Maryland is not all that attractive a place to work live," the speaker was saying. "We've got to fight for what we get."
The fact that Maryland's economic future was being debate at a resort hotel in the mountains of Central Pennsylvania did not go unnoticed by many of the 400 persons who attended the 12th annual legislative conference of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce here this week.
State Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein, who always has a good word for the Free State, praised the idea of a conference but publicly fretted that, "I wish this conference were being held at home in Maryland."
The three-day conference was full of ironies. Chamber executives defended their decision to again hold their annual meeting 140 miles from Baltimore and the D.C. suburbs, contending it was necessary to get away from "the distraction of an urban environment." But while the business and industrial leaders were enjoying the tranquility of this rural retreat, they also were complaining of too-stringent Maryland laws meant to protect the quality of life back home.
Not all of the anti-environmental talk came from the captains of industry. Former State Sen. Jim Pine of Baltimore County urged chamber members to "fight the so-called do-gooders groups" who lobby in behalf of clean air and clean water legislation without regard to their effects on other people's jobs.
Those groups, Pine said, "usually have the press on their side because they're beating on someone." But Pine warned the businessmen not to place too much hope for relief on legislators, because "they are all up for re-election next year and are going to be gun shy" of controversy.
Frank A. Cappiello Jr., financial vice president of the Monumental Corporation and president of a Baltimore-based subsidiary of a Fortune 500 firm, also worried about the "class warfare" that could result from "s small group of little class" activists imposing their standards on society at the expense of blue-collar workers whose main goal is to "get some of the goodies" that come from steady employment.
Cappiello agreed that the business climate in Maryland isn't good, but he refused to lay all of the blame on energy and environment concerns.
"Japan has the highest energy costs in the world but they're beating our brains out" because the government and business leaders are cooperating for the common good, Cappiello said.
House Majority Leader John S. Arnick (D-Baltimore County) criticized "anti groups that won't compromise. They said coal makes smoke, we don't like smoke," so they oppose development of coal mining in western Maryland, Arnick said.
"It used to be," said Arnick, that if delegates from Baltimore County opposed a bill because it would affect their constituents who work at Bethlehem Steel - the state's largest private employer - legislators from the other parts of the state would go along with their wishes. Not so any more, Arnich said.
A Baltimore mortgage banker decried as "a disgrace" the heavy fines recently imposed by the Federal government on Bethlehem Steel for polluting the air in Baltimore. He urged the General Assembly to initiate action to protect industries in the state.
House Speaker John Hanson Briscoe said that both federal and Maryland governments have "over regulated" and suggested there is a need to "modify or repeal some of the controls" on business. Briscoe said Common Cause and other reform groups are so anti-business that their followers think "if it almost sinister for a legislator to try to protect Bethlehem Steel."
Briscoe also urged the business leaders to improve their public relations by "supporting a historic preservation plan" once in a while to combat the immage that "economic development means only low-cost housing and dirty somke stacks."
Although dozens of legislators attended the conference, Montgomery and Prince George's Counties were not well represented and their missing delegates were favorite targets of some of the legislators who did attend. Arnick, for example, blamed the suburban Washington representatives for "showing down the throats of the people of Garrett County" legislation that prohibits development along the Youghiogheny River in that western Maryland County.
The discussion of Maryland's economic future was inspired by a gloomy report issued earlier this year by the state Department of Economic and Community Development. Joseph G. Anastasi, who heads the department and wrote the report, told conferees that if Maryland has an economic policy, he isn't aware of it. The state should establish a policy on such questions as whetherr it favors the development of oil off its coastline and whether it is willing to sacrifice some environmental controls in return for jobs, Anastasi said.
Briscoe said he agreed with some of Anastasi's report, but argued that the General Assembly has "established economic policy" in some areas by its votes, such as repeatedly rejecting attempts to ban non-returnable containers.
Briscoe admitted that he is guilty of what he said was ovverreacting to some environmental concerns. For example, he said, while he favors protection of wetlands, "we can't worry about protecting every mosquito in every little pond," if the state is to continue to grow.
Pine told Anastasi that the business community "owes you a debt of gratitude" for the economic report, "although you'll probably lose your job for it."
The man who controls whether community "owes you a debt of gratitude" for the economic report, "although you'll probably lose your job for it."
The man who controls whether Anastasi stays in his cabinet level post is Acting Gov. Blair Lee, who spent the first part of this week wooing business leaders here. Lee tended to downplay Anastasi's call for alarm, but like all of the would-be candidates for governor who tramped around the aging spa, he was listening carefully, and not wearing a Common Cause button.