A Growth Plan for Maryland

October 29, 1994

One of the biggest knocks against Maryland in its drive for more jobs is its lack of a unified economic-development strategy. Cooperation among counties is minimal; coordination between the state and the counties is modest; regional agreement on a game-plan is lacking and, worst of all, the business community is deeply divided on how to proceed.

Into this chaos comes the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, which is trying to craft what it calls "A Strategy for Maryland's Economic Growth." It amounts to a wish-list of steps to propel this state into a pro-business mode. It also could form the basis for the next governor's economic-development plan.

Not surprisingly, the business group found that taxes are too high, regulations too restrictive and the attitude of government too hostile toward the private sector. It has come up with some useful suggestions that should not be ignored.

For instance, it decries the "debilitating fragmentation" of Maryland's economic-development efforts and calls for a public-private commission to direct the state's jobs-search effort. This is similar to a plan proposed by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Parris N. Glendening.

The Chamber also urges a reduction in Maryland taxes, to make the state more competitive in the region. And it says that the personal income tax should be reduced -- just as does Republican gubernatorial nominee Ellen R. Sauerbrey. But the group goes on to suggest that first should come a systematic downsizing of government, along the lines suggested by the Butta commission and other groups. Any savings, it says, should then be used to lower the income-tax rate.

Repeatedly in this document, the Chamber complains about government's ignorance of what's good for business. "The most significant change must be attitudinal," the report notes. "Public policy makers and government officials need to regard business as a customer and act accordingly." It suggests that legislators and executive-branch leaders become more sensitive to the impact of regulations on businesses.

One way to do this is through the establishment of joint business-government panels to get to work on some of the problems identified by the chamber: a regional approach to economic development; a plan for developing regional telecommunications "tech-parks"; a strategy to develop funding for leading-edge industries; a plan to speed the commercialization of research start-up companies.

The next governor should be able to adapt many of the proposals put forth by the Chamber. Its report points the way toward a partnership arrangement. The feuding and fragmentation has to stop if Maryland is to compete effectively with other states for jobs. The Chamber's strategy is an excellent launching pad.

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