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As state economic officials prepare to update a legislative panel on two key development initiatives, business leaders and lawmakers are readying their own opinions.

Officials with the Department of Business and Economic Development are scheduled to brief the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee on the InvestMaryland and Job Creation Tax Credit programs at 2 p.m. Tuesday in Annapolis.

InvestMaryland, a showpiece of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s economic agenda last year, is the state’s effort to pump $70 million of venture capital into startup and early-stage tech companies via the auction of tax credits to insurance companies. The money then will be awarded to three or four state-approved private venture capital firms for investment.

Maryland recently hired Pittsburgh’s Grant Street Group to oversee the auction, which is scheduled for March. The first insurance company investment to the state will be in June, according to the legislation.

The Tech Council of Maryland is pleased with the progress of InvestMaryland, Larry Letow, chairman and acting CEO, said in an email.

"Our members know this program is an important incentive to spur innovative job creation in Maryland, which is clearly a priority for policymakers during these challenging economic times," said Letow, who also is president and COO of Convergence Technology Consulting in Glen Burnie and a managing partner with Maryland Cyber Investment Partners in Catonsville.

Donald C. Fry, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, said he is eager to hear about the program’s progress. Fry, whose group supported the InvestMaryland legislation, said he also is interested to see how Maryland can work with Grant Street to ensure the company completes the program’s objectives.

“This is really the time for the legislators to look at what they approved, what steps have been taken to ensure we’re on the right path and see if there’s anything in there that is not helpful that needs to be adjusted,” he said.

He added programs such as InvestMaryland take time to get under way.

But InvestMaryland also has opponents.

“Jobs are not created because of tax credits or other incentives, but simply because business growth demands it,” James Brady, former Maryland economic development secretary, told The Gazette in November.

“Expensive financial incentive programs should not be the foundation of the state’s development agenda and should only be utilized in unique situations that have the promise of exponential benefits to the state,” he said.

James A. Barrett, general partner of Chevy Chase’s New Enterprise Associates, also told The Gazette in November that InvestMaryland’s targeted total is too small to have a significant effect.

“It sets a bad precedent to start with,” said Sen. David R. Brinkley (R-Dist. 4) of New Market. “InvestMaryland is a waste.”

Brinkley, a member of the Budget and Taxation Committee, cautioned if the private markets are not willing to go along with their own investments, this program is ripe for corruption.

The committee also will hear about the state’s latest job creation tax credit, which grants as much as $1 million annually per employer for adding positions by Jan. 1, 2013. To receive the credit, which varies depending on several factors, employers must create at least 60 new full-time positions for new or expanded businesses or at least 25 new full-time positions if the business is in a priority funding area.

More than 1,500 new jobs at more than 750 employers qualified under Maryland’s previous job creation tax credit program, which ran from March 29 to Dec. 31, 2010. That was short of the goal of 4,000 jobs for which the program’s allotted $20 million could have provided tax credits.

Fry expects the state to report more limited use of the program last year than some anticipated.

“But during these difficult times, you need to take some steps to help,” he said.

Sen. Nancy J. King (D-Dist. 39) of Montgomery Village supported the job creation and InvestMaryland bills and said she is optimistic they will create jobs.

Sen. Verna Jones-Rodwell (D-Dist. 44) of Baltimore said although the plans only were recently enacted, there should be some signs that there has been an effect.

“The programs haven’t had that much time to have great impact, but we should be able to show a positive impact,” she said. “It’s not just the numbers. I also want to hear what businesses are doing to move in that direction, other than holding onto their resources.”

King and Jones-Rodwell also are members of the budget and taxation panel.

Brinkley considers the job creation tax credit unnecessary, saying employers do not need to be paid to hire when they will do that anyway.

He said Tuesday’s updates will help lawmakers determine if the money is being spent wisely.

lrobbins@gazette.net