Governor notes successes in his pro-business agenda

April 21, 1995|By Michael Dresser and David Conn | Michael Dresser and David Conn,Sun Staff Writers

"We have kept our promises," Gov. Parris N. Glendening told a gathering of Maryland's business leaders yesterday.

By and large, his audience agreed. And where they didn't, they at least gave him credit for trying.

The governor received a warm but not wild reception at a breakfast forum marking the symbolic end of his first 100 days in office on the actual 93rd day. And if there was any yearning for a different result in last year's election squeaker, the leaders gathered at the Convention Center kept it politely suppressed as they heard a resolutely pro-business message from a governor many of them did not vote for.

When Mr. Glendening boasted that he had just completed the "most pro-business legislative session in two decades," there were no groans, catcalls or arguments. When he recounted his )) successful efforts to wrest a planned McCormick & Co. distribution center from the clutches of Pennsylvania, the audience seemed genuinely grateful. And when he promised a period of stability and predictability, not "another eight years of controversies and conflicts," heads nodded in approval.

Judging by the empty tables at the back of the room, Maryland business people are still reserving final judgment on the new Democratic governor. Yet, from their comments, it seems they're becoming comfortable with him.

"I'm encouraged. There clearly is a strong sense for economic development," said William Norton, administrative executive of NationsBank.

It didn't hurt that sitting by the governor's side was James T. Brady, Mr. Glendening's secretary of business and economic development and a man Maryland business leaders consider one of their own. Even those who gave the governor mixed reviews for legislative accomplishment offered raves for that appointment.

"The telling decision Glendening made was the Jim Brady appointment," said Donald Hutchinson, president of the Greater Baltimore Committee. "All of the other issues he was trying to address became minor with that appointment."

Well, almost. With cigarette smoke banned, the cloud hanging over the room was the governor's conspicuous failure to deliver the repeal of Maryland's snack tax.

"I think it sends a bad signal," said R. Clayton Mitchell, manager of public affairs for Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. and former speaker of the House of Delegates.

Mr. Glendening minimized the practical effect of the tax, asking whether anyone there had ever decided not to buy a bag of pretzels because of a penny tax. Still, he admitted ruefully that "symbolically it became important."

The governor said that in the waning days of the session, he and legislative leaders had to pare down a menu of proposed business tax breaks to $50 million to stay within his budget. Mr. Glendening bristled at criticism that he hadn't tried hard enough to win repeal, a defeat that prompted Frito-Lay Inc. to announce it would not go through with plans to expand its Harford County plant and add 400-650 new jobs.

"I can assure those critics that we will indeed work to get that snack tax repealed," Mr. Glendening said.

The governor also faced a pointed question about his announced intention to seek a cut in Maryland's personal income tax during next year's General Assembly session. Mayo Shattuck, president and chief operating officer of Alex. Brown Inc., pressed Mr. Glendening to state the probability that the cut could reach 20 percent. In a diplomatic way, Mr. Shattuck was told the chances were between slim and none.

"Our intention is to have a personal income tax reduction but to jTC do it at a level that keeps us in a responsible and stable fiscal condition," Mr. Glendening said. He left himself a little wiggle room, saying he could reconsider if the state suffers "catastrophic setbacks" because of actions at the federal level.

Apart from a few sticky tax issues, Mr. Glendening received positive marks for his performance during the legislative session.

"We did very well," said Ernie A. Kent, vice president for government affairs at the Maryland Chamber of Commerce. "About 50 percent of the bills we supported passed and almost 100 percent of the bills we opposed were defeated."

Mr. Brady spoke the language of the businessman he used to be when he said Maryland agencies have to learn how to better serve their business "customers" without giving them a runaround.

"Candidly we do not do that well in Maryland. . . . We have to understand that business cannot wait for bureaucrats to get the job done," he said.

But Richard Hayman, who moved his computer and telecommunications company from the District of Columbia to Laurel in 1992, said the Maryland officials were going overboard with their self-criticism.

"There's room for improvement, but these guys are beating themselves up too much," he said.

CHAMBER SCORECARD

The Maryland Chamber of Commerce had focused on pro-business legislation and issues before the 1995 General Assembly convened. Here's a look at how some of the chamber's agenda fared:

ITEM ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... YES ... ... NO

Reduce unemployment insurance surcharge .. .. .. X

Reduce personal income tax ... ... ... ... .. .. ... ... ... X

Reduce transfer taxes, real estate

closing costs ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... .. X

Reduce business personal property taxes on

research and development equipment ... ... .. .. X

Require economic impact statement for laws

affecting business ... ... ... ... ... ... .. .. X

Increase Sunny Day Fund to level competitive

with neighboring states ... ... ... ... .. .. .. X

Defeat HMO patient-access bill ... ... ... ... ... .. .. ... X

Defeat repeal or 'gutting' of vehicle emissions inspection

program (in order to avoid additional clean-air

requirements on industry) ... ... ... ... ... .. X

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