xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

Franchot: Action needed to save local businesses in Carroll County, throughout Maryland | COMMENTARY

The scene on Main Street America is bleak. In urban and rural area, shuttered storefronts have become an all-too-familiar sight. Maryland is no exception. From my hometown in Takoma Park to New Windsor, many businesses have closed or are hanging on for dear life.

Last week, Gov. Hogan announced that he will use $150 million from the Rainy Day Fund to help Maryland businesses, with another $100 million reserved for emergency funding. That is a nice start, but frankly it is not nearly enough. This small amount of funding will be gone before most businesses even figure out how to complete the complex applications and submit them to the alphabet soup of agencies. In addition, his announcement does nothing for sole proprietors.

Advertisement

These hard-working small businesses seldom ask for assistance from government, but now they’re crying out for help. For the sake of our economy and communities, we must respond immediately with even more funding and make the process quick and easy.

Simply put, in the absence of significantly more state support than what Gov. Hogan has proposed, more businesses will shut down and take with them thousands of jobs, direct and indirect economic benefits and community investments. I know because I have spoken with owners of restaurants, retail shops, manufacturing plants and arts and cultural centers. They’ve pivoted their business models and adapted to ever-changing rules to ensure customer safety. They are creatively doing everything they can to keep the lights on.

Advertisement

Shipley’s Fine Jewelry, a veteran-owned business in Hampstead, offers custom made jewelry, online ordering and financing options available to help customers shop safely. A Likely Story Bookstore in Sykesville hosts virtual events and book clubs, and online ordering with delivery or curbside pickup to safely distance. They also stepped in to fill the void for children offering Surprise Book Bags for different age groups, instilling a lifelong love of reading.

The Maryland Store in Westminster provides shoppers with an enticing array of Free State focused gifts, from Route One Apparel gear to readymade Wye River gift baskets to locally roasted coffee. All items are easily ordered online and shipped to your desired destination just in time for the holidays. Spa on West Main has reopened with expanded hours to accommodate the limited capacity. They require health screenings in addition to masks, sanitization stations and curbside escorts to keep every client and staff member safe.

Salerno’s Restaurant in Eldersburg, famed for their steamed crabs and Chesapeake delicacies added curbside pick-up, delivery and take out options to their limited capacity indoor dining and mail-order crab service. A local favorite for downhome cooking, Maggie’s of Westminster has opened outdoor seating options in addition to contactless delivery and carry out to safely serve customers during COVID. These are just a few examples of the extraordinary precautions businesses are taking to stay afloat.

The State of Maryland ended Fiscal Year 2020 with a $586 million fund balance, thanks in part to our federal jobs, as well as the federal stimulus and expanded unemployment programs, which helped stave off economic disaster. We should put this fund balance toward a small-business relief and rescue program immediately. We don’t even need to touch our Rainy Day Fund, which may be needed to fund our most critical needs, to protect our most vulnerable citizens, and to stabilize our economy.

The fact is, we’re still facing significant revenue shortfalls over the next several years, so we must brace for the likelihood that the worst may be yet to come. But if we don’t help our businesses now, we might wake up on the other side of this pandemic with Main Street as a ghost town.

Even the country’s best economists cannot predict how the pandemic will affect the labor market and spending patterns. The uncertainty of what lies ahead, when flu season collides with the coronavirus, leaves us staring into a potential economic abyss.

There is a lot we don’t know, which is what makes revenue forecasting such a difficult endeavor.

What we do know, and what the numbers show, is the influx of federal aid in the form of loans to businesses, stimulus payments to citizens and enhanced unemployment for those out of work have helped prevent, at least for the time being, an economic catastrophe.

Without that direct and rapid injection of funds to consumers and small businesses, we’d be in far worse shape. I’m confident that another much-needed stimulus will work as we head into the unpredictable fall and winter months.

What I’m not confident about is the ability of Congress to put down the partisan swords and pass a second stimulus package anytime soon.

Back home in Maryland, elected leaders should not hesitate to take the $586 million fund balance and invest it in the small businesses that fuel our tax base, employ our neighbors and support our communities.

If Gov. Hogan and the General Assembly could approve $8.5 billion in taxpayer incentives to lure Amazon’s second headquarters to our state — an ultimately unsuccessful endeavor that I supported — we can certainly spend about 7% of that to save thousands of Maryland’s small businesses.

Advertisement

We have the means to take action. We must not let this opportunity pass. We need to help our beloved local businesses now.

Peter Franchot is the 33rd Comptroller of Maryland.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement