- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Over scrambled eggs and coffee, local business owners gathered Thursday to hear the perspectives of legislators on the conclusion of the 2014 Maryland General Assembly.
Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert, Prince George’s), Del. Anthony O’Donnell (R-Calvert, St. Mary’s), Del. Mark Fisher (R-Calvert) and Sen. Roy P. Dyson (D-Calvert, Charles, St. Mary’s) were in attendance to answer questions posed by Calvert County Chamber of Commerce members and moderator Dave Weigel, chair of government affairs for the chamber. Del. James Proctor (D-Calvert, Prince George’s) and Del. Joseph Vallario Jr. (D-Calvert, Prince George’s) were invited but did not attend.
Each answered questions on making the state more business-friendly, concerns over proposed wind turbines affecting the area’s naval base, the proposed Dominion Cove Point expansion and other issues during a breakfast at the Hilton Garden Inn in Solomons.
In discussing how the state has supported businesses, Miller touted the passage of last year’s gas tax, paying into teacher pension funds and other recent developments as contributions that have created a business-friendly atmosphere.
“All in all, it’s been very business-friendly for the state,” Miller said.
But Dyson said the economy will be threatened if Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) vetoes a 13-month moratorium on the construction of wind turbines that could interfere with radar at Patuxent River Naval Air Station. The air station provides $7.5 billion to the economy of the state, Dyson said, and the most the turbines would bring is $200 million.
“In my opinion, if he vetoes that it will be the greatest economic mistake the state has ever made,” Dyson said.
O’Donnell echoed Dyson’s concerns, saying, “If he vetoes that bill, it will be a direct blow to the economic vitality of Southern Maryland.”
Others said the state could be doing better to promote business in the state and Calvert County. Fisher said measures such as a growing capital budget and the pension fund are taking money away from where it is needed.
“Today, we have 3,400 fewer businesses in this state than we did in 2010,” Fisher said.
But there is one bright spot in the future of the region’s economy, O’Donnell said: the proposed expansion of Dominion Cove Point.
“This is what’s going to change this climate in the state,” O’Donnell said. “Encouraging companies to invest and make capital investments like that.”
All four legislators expressed their support of the project Thursday.
Dyson said he takes the concerns residents have about the expansion seriously and promised to tour Dominion Cove Point this year.
“By and large, it’s running favorable to the plant and the plant expansion,” Dyson said.
He assured attendees the expansion has nothing to do with hydraulic fracking in the state, and Maryland currently prohibits the practice. A committee, however, is studying whether fracking in Maryland would be feasible and safe.
Miller said he worked to stop about seven bills that came through the General Assembly designed to stop the Dominion expansion, and he supports the project.
“We have an opportunity for the first time in our history to not only become energy independent but also to improve our balance of trade by exporting natural gas to our friends and pulling the rug right out from underneath Vladimir Putin, who seeks to, quite frankly, in my opinion, do some very dangerous things that could incite another European war,” Fisher said of the project.
The legislators also discussed the state health-care marketplace website and gas tax, and then the host of the event itself: the Calvert County Chamber of Commerce.
“I just wish this chamber of commerce was in tune with the Maryland state chamber of commerce and others throughout the state and their agendas,” Miller said. “This chamber of commerce seems to have an agenda all of its own. ... Why don’t you look at understanding what business is all about, research and development is all about, creating economic development, repealing the estate tax reform, repealing the state tax for small businesses and move forward, rather than this right-winged tea party agenda you seem to be focusing on?”
The Calvert County Chamber of Commerce opposed bills to increase the minimum wage and supported bills to reduce corporate income taxes and to limit the construction of wind turbines on the Eastern Shore, among others, this session. In the past, the chamber opposed increasing the state gas tax because the tax money would not directly impact the county as the chamber’s members had hoped, said Carolyn Hart, president of the Calvert County Chamber of Commerce.
Miller said the gas tax created “jobs galore” and wondered why the chamber didn’t support it.
“Not every chamber aligns with each other,” Hart said. “Our chamber takes positions on the members’ feedback.”
Miller’s remarks came as a surprise, Weigel said.
“I don’t think we’re a ‘right-winged tea party’ organization,” he said.