He means business for Maryland

January 27, 1995|By John E. Woodruff | John E. Woodruff,Sun Staff Writer

The words were Gov. Parris N. Glendening's, but much of the content closely matched proposals Maryland's business community put forth as it reorganized itself in the last few months of last year.

No one can remember a State of the State address so dominated by plans to reshape Maryland's business climate.

"I've been present for most of the State of the State addresses since 1967, and I've read the others, and I can't remember one where economic development made up three-quarters or more of the talk the way it did this time," said Donald P. Hutchinson, president of the Greater Baltimore Committee.

Or one containing so many elements that coincide with the business community's own agenda.

The governor's plan for an Economic Development Commission led by senior executives, his determination to draft a joint business-government strategy, his emphasis on slashing regulatory and tax burdens on businesses -- all could have been lifted directly from strategy papers put out last fall by the Maryland Chamber of Commerce.

With Maryland's economy still reeling from the recession, and regaining jobs at rates a fraction of the rest of the country's recovery, the need to wipe out the state's reputation as an anti-business, high-tax place has taken on urgency with both business leaders and politicians.

And for Mr. Glendening, those themes are part of a prolonged courtship that is beginning to gain the new governor some headway among business executives, who were anywhere from suspicious to downright hostile when he was running for office only a few months ago.

Many of them actively supported his Republican opponent, Ellen R. Sauerbrey, and many others backed anybody but Mr. Glendening in the Democratic primary.

Six months ago, many openly said he "scared" them as a "spender" and an "old-fashioned liberal Democrat."

"People who did not know Mr. Glendening a few months ago are becoming guardedly optimistic, and people who have worked more closely with him are very hopeful," said Champe C. McCulloch, director of the Maryland Chamber of Comerce and a key figure in reorganizing the business community and drafting its strategy documents.

L "This speech is just one piece of it," added Mr. Hutchinson.

He cited Mr. Glendening's "consistency" in following through on economic development ideas he advocated as early as last summer, his willingness to push issues the business community has long pushed with little success, and his choice of Baltimore business executive James T. Brady as co-chair of his transition team.

"Jim Brady is universally respected in this town, and having him play a prominent role early in the new administration has been invaluable," Mr. Hutchinson said. But it is too soon to celebrate, Mr. Hutchinson added.

"So far, the governor's Cabinet appointments have been mostly unknown faces to business people. Some of these early appointments could have made more of a difference," he said.

Mr. Glendening also made it clear yesterday that the business community is not going to get everything it asks for.

He went out of his way to add rhetorical flourishes as he declared that he opposes a business community proposal that would limit Maryland's ability to exceed federal standards when environmental and other regulations are written.

"Of course we can" have regulations that exceed federal standards, Mr. Glendening declared. He cited the Chesapeake Bay as "our greatest natural resource" and vowed to "take every action necessary to protect it."

The governor "has the overall direction right" and has adopted much of the business community's own agenda, but the chamber will go on fighting for limits on state regulations that exceed federal standards, Mr. McCulloch said.

The chamber also will push for a cut in the income tax this year, rather than waiting until later in the four-year term as Mr. Glendening wants, Mr. McCulloch said.

"If there is an area in which the governor might be more aggressive, it is the personal income tax, because there needs ++ to be a concrete demonstration that things are different in Maryland this year," Mr. McCulloch said.

After an election campaign in which all candidates hammered at faults in the state's business climate for more than five months, Mr. Glendening sought yesterday to accentuate the positive now that he is governor.

"By implementing this plan, we will truly move Maryland forward into the next century, make it the new benchmark for job creation, make it a state where all of our citizens have the option of meaningful, fulfilling work," he said.

But business leaders were emphasizing not only the proposals the governor has embraced, but also the hard work still ahead to rewrite Maryland's reputation.

"Now the question is whether the actions and the outcomes match the stated intentions," Mr. McCulloch said.

"Taxation can be handled by legislation, but changing the regulatory system will be a reflection of [Mr. Glendening's] personal leadership," Mr. Hutchinson said.

"What Maryland will be judged on," Mr. Hutchinson said, will be "whether we have made progress in ending the tax disparities" and "whether the regulatory process will become user-friendly and the adversary relationship [between regulators and businesses] will come to an end."

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