Representatives talk small business priorities

As legislators prepare for what many are expecting to be a busy 2016 session, members of Carroll County's delegation in Annapolis met with area small-business owners Thursday to discuss priorities and predictions for the state's legislative body.

In the second year of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan's term, business owners can expect to see a continued commitment to rolling back regulations and taxes that stifle businesses, legislators said, but they may also see efforts in the General Assembly to push things like mandatory paid sick leave.


Although the state made gains in becoming more business-friendly in 2015, Del. Haven Shoemaker, R-District 5, said there is more work to be done.

"We have a long way to go to make Maryland more competitive, from a taxpayer standpoint," he told chamber members at the breakfast, which was held Thursday morning at the Zigler Hospitality Center in New Windsor.

The first test of the session, said Del. Susan Krebs, R-District 5, will be the budget, which the governor must submit to the General Assembly for review by Jan. 20.

Despite tax revenues coming in higher than expected, the state's financial problem is not fixed, Krebs said.

"We still have a huge, huge pension problem," she told the group. "It's not going to go away."

Budget predictions have the state dealing with deficits years out, Sen. Justin Ready, R-District 5, said, adding Carroll County is dealing with its own problems as well.

"We've lost a lot of population," he said of Carroll County, citing statewide policies like high tax rates, over-regulation and restrictive sewer and water regulations, which he called "anti-growth."

As a result of the drop in population and the resulting decrease in state funding, the Carroll County Public Schools Board of Education voted in December to close three county schools.

Chamber members asked the delegation about what local residents can expect as the state assesses its school funding formula.

"The biggest problem we have in our county is declining enrollment," Krebs said.

However, she said, residents should be prepared if the assessment does not work in Carroll County's favor. Many schools systems struggle with funding, she said, and restructuring the formula may not translate to increased funds across the board.

Another chamber member asked about a possible bill that would require employers at companies with more than 10 employees to offer paid sick leave.

While Krebs said she was confident Hogan would veto the bill, Del. Trent Kittleman, R-District 9, said she has heard from companies that many small businesses will attempt to avoid having to provide the sick leave by restricting the number of people they employ.

Her father was a small-business owner in Baltimore, she said, something that makes her especially sympathetic to the needs of chamber members.


"There's no way in the world that he could start that business and do the same thing he did then now," she told the group.

Paul Sorenson, of Gravel Springs Farms in Union Bridge, asked the delegation about what can be done to help those in rural parts of the county obtain high-speed Internet.

His farm, which does a lot of business with Washington, D.C., and Baltimore area clients, he said, struggles to conduct business with its outdated Internet access.

"We're running a high-speed business with low-speed technology," he said. "It's a huge problem."

Although county government has more control over Internet availability, Ready and Krebs called on service providers to invest in stretching their reach to the county's more rural parts.

"It's a hurdle to really expanding business in rural areas," Ready said.

Another thing all county residents should be paying attention to is the cost of health care in the state, Krebs said.

"It strains every other part of the budget," she said. "That constricts us from spending money on other things we should be spending money on, like schools."

Most importantly, Krebs, Kittleman, Ready and Shoemaker told the chamber members that small-business owners must pay attention to the legislative process in Annapolis.

"If there's something that doesn't make sense in your industry, speak up," said Krebs.


Coming Sunday:

Carroll County legislators discuss their 2016 session priorities.