General Assembly's assignment Final week: Brownfields, welfare reform, targeted tax credits must be passed.

March 31, 1996

WITH ONE week remaining in this year's General Assembly session, state lawmakers have resolved many priority matters, such as building two football stadiums, clamping limits on handgun sales and postponing income-tax cuts. But several major issues still remain.

Topping the list is welfare reform. The Senate has unanimously approved an ambitious overhaul emphasizing job placement rather than cash benefits. It is not as sweeping as proposals coming from the Republican Congress and President Clinton, but it is clearly time to approach welfare from a different perspective. The measure would give flexibility to subdivisions to tailor programs to their own needs. It is the kind of forward-looking legislation that deserves broad support.

A second priority should be enacting a plan to recycle contaminated industrial properties, known as "brownfields." Serious differences still stand in the way between environmentalists, who don't trust businesses to do the right thing, and the Chamber of Commerce. We favor legislation that gives nearly all companies incentives to clean up abandoned sites and return them to productive uses. This could mean thousands of new jobs in Baltimore City -- and hundreds of sites freed of chemical hazards.

While an income-tax cut was shelved because of bleak revenue forecasts, the legislature can still take steps to help Maryland's business outlook. One way is to approve a $10 million addition to the "Sunny Day" fund to lure companies here. Another way is to approve the governor's tax credits for companies creating new jobs in high-growth industries. A third step would be passage of a bill giving sales-tax relief to manufacturers. A company now pays sales tax on any purchased material used in manufacturing that is kept in storage over a year. Forty-nine other states have blanket sales-tax exemptions. It would send the right message to phase out this tax, as the Senate has done.

And finally, it is time for an overhaul of the state's personnel system. A "pay-for-performance" plan is essential. Rewarding workers for going beyond what is required would energize state government and make it more efficient.

We urge legislators to enact these measures before they adjourn a week from Monday. Passage of these bills would be significant achievements for lawmakers and give them something to brag about when they return home.

Pub Date: 3/31/96

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