The Anne Arundel County executive wants to make development easier in the county. State lawmakers said Maryland’s 90-day legislative session will be dominated by recreational cannabis, public education, and other issues. Officials gave business leaders an overview of legislation and policy changes they expect to pursue at the Anne Arundel Chamber of Commerce’s Legislative Breakfast on Jan. 10 in Annapolis.
Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman said the big goal for his second term will be on growth and economic development.
“There is some debate on how fast we want to grow in terms of new buildings or residents,” he said. “We have to be smarter, leaner and more equitable, and we have to look at our economy the same way.”
Entering his second term, Pittman said he has a better understanding of aspects of county government that need improvement.
“There are a lot of laws and regulations that don’t seem to have any public benefit,” he said, pledging to focus on redevelopment and streamline the permitting process to make it easier to do business in the county.
Infrastructure will also get more attention, particularly transit-oriented development.
“I’d love to see Cromwell Station develop around … the light rail coming in from Baltimore, and see TOD in and around the airport region, and there is a plan to make improvements at the little train station at Laurel Park,” Pittman said.
The new Parole transit center near Annapolis Town Centre and other mass transit improvements are aimed at helping county residents get to work and other places they need to go, he said.
This year Anne Arundel County parks will receive an investment of $99 million in capital projects, and a green infrastructure master plan will promote protection of the county’s natural beauty.
The county is also working to transform the Crownsville Hospital Center into a combination health and wellness center and public park.
“Some historic buildings can’t come down and have to be adapted for other uses,” Pittman said, which could include office space, services, a nonprofit incubator and potentially veterans housing. “The public will have a voice in this.”
Personnel changes are also expected, starting with a new director of planning and zoning to be announced on Jan. 12, and the county has also undertaken a search for a new Economic Development Corp. director.
“We have 200 school system vacancies, including 50 custodians, 50 food service workers and more than 50 bus drivers, and shortages in county personnel, but the shortages are improving,” Pittman said.
As the next General Assembly session gets underway, State Sen. Sarah Elfreth (D-Dist. 30), Del. Mike Rogers (D-Dist. 32), and Del. Brian Chisholm (R-Dist. 31B) forecast some of the bigger issues the legislature will be dealing with.
“Recreational cannabis will probably be the biggest issue before the General Assembly this year,” said Elfreth, who sits on the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. “We have to balance our budget, and we have a tremendous opportunity with once-in-a-generation federal funding to make sure we are funding mostly one-time infrastructure investments and not spending ourselves into a long-term deficit.”
The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, a law passed in 2021 to dramatically reshape public education, will be another important issue, Rogers said.
“It’s time to amend and adjust some of the things we initially saw as part of this landmark legislation,” he explained. “We have an accountability implementation board that will help us run and define what this looks like.”
There will also be opportunities for the business community to provide the wraparound services that school districts need, such as day care, head start programs and other services, he said.
Other issues on Rogers’ agenda include federal funding for social services and leveraging the state’s health care system to identify ways to improve mental health services, and tweaking the continuing education requirement for real estate professionals to ensure they receive training relevant to the services they provide.
Among the bills Chisholm is sponsoring or co-sponsoring this year is an exemption for taxes on veteran pensions.
“We have so many resources, but (retirees) can’t afford to live here,” he said. “They’re not going to Florida, they’re going to Pennsylvania and Delaware where they can still see their grandchildren grow up, because we’re pushing them out.”
Chisholm is also sponsoring a right-to-work bill that would prohibit private-sector employers from requiring union membership as a condition of employment.
“Unions are great sometimes, but you can’t force an employee to join a union,” he said. “I want people to have true choice.”
Maryland’s legislative session began on Jan. 11.
“We don’t always know how bills are going to affect the business community,” Chisholm stressed, encouraging residents and business owners to communicate with legislators and provide input as new bills are submitted. “We need this community’s advice on how to craft legislation so it meets everybody’s needs.”