“Our neighbors are already doing this. I hope at some point we can do it,” she said.
Kittleman said he thought the legislature’s handling of fracking was indicative of a “classic bad business climate.” He said he didn’t understand why the first fracking studies were ordered in 2011, two years after the first permits were issued in 2009.
“Whether or not we decide it’s the best thing to do, we shouldn’t have waited two years to start,” he said.
Pendergrass, Kasemeyer and Turner all urged a cautious, thorough approach to studying fracking before it’s approved.
And District 12 Delegate Jimmy Malone offered another perspective based on his experience as a firefighter. He pointed to the occurrence of small earthquakes in regions with fracking. “It doesn’t matter if there’s a lot of jobs if people are getting injured,” he said.
The forum ended with what legislators predicted would be the two biggest business-centric legislative topics: raising the minimum wage and tweaking the stormwater fee.
Turner, Kasemeyer and Bates said they expected the assembly would raise the minimum wage, currently set at $7.25 an hour, next session – though it will likely be coupled with some sort of tax break to appease business owners.
Turner said Maryland should look to other states who have already raised their minimum wage. A salary of about $16,400 a year – the amount made by a minimum wage worker – is not tenable for someone who has to support a family, he said. “I believe in a livable wage,” he added.
Bates called proposals to raise the minimum wage “a terrible mistake.”
“How many of you are still making what you started making as a teenager?” she asked the audience. “A minimum wage is a starting wage… We’ve got to stop having the government tell you guys how to do your business. You guys know what a job is worth.”
Kittleman, who sits on the Senate finance committee, said a proposed minimum wage increase died last year in part because of objections from the nonprofit community. “They can’t afford [a raise],” he said. But, he added the issue had “legs” and was something the Chamber should examine.
“This is an issue we have to be willing to talk about,” he said.
Robey said he thought the assembly would have to take a careful approach to any increase. “We don’t need to make any mistakes on this one,” he told the audience. “We need to do it right and not cripple you guys.”
A question about the future of the stormwater fee elicited the most passionate responses of the forum. All of the legislators thought it would be revisited, and possibly changed, in 2014.
Kittleman, who last month prefiled a bill to repeal the stormwater fee, said he thought Howard County should have waited for the legislature to revisit the fee before passing a plan.
“The new rates have no rationale in science at all,” he said. “All small businesses are going to be hit with this.”
Per the County Council’s latest plan, residential property owners would pay a flat, annual rate based on a tiered system, while business owners will pay $15 per impervious surface unit of 500 square feet. The Council also passed a program to reduce or eliminate the fee for nonprofits that craft a stormwater management plan.
Pendergrass said charges that the legislature created the fee just to raise taxes were disingenuous. “None us like to raise taxes,” she said “We did what we thought was the best way to handle [the federal mandate] at the moment.”
While Kasemeyer said he thought the fee should have been set by the state, Pendergrass, a former Council member, said she thought local government was best equipped to implement a fair rate.
“There is an argument to be made that a government closest to the people is best [to make those decisions,” she said.
The delegation will turn its focus to the 2014 session again later this week at a public hearing on next session’s proposed local bills. The hearing is scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 21 at 7:30 p.m. in the George Howard government building in Ellicott City.