Leadership stresses technology Electric deregulation, training also favored

Legislative agenda

January 13, 1998|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

Nurturing Maryland's exploding high-technology sector will be among the key issues facing the 1998 General Assembly, two top legislative leaders said yesterday in an annual address to members of the Greater Baltimore Committee.

Also at the top of the General Assembly's agenda are work force training issues, electric deregulation and reinvesting the state's budget surplus, said House of Delegates Speaker Casper R. Taylor and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller.

"We need to fine-tune the business climate as we approach the (( 21st century," Taylor told about 100 members of GBC, a private business group.

This year's annual 90-day session begins tomorrow.

Taylor said his priorities for the high-technology industry include:

Forming a corporation similar to the Maryland Economic Development Corp. to deal with funding high-technology businesses in the state.

vTC Offering a tax credit on 15 percent of a high-technology company's employee wages.

And examining ways to cut the capital-gains tax for high-technology companies.

In order for the state to successfully bank on the high-technology sector to fuel economic growth in the decade ahead, "we have to make a major commitment to high technology to remain competitive," Taylor said.

Looking further ahead, Taylor said he also wants to establish study groups this session to iron out priorities for 1999, including funding for transportation infrastructure and higher education.

Senate President Miller said one of his primary concerns for the General Assembly session is making way for rapid electric deregulation.

"We are in a global marketplace and we have to bring electric and power rates down," he said. "We have to protect our home-grown companies, but also recognize that other states have rates lower than ours."

State regulators said this month that historic changes to open Maryland's monopolistic electric supply system to competition will be delayed until July 2002 from April 2001.

The state has six utilities: Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., Potomac Electric Power Co., Allegheny Power Co., Delmarva Power & Light Co., Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative and Choptank Electric Cooperative.

"It's happening elsewhere and as soon as everyone recognizes it's going to happen here, we can move forward," Miller said.

The General Assembly will also figure out the best way to reinvest the state's estimated $260 million budget surplus, Miller and Taylor said. The state budget totals nearly $16 billion this year.

Miller said he supports accelerating a 10 percent income tax cut passed last year to give taxpayers quicker relief.

The tax cut now is scheduled to be phased in over five years. The first 2 percent drop went into effect Jan. 1.

Taylor said it is likely that the state's reserve fund will increase substantially. If the tax cut is not accelerated, he said, the General Assembly will "reduce the existing tax burden" in some form.

Gene Bracken, spokesman for the GBC, said the group agrees with the legislative leaders' priorities, especially those on the high-technology front.

"That's an area that the business community and the government need to direct some energy and resources to," Bracken said.

Pub Date: 1/13/98

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