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Economic summit looks to become more pro-business

ANNAPOLIS - Speakers at a pro-business summit in Annapolis proposed suggestions to make Maryland more pro-business, including reducing corporate and income taxes and becoming a right-to-work state.

Change Maryland, which was formed in 2011, is a collection of 30,000 members who are calling for a more pro-business Maryland, said founder Larry Hogan. At the summit, legislators and economists discussed ways to make Maryland more competitive than its surrounding states.

Anirban Basu, the chairman of the Sage Policy Group, an economic and policy consulting firm, said Maryland should cut the corporate tax rate and invest in natural gas. Maryland's current corporate tax rate is at 8.25 percent, while neighboring Virginia is 6 percent. In other neighboring states, the corporate tax rate is higher - in Pennsylvania, Delaware and Washington D.C., the corporate tax rate is all higher than 8.5 percent.

Sen. David Brinkley, R-District 4, currently has a bill in the Senate to lower the corporate tax rate to 6 percent beginning in July 2013.

"Tax policy matters for economic growth," said Christopher Summers, the president of the Maryland Public Policy Institute, which describes itself as a nonpartisan public policy research and education organization.

With 70,000 Maryland vehicles leaving the state on any given day for their job, Maryland should become more business-friendly, Summers said.

Basu and former Economic Development Secretary Aris Melissaratos also called for more production of natural gas. Western Maryland currently has the capabilities for hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, to extract natural gas from the Marcellus Shale. Gov. Martin O'Malley proposed a study in January to see the effects of fracking.

"Do you think for a minute that little old Maryland, by not fracking, will save the nation?" Melissaratos said.

He also called for responsible hydraulic fracturing, instead of focusing on off-shore wind energy.

Sen. Allan Kittleman, R-District 9, said the offshore wind legislation, which passed in the House of Delegates Thursday, has too stringent of requirements to be pro-business.

Kittleman said the 13 requirements the bill has that the Public Service Commission must approve before choosing a business to construct the wind turbines include a private labor agreement and compensation for prevailing wages. The bill in its current form would not bring Maryland workers, Kittleman said, because Maryland is largely non-union.

Kittleman said while Maryland is not a right-to-work state, the state cannot be competitive against Virginia, which is a right-to-work state.

Right-to-work laws are meant to regulate agreements between employers and labor unions. Proponents argue right-to-work states are more business-friendly, while opponents argue that weakening unions will lead to lesser quality of life for workers.

In order to pass legislation that Change Maryland deems as pro-business, Melissaratos said the legislature needs leaders who can drive votes to the middle, not the extreme.

Kittleman said the only way to change the state is not to give into political pressures for bills which are anti-business.

"If we would stand together against these anti-business foes, we would win," Kittleman said.

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