Interest-rate legislation, unemployment compensation issues, coal-export facilites and grocery store item-pricing are among the few major business issues expected to come before the Maryland and Virginia legislatures at sessions opening today in Annapolis and Richmond.
Business executives in the Washington area said they expect the Maryland General Assembly to concentrate on overall money issues, with stagnant revenues creating a situation where even state economic development programs will have competition fro funds as lawmakers seek to cope with only a minor budget increase.
In Virginia, the only issue that rfeally will count is redistricting the state to reflect the 1980 census results, a local business executive forcasts, adding that there will be little time for substantive legislation in a 28-day session due to end Feb. 28 and a followup period in April for review of vetoes.
For Washington-area businesses, possible legislation on unemployment compensation in both states probably would have the broadest and most immediate impact.
Virginia Gov. John Dalton recently increased the unemployment compensation tax rate from 40 pecent of the permissible level to 100 percent because of the weak financial condition of the state's unemployment trust fund. The new 9 percent maximum unemployment tax rate on businesses is the highest in the nation.
In response, Virginia businesses are proposing that requirements for unemployment benefits be tightened significantly, a move that labor unions oppose.
Annapolis lawmakers will be asked to add a one-week waiting period before unemployment benefits begin, to bring Maryland in compliance with federal requirements for such a waiting time to qualify for extended federal benefits payments.
A related Maryland controversy is the fate of a state Workmen's Compensation Commission medical board, which rules in cases where workers say they were injured on the job. Maryland's Chamber of Commerce wants to increase the size of the board, which has a backlog of cases. Other proposals include abolishing the board and replacing it with a panel of doctors to advise the commission.
The grocery store item-pricing controversy will be back in Annapolis for the sixth consecutive year. Sens. Norman Stone (D-Baltimore County) and Arthur Dorman (D-Prince George's): have proposed that any grocery business in the state with more than $1.5 million of annual revenues be required to mark prices on every item of merchandise.
Similar legislation has been blocked in the Senate by negative committee votes over the last five years. The bill's major impact would be on Giant Food, Inc., which currently operates four stores in the state where individual products are not marked with prices under what Giant calls an "experimental" program.All of Giant's supermarkets in D.C., Maryland and Virginia have computers that read imprinted prices at the checkout counters but only a handful of the chain's stores have eliminated item-pricing, a move the company says benefits consumers by saving labor costs.
Dorman contends that consumers want each item priced so they can compare prices more readily. But Giant spokesman Barry Sher said, "The issue should be decided by consumers and not the legislators. . . The consumers will let us know by their patronage, and to date we are pleased by results" at the four stores without item pricing.
Interest-rate legislation will be considered in both Richmond and Annapolis. Virginia credit unions, for example, will ask the General Assembly to lift a ceiling on interest rates they can charge for loans. State-chartered credit unions currently are limited to 15 percent interest on loans while federally chartered credit unions have been able to charge 21 percent since late last year.
In addition, the General Assembly in Richmond may raise the legal limit for interest charges on credit card accounts to 24 percent from 18 percent, as proposed by the Virginia Retail Merchants Association. The group's president, Sumpter PriddyJr., said that if rates aren't boosted, cash customers will end up subsidizing credit customers because of the high cost to retailers of borrowing money with the prime 20 percent and higher.
Del. Warren Stambaugh (D-Arlington) opposes this, saying: "It seems to me you don't fight inflation by unnecessarily raising the interest rates, such as this kind of thing."
In Annapolis, Consumer Credit Commissioner Alan Fell said he may seek legislation to prevent out-of-state banks from imposing membership fees on credit card customers.
Among other pieces of legislation to be considered are partial or full removal of Virginia's food sales tax and increase in the individual state income tax deduction because of an anticipated surplus, a proposal by the Virginia Port Authority to build a coal terminal to handle increased export business, a possible proposal from Gov. Harry Hughes in Maryland to revise state regulation of the racing industry, a Baltimore proposal for new ways to provide initial capital to minority-owned businesses, and efforts by Maryland's Chamber of Commerce to control the size of settlements and insurance rate increases resulting from products-liability cases.
Maryland's economic development officials also want to broaden the appeal of industrial develpment bonds. One proposal is to allow borrowers of $1 million or less to be pooled with up to 50 similar projects for a larger state-run bond offering.