Approximately 340 business leaders attended the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce’s (AAACCC) 19th Annual Legislative Breakfast in January, eager to hear some analysis of how recent federal government decisions may affect them. State and local government leaders were also on hand to discuss the priorities they are pursuing this year.
Repercussions from the recently enacted federal tax reform constitute one of the biggest unknowns for the business community.
“What is compounding [the concerns in the business community] is that the states most adversely affected by the changes made in Washington are, in most cases, the states that produce the most jobs,” said AAACCC President and CEO Bob Burdon.
According to Maryland Speaker of the House of Delegates Mike Busch (D), Maryland could emerge as the most negatively affected state in the nation, because of its state and local income and property tax structures.
“We’re going to lose about $680 million collectively … in exemptions, so we have to act to make sure you [Marylanders] continue to have the exemptions you take,” he said. “We believe we can mitigate about $1 billion of the tax impact coming from federal tax reform.”
The opioid crisis continues to impact the workforce and businesses “in ways we are just beginning to understand,” Burdon said.
To date, Anne Arundel County has implemented upwards of 40 new initiatives aimed at increasing financial and human resources to combat the addiction problem, to include designating police barracks and fire stations as safe stations where opioid addicts can request addiction services without fear of legal consequences.
Despite more than 500 individuals having done just that since last April, the county still saw an 18% increase in the number of overdoses and a 13% increase in opioid fatalities last year.
“The only good news is we’re starting to see a significant slowdown in the rate of growth of overdoses and fatalities,” said Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh.
The county is just beginning its decadal development planning process, which will be followed by a comprehensive rezoning effort. Department of Planning and Zoning officials are currently conducting listening sessions around the county to help shape a growth strategy for the next 20 years.
According to Schuh, the county has made progress in a number of areas, having broken ground in Crofton on the first new county high school in 35 years and seeing the long-promised Odenton Town Center finally begin to take shape.
“In South County, our dredging program is helping to protect the maritime way of life; and in North County, tax credits are helping spur redevelopment of an aging commercial Corridor,” he said.
Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley faces some significant challenges as he settles in to his second month on the job. One of them — the potential loss of the National Sailing Hall of Fame to Newport, R.I. — is emblematic of a more fundamental problem, said Burdon.
“Annapolis has not figured out what it wants to be yet,” he said. “For the past couple of decades we have debated what Annapolis is or should be, while Newport has figured it out and implemented their vision, with enviable precision. Our internal competing interests have compromised our ability to find consensus and unify around a common vision for our city.”
Buckley said he supports the development of a boutique Maritime Hotel with underground parking on the Phillips site and a transformation of the City Dock that would incorporate fountains and a spray park that would encourage more families to visit the city.
He also would like to revive the Annapolis Triathlon, and has pledged to emphasize private-public partnerships and civic investment in his larger vision for developing the city’s untapped potential.
Plans are already underway to establish Annapolis Rising, tentatively scheduled for the weekend of Sept. 21, as a defining music festival.
“We’re going to have the Annapolis Symphony play the hit catalogs of Ahmet Ertegun and Jac Holzman, two guys who went to St. John’s College and started Atlantic Records and Elektra Records [respectively],” he said.
A Saturday main event and Sunday gospel music picnic will round out the festival.
“Annapolis is due for a renaissance, like we saw 50 years ago,” Burdon said.
At the state level, “We are looking at some way to partner with the private sector to come up with some areas that will increase the number of beds for [opioid addiction] treatment,” Busch said. “We’ll balance the budget by the end of the year and continue to fund our schools, our hospitals and our health care delivery system.”
On a more contentious note, Burdon said businesses are “hard pressed to understand” how paid sick leave mandates, minimum wage increases, restrictive scheduling and other legislative initiatives under discussion can be reconciled with the guiding principles of the Maryland Economic & Business Climate Commission Report that state legislators bought into only two short years ago.
District 33 Del. Michael Malone said he takes issue with efforts to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour, arguing that it will result in wage inflation.
For high school and college students, “the purpose of an initial job is to be an apprentice, learn how to get to work on time and do the basic points of the job,” he said. “It’s not to support a family.”
Burdon also reminded elected officials of the perennial problems that plague the county.
“We want to call attention to Anne Arundel County’s transportation infrastructure and transit challenges, which we believe need serious attention and are key to the county’s future economic success,” he said, and called on the business community to get involved in the county’s General Development Planning process.
“We need to work diligently … to ensure the correctness and consistency of code interpretation with regard to land use, permitting, inspections and historic preservation requirements,” he said, “as well as maintaining and properly funding a functional and effective economic development effort and gaining a better understanding of how to engage emerging industries wanting to locate to Annapolis.”