The Maryland Chamber of Commerce said it will focus next year on pushing the state legislature and county governments to build roads, balance the state budget and lower the costs of health care.
At its largest meeting ever in Montgomery County last week, dozens of members voiced their concerns about those and other issues facing the state, and suggested ways to lobby officials.
Chamber leaders said they want to strengthen their membership in Montgomery County, which is facing particularly difficult transportation issues, especially in getting the controversial intercounty connector -- a major east-west thoroughfare -- built.
"About half of our membership is from the Baltimore-Washington corridor and we'd like to have more businesses from Montgomery and Prince George's counties heard," said Kathy Snyder, the chamber's president and chief executive.
In addition to its top priorities of the budget, roads and health care, chamber leaders said they want to see gambling proceeds used to help fund education.
"We're in support of having slot machines at the racetracks as long as they are regulated," said Bill Couper, chairman of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce and president of the Greater Washington Bank of America.
"Delaware, West Virginia and Pennsylvania already have [slot machines], and our citizens are using them," he said. "The revenues are just going to somebody else now instead of to us."
The budget is a source of concern as well.
Business leaders said there are "inefficiencies in the state government's services and operations" that need to be addressed so that money is not wasted.
"Considering that we now have a $1.7 billion deficit and not all that long ago we had a surplus, it's a huge issue for our government and one we want to see resolved," Snyder said.
Chamber leaders said they want the state to offer initiatives for state employees who are efficient, encourage innovative ways to get work done and eliminate wasteful spending.
Business executives also recommended the state review and improve its procurement system to emulate the best practices policies used in the private sector, which tend to help keep costs down. Another suggestion was for the state to better match its expenses with its revenue and not spend more than it has, without approval.
The chamber also is throwing its support behind leaders of the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, which has lobbied hard to get the intercounty connector (ICC) built to help alleviate traffic congestion. Chamber leaders criticized the government for leaving what they called a gap between the road projects it has funded and the need for more roads.
The state chamber said its members are debating whether to support a tax on title fees for vehicles and an increase in the gas tax to help pay for the roadway. But some leaders, including Couper, said businesses that have a lot of trucks on the roads are paying for roads through the gas taxes and could be wary of seeing their expenses go up even more.
"[Businesses] already contribute to the road project funds," Couper said. "The state's going to have to confront the issue, and there's going to have to be some pain shared.
"The ICC is so important because there has been tremendous growth in Montgomery, and the access to the north-south roads and to the airports is becoming increasingly difficult for those in Montgomery.
"If we're going to continue to grow and prosper we have to fix it," Couper said.
Business leaders also said a disproportionate amount of the health care costs for the uninsured is being carried by those who are insured. Those costs are particularly expensive for smaller companies.
Companies also are required to pay for certain high-cost procedures, and some employers want those costs reduced or eliminated.