The Prince George's Chamber of Commerce outlined its priority list for its 2000 legislative agenda at its annual dinner last week--and high on the list are tax cuts.
The group may have reason for some hope. At the dinner, which featured Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) and state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Clinton), Glendening extolled the condition of the state's economy.
"The Maryland economy is absolutely, absolutely booming," Glendening told his audience, which included about 300 business people and about 30 county and state public officials. The boom is reflected in lower crime rates, lower welfare roles, cuts in taxes and a $925 million surplus "at last count," he said.
"We ought to seize on this moment of strength and invest in our future" by putting more resources into education, he said. He promised to champion a $100 million investment in higher education, which would benefit the University of Maryland, Bowie State University and the community college system, as well as funds to complete 100 percent of the school construction proposed in Prince George's.
"When I talk to business leaders throughout this state, their biggest concern" is recruiting a trained work force, he said.
Also high on the governor's priority list: limiting urban sprawl by reusing and renovating buildings and focusing on expanding mass transit in and between Montgomery and Prince George's counties. Glendening touted what he called Maryland's largest transportation budget, which he said would help build the "purple line" Metro link between the counties, as well as the Addison Road and Largo Metro stations. In the long term, the state also would consider extending Metro lines into the Bowie area, he said.
Robert M. Zinsmeister, the chamber's assistant vice president and lobbyist, said he thought his organization's wish list "was well received, in terms of comments by Parris and Mike."
The chamber's agenda is dominated by a host of tax-cut proposals, including repeal of the Maryland inheritance tax, a 10 percent reduction in personal income tax and a measure to prevent an increase in the amount businesses may have to pay for unemployment insurance.
"The general topics don't change from year to year" because businesses tend to focus on transportation and tax issues, Zinsmeister said. Although Glendening's emphasis on spending the surplus on school construction may not bode well for tax cuts, Miller and Glendening's support for the repeal of the inheritance tax means it could pass early in the legislative session, he said.
Other initiatives on the chamber's agenda:
* A bill to allow signs along Prince George's highways to indicate restaurants, gasoline and lodging at interchanges. The chamber argues that this would increase county revenue from motorists at no cost to taxpayers, because businesses would pay for the signs. The State Highway Administration historically discouraged signs in and near urban areas, but the agency is starting to reverse its position, Zinsmeister said.
* A bill to allow restaurants to have more than one liquor license in the county. Currently, that is permitted only if the restaurant invests at least $800,000 in the interior of the restaurant. According to the chamber, county revenue increases by $3,200 for every license it grants, and the county would benefit from an influx of restaurants.
* An initiative to reverse a court-ordered decision to limit the ability of companies to charge fees of more than 5 percent for late payments.
* Lobbying, along with the new Prince George's High Technology Council and the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, for a statewide technology-development corporation to attract and retain high-tech companies in Maryland.
* Backing such projects as the Prince George's Economic Development Corp. effort to expand enterprise zones for revitalization, get more funding for a National Aeronautics and Space Administration Space/Flight Center and state tax credits for community-based nonprofit groups and schools.
In addition, the chamber endorsed various transportation measures, including funds for the 12-lane Woodrow Wilson Bridge replacement project, accelerated funding for the Largo Town Center Metro station, and construction of an intercounty connector highway, which Glendening halted last year.
CAPTION: County Chamber of Commerce President Norman L. Carter welcomes Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) to the chamber's Legislative Agenda dinner in Greenbelt last week.
CAPTION: Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D) addresses chamber members.