Legislative victories few but significant


During a legislative session that has been consumed by the debate over expanding gambling in Maryland, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and lawmakers also found time to wrangle over a number of key items on the business community's agenda and even hand the group some victories.

Corporate leaders entered the session believing the business culture had already made strides under the state's first Republican governor in nearly two generations. They were hopeful Ehrlich and the Democratically controlled General Assembly could find enough common ground this year to take more small steps.

Among their priorities are holding the line on taxes, reforming insurance systems and addressing health care costs.

As the session dragged on and little was getting attention beyond the possibility of slot machines, they stayed hopeful for some action.

Now, with the session due to end Monday, they expect to win some battles.

A plan for slot machines to pay for an expected budget shortfall in coming years was not to be. And lawmakers put off decisions on other priorities, such as containing the cost of medical malpractice insurance, by assigning them to panels for further study. An effort to limit workers' compensation insurance was beaten back, but lawmakers agreed to monitor the costs.

The business community is expected to face some new taxes and fees, and corporations are likely to lose a loophole that let them avoid some Maryland taxes by forming Delaware holding companies.

But businesses leaders are also likely see other items on their agenda passed: an increase in transportation funding, expansion of a program to redevelop polluted "brownfields," further development of a program to involve minorities in business and preservation of an important tax credit for developers who overhaul historic buildings. Another tax credit for creating jobs was still under consideration late in the session.

Some business leaders, pleased to have a seat at the table this year, said they would be satisfied with just a few victories, given the bickering over slots and the budget that dominated the discussions in Annapolis. And they pledged to be back next year.

The business community's agenda in Annapolis

Some items on the Maryland business community's agenda for the current legislative session:

Winning approval of slot machines to help finance a budget shortfall.

Limiting new state taxes.

Increasing funding for state transportation projects.

Limiting growth in employer health care costs.

Trimming employers' unemployment insurance costs.

Controlling workers' compensation costs.

Holding down medical malpractice insurance costs.

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