The president of one of Maryland's leading brokerage firms told the Howard County Chamber of Commerce yesterday that he supports increasing the gasoline tax as a prime measure to reduce the federal deficit.
"It's the simplest, easiest thing to do, and there's no administration," Raymond "Chip" Mason, president and chief executive officer of Legg Mason Inc., said at the Columbia Inn. "It has negative political overtones, but you can take care of that on the income tax side."
Mr. Mason offered his views on the nation's economy, the $400 billion budget deficit, the recession, the decline in bank lending activity, and economic development in Maryland at a chamber meeting attended by about 125 members.
Mr. Mason, who founded Mason and Co. in 1962 and merged it with Legg and Co. in 1970, also said he favors easing regulations on banks so that small businesses can qualify for loans.
"Loan officers are petrified," he said. "They're not making loans for anything. I'd look at restrictions for banks and yank bank examiners back 25 yards."
He supports "incentives" to boost the economy, such as job creation and work-study programs discussed by the Clinton administration. He said he would refrain from making forecasts about the economy for at least 30 to 60 days because of the unpredictability of the new administration.
Legg Mason, which provides securities brokerage, investment advisory, corporate and public finance, and commercial mortgage banking services, has 81 offices nationwide.
Mr. Mason said he believes that the nation is experiencing a "somewhat fragile" economic recovery. A gradual return to prosperity would benefit many who "paid an immense price" during the recession.
If the economy is "pumped up" too rapidly, he said, inflation could occur and trigger an increase in interest rates.
An expanding deficit could drive up inflation and interest rates, stifling investment, he said.
"We can live with our deficit, but it can't get any worse," he said. "If it continues to grow, it's a bomb on our hands."
Mr. Mason said Maryland is seen widely as a "consumerist" state with high taxes and laws favoring consumers over industry.
"You get a reaction that it's hostile to business," he said. "We need to turn that around, for the good of Maryland and to create jobs."