Concerns about COVID-19 and the impact new legislation in Annapolis could have on the small business community were up for discussion Wednesday, Jan. 6 when the Calvert County Chamber of Commerce held its annual pre-legislative meeting.
The session was moderated by Mark Frisco, current chairman of the local chamber’s board of directors, and most of the questions were submitted by the organization’s business advisory committee. Due to the coronavirus, the session was held virtually.
All four current members of the Calvert delegation to Annapolis — Sen. Jack Bailey (R-St. Mary’s, Calvert) and delegates Mark N. Fisher (R-Calvert), Michael Jackson (D-Calvert, Prince George’s) and Gerald W. “Jerry” Clark (R-Calvert, St. Mary’s) — were part of the virtual session.
The participants concurred that tax rate increases were unlikely to during the 90-day session. “The number one thing should be working for COVID relief for those taking it on the chin — small businesses,” said Bailey.
Bailey and Clark said they were both opposed to the authorization of a digital advertising tax in the state.
As for having the state fund the continuation of business recovery specialists initiated by the federally funded CARES Act, Bailey stated, “obviously, we want to continue to help businesses.” He added that more CARES funding could be coming from the federal government.
Clark said he would prefer to see that “money going directly to small businesses. I don’t think expanding government is necessarily the right thing to do. Creating a bureaucracy is not high on my list.”
A question regarding legislation submitted by the Calvert commissioners about the placement of wireless technology on county-owned water towers was responded to by Fisher, who is the managing member of Telecom Capital Group LLC. Fisher said now that county government has made broadband expansion a priority, they need a better understanding of the fifth-generation technology standard for broadband cellular networks. Known as 5G, cellular phone companies began deploying the tech standard in 2019.
Fisher affirmed, “5G is critical.”
Fisher had harsh words for the county’s lone cable provider, Comcast, labeling them “an awful service” and a “monopoly.”
The issue of the state’s prohibition on tenant evictions due to the COVID-19 crisis brought inquiries from the chamber members. The moratorium on court actions to evict tenants who fail to pay rent was issued by Gov. Larry Hogan (R).
Bailey said every state legislator has constituents who are landlords who own property that is rented. Those individuals are facing economic hardship by not being paid by tenants.
“We are going to be on the side of the landlord,” said Bailey regarding any forthcoming legislative action.
“The government needs to open up the damn economy,” Fisher declared. “We have a government that has over-reached.”
Fisher said that there would be “affordable housing” measures introduced during the 2021 session “that will demonize landlords.”
The delegation members indicated support for easing the tax burden on both commercial property landlords and tenants. Fisher added that he would like to see the personal property tax for small businesses waived for 2020. Related to the previous year, Clark stated that forgiving restaurants their liquor license renewal fees “would go a long way” to help them survive.
A committee member asked if the lawmakers believed Calvert’s residents were appreciative of Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant.
“They’ve been a great asset to the community for many years,” said Clark, who noted that tax revenues from the Lusby plant have increased local school funding.
“These plants are very efficient,” said Bailey.
“There’s a lack of understanding for what these plants offer,” stated Jackson.
“The only power source today that produces no carbon emissions is nuclear,” said Fisher.
A question submitted by Dawn Balinski, a member of the Calvert County Board of Education, sought support from the delegation to get help for local school systems in getting schools reopened and getting all school employees vaccinated against the coronavirus.
From Jackson, Balinski received assurances the “COVID workgroup” he is a member of in Annapolis would be considering budget adjustments to centralize the response.
Both Clark and Fisher seized the opportunity to criticize the school board for keeping Calvert public schools closed despite the recommendations of Superintendent Daniel Curry.
“Let the superintendent do his job,” said Clark. “Don’t be worried about the money. Get the schools open. The money will be there.”
“Open, the schools, Dawn,” shouted Fisher, who then pivoted and admonished the majority of the board for passing a school civil rights policy that included the term “white privilege.” Fisher labeled the board’s action “shameful and disgusting, morally and ethically wrong.”
Balinski did not offer a rebuttal.
“We have a lot of work to do,” said Jackson, who reminded chamber members that both the house and senate will have sessions live-streamed.
“I am a businessman,” said Fisher. “We have been infected by a pandemic from a country that is not our friend.” The delegate expressed hope that the legislature would offer Maryland businesses “a level playing field” in 2021.