surfaces"
Szeliga said based on the current trajectory of state government, there seems to be little concern to keep big businesses and manufacturing jobs in the area.
Southern Harford Del. Mary-Dulany James, the sole Democrat in the Harford delegation, said manufacturing jobs are not coming back to Harford County in the traditional sense. Job creation is moving toward 21st century innovation, she explained.
"We're in a hi-tech, bio-tech world," James said. "To remain competitive [in America] 65 percent of young people need to get college degrees and we can do that. Harford County is right on I-95; we have Aberdeen Proving Ground, we can leverage that 21st century technology and keep Harford County and place people want to live, get an education and grow."
Western Harford Sen. J.B. Jennings said the future of job creation in Harford County is 3D printing, or additive printing, a process what created three-dimensional objects through successive laying printing.
"3D printing is the future of manufacturing," Jennings said. "With all of the brain power coming out of [Aberdeen Proving Ground], there will be high level, well paying jobs."
Western Harford Del. Patrick L. McDonough does not believe all is lost in manufacturing in the county. But for manufacturing to flourish again, McDonough said, "the state of Maryland has to stop treating business owners like ATM machines."
Panel attendees questioned the delegates on their stance on a possible repeal of the state mandated rain tax.
Northern Harford Del. Wayne Norman Jr. said that, while he voted against the rain tax, it is not likely members of the general assembly will be able to garner enough support to successfully repeal the rain tax.
"I don't want anyone to think we will get a repeal; it won't happen," said Norman, a member of the House Environmental Matters Committee, who is running for state Senate next year.
Norman said the hesitation of General Assembly members to repeal the tax is a direct correlation with the upcoming elections in June and November.
"This Big Brother government at the state level is controlling your lives and preventing you from being profitable," Western Harford Del. Richard K. Impallaria said of the rain tax. "People want to hear everything is fine in Annapolis and it is not."
Del. Susan K. McComas, who represents Bel Air and Abingdon, said the rain tax penalizes Maryland residents for pollution runoff into the Chesapeake Bay, to which it only contributes a small portion.
"There is a double down on Maryland residents to pay for pollution that is largely occurring upstream in places like Pennsylvania and New York," McComas said. "These high taxes are causing Maryland residents to flee to other areas."