And now for the second half General Assembly: At midpoint, focus on stadiums could shift to economic issues.

February 27, 1996

STADIUMS, STADIUMS, stadiums. For the first 45 days of the General Assembly session, lawmakers seemed obsessed by football stadiums. Behind the scenes, though, they have been setting the stage for important debates in the next 45 days over gun control, personnel reforms, prison sentencing policies and economic-growth measures.

While stadiums grabbed the headlines, the unglamorous work of lawmaking proceeded in committee rooms. Yes, the two budget panels will handle the stadium packages in the weeks ahead, but by then the other eight committees will have pushed hundreds of bills onto the House and Senate floors.

Among them are proposals to improve the state's business climate. In order for Maryland to lure companies and jobs, it needs to send the right signals. That includes abolishing needless red tape, setting timely limits for obtaining state permits and giving companies incentives to clean up environmental hazards. Enticements always work better than threats.

Take the "brownfields" issue. In order to make it worthwhile to recycle abandoned industrial plants, the state will need to certify environmental cleanups to give new owners some degree of liability protection. That, along with local tax breaks, could spur plant revival.

High on the governor's list are targeted tax credits for businesses with high growth potential. Virginia has hammered Maryland with this tool. Another vital element is a larger "sunny day" fund so the governor can make strong financial offers to companies willing to bring hundreds of jobs to Maryland.

And finally, there's the matter of lowering the state income tax. This step would be largely symbolic. Still, if economic projections show a brighter fiscal picture next month, the governor may start to phase in a modest tax reduction as a signal to the business community.

Yes, stadiums are important as an economic stimulus and a job-producer. But so are regulatory reforms, targeted tax credits and brownfields legislation. Top lawmakers need to emphasize the importance of making this the year of Maryland's business turnaround.

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