The business communities’ wish lists heading into the 2014 legislative sessions

Correction: The Northern Virginia Technology Council’s vice president of policy was incorrectly identified in an earlier version. He is Josh Levi, not John Levi.

As the Virginia General Assembly, Maryland General Assembly and D.C. City Council returned to work last week, we surveyed business leaders across the three jurisdictions on what their priorities are heading into the legislative sessions.

Virginia

Transportation. Business leaders are still hailing the passage of a law early last year to make funding available for transportation projects.

“It seems like every year, our top priority is to get significant transportation funding, and we got it,” said Tony Howard, chief executive of the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce. “I personally feel like the dog that finally caught the car.”

Now the question is how will those funds be allocated? The business community wants to make sure the dollars are spent wisely.

“We don’t have a system in place right now,” Howard said. “We’ll continue to push to make sure that happens, whether that’s legislatively or otherwise.”

Jim Corcoran, Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce chief executive, would like the money to go toward relieving choke points between Virginia and Maryland.

“There is no question that we would like to see increased capacity for river crossings between Montgomery County and Fairfax County,” Corcoran said. “The biggest bottleneck we have is the [Interstate] 495 bridge. How is that going to be relieved?”

Medicaid expansion. One of the top priorities of governor-elect Terry McAuliffe is expanding Medicaid, which would provide uninsured Virginians with access to health care. Under the federal health-care law, the federal government would pick up most, if not all, of the cost. Corcoran and Howard say their members support Medicaid expansion, as long as it is accompanied by reform.

“If there is no reform and the [federal] funds are not accepted that have been offered by the federal government, you’re talking about billions of dollars a year that will need to be covered by Virginia employers and residents,” Corcoran said.

Energy. Partly because of the data center sales tax incentive enacted two years ago, Virginia has staked its claim in this industry. But as the commonwealth ramps up its data center development and brings in other large technology companies, the need for energy has increased dramatically.

“It’s not just affordable energy,” said Josh Levi, Northern Virginia Technology Council’s vice president of policy. “It’s not just that you have the infrastructure to deliver the energy. But it’s also ensuring you have diversified energy sources and the ability to generate energy in multiple ways.”

Maryland

Taxes. Since taking office seven years ago, Gov. Martin O’Malley has advocated or agreed to some 40 new or increased levies, which have generated almost $10 billion. It’s no surprise that the business community is pushing back on some of these taxes. The Tech Council of Maryland would like to see local energy taxes reduced.

“If you are a high tech company that uses a tremendous amount of electricity to cool down your computers, you’re paying more in Maryland than you are in Virginia,” said Phil Schiff, TCM’s chief executive.

The council would also like to see the research and development tax credit increased.

“Pennsylvania’s tax credit program is funded at about 10 times Maryland’s,” said Brian Levine, TCM’s vice president of government relations. “We don’t need to be at 10 times where we are now right away, but we want to be more competitive.”

The Maryland Chamber of Commerce would like to see storm water management fees — the so-called rain tax — simplified, and the cybersecurity tax credit expanded.

“That’s a real growth opportunity for Maryland,” said Kathy Snyder, president of the Maryland Chamber, who announced last week she is stepping down at the end of June.

Minimum wage. O’Malley has made raising the minimum wage a top priority in his last year in office. Montgomery and Prince George’s counties already have adopted a rising scale that would increase the minimum wage in those counties to $11.50 an hour. There are proposals for a uniform minimum wage as well as one that would allow local jurisdictions to adopt higher wages than the statewide floor.

“Many of our multi-unit members with locations in various jurisdictions around the state are very concerned about the potential compliance and accounting nightmare of allowing local jurisdictions to set their own minimum wage,” Melvin R. Thompson, senior vice president of the Restaurant Association of Maryland wrote in an e-mail.

District

Regulatory reform. The mayor’s task force on this issue has been operating for nearly a year, and Barbara Lang, chief executive of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, is hoping that its recommendations knock down the barriers to doing business in the District.

“I think that would be just a boom for small businesses, but really for all businesses,” she said.

Taxes. Lang said she had hoped for more out of the tax commission recommendations.

“We had been led to believe that they were going to reduce the corporate franchise tax to make us more competitive with Maryland and Virginia,” she said. “That is a big disparity between us and the state of Virginia, and some disparity with us and Maryland.”

She is also concerned about what is being called a “head” tax, where employers would have to pay a certain amount for every employee. This head tax would apply to nonprofits as well as for-profit businesses, regardless of their size.

Minimum wage. According to the D.C. Chamber, 65 percent of the low-wage earners in the District, those making less than $10 an hour, are non-D.C. residents. Lang fears increasing the minimum wage, as the D.C. Council is proposing, would only encourage more Virginians and Marylanders to come into the District and take jobs away from D.C. residents.

Kathy Orton is a reporter and Web editor for the Real Estate section. She covers the Washington metropolitan area housing market.
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