Protectionism on parade Blue law battle: Scuttling car dealer undermines argument to improve business climate.

March 27, 1996

BUSINESS AND POLITICAL leaders agree that Maryland must improve its business climate. There's much hand-wringing over the loss of jobs to other states. Numbing regulation looms, alongside taxation, as one of the twin evils. So why are a substantial number of legislators intent on chasing a huge used car operation proposed by Circuit City to Virginia for the sake of an antiquated mandate that many thought had expired with Earth shoes?

There is no reason -- save for naked protectionism -- for Maryland to kiss off CarMax's proposal to open a late-model used car dealership with 300 employees in Howard County. The operation isn't asking for a nickel; it simply wants the state to lift its "blue law" against car sales on Sunday. Many Marylanders aren't even aware that restriction remains. In fact, the ban on Sunday car sales in Maryland has long been a hodge-podge since Montgomery and Prince George's counties allow seven-day auto sales. The trade group that represents dealerships in those jurisdictions supports the bill, knowing that fears about Sunday sales are overblown.

Some legislators feeling intense pressure from dealers in their district are seeking to amend this bill to require CarMax to wait a year before coming in, knowing such a delay might chase them to Loudoun County, Va. Even Harford County legislators, far removed from the proposed CarMax site in Savage, are feeling heat to kill this proposal, though that act would undermine their arguments in favor of lifting the snack tax to spur jobs in their backyard. Some delegates in Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties are also working to poison this proposal, despite the fact that it enjoys support from the state and Howard County administrations. Torpedoing another jurisdiction's economic interests to shield their own is a dangerous game, especially for a state facing outside threats.

Legislators being swayed to take the short view should ask themselves when was the last time they heard a complaint about Sunday shopping. The arguments wielded a decade ago against lifting the blue laws in other sectors of retailing can't even be recalled any more. Lawmakers working to defeat this proposal mock their own message about making Maryland more receptive to business.

Pub Date: 3/27/96

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