ANNAPOLIS- Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. graced the chambers of the House Economic Matters Committee Thursday to sell his $40 million plan to help economically distressed counties in Maryland.
Taylor’s bill is intended to bring jobs to areas that have suffered chronic unemployment by providing loans for economic development. He used his rare appearance before a House committee to push the plan that he said would help two Western Maryland counties including his native Allegany County three Eastern Shore counties and Baltimore City.
“I frankly have not been excited about anything, like I am about this bill, in a long time,” Taylor said.
Taylor’s bill would provide a $40 million loan fund for counties to buy and develop land for new or expanded businesses. Allegany, Garrett, Dorchester, Somerset and Worcester counties, as well as Baltimore City are expected to qualify, Taylor said.
A companion bill would provide tax credits to businesses located in the distressed areas. Companies could claim a 100 percent credit against their state corporate income tax, up to the amount invested. But, the company would have to spend at least $500,000 in start-up costs to qualify.
Companies creating at least 25 full-time jobs could also keep the state income tax that businesses pay on employees, which could amount to $10,000 per worker. The two bills are part of Taylor’s plan to create what he calls “One Maryland” a state where counties cooperate, rather than compete.
Taylor stressed that the problem in these areas in not new. According to task force figures, the six areas expected to qualify under the plan have had the highest unemployment rates in the state for the past 10 years.
“What we have here is people forced year after year, decade after decade” to live with unemployment and poverty, Taylor said. “This is our way of life.”
Adelaide “Addie” Eckardt, R-Dorchester, said the poor economic situation in her county was the reason she ran for the House of Delegates. “We would love to see this kind of initiative to give us a boost,” she said.
Eckardt said Dorchester County has filled the space they have for new businesses. There are several industrial parks, like one in Hurlock, where all the buildings are full. If they want to extend that park, they need to build new buildings. The problem is, Eckardt said, “we are feeling very overstressed financially right now with a number of projects we are working on.” This new program would give Dorchester the money to construct new buildings and put in roads and sewer systems.
Sitting beside Taylor at the hearing was Delegate Howard P. Rawlings, D-Baltimore City, one of the 18 co- sponsors of the bill. “I’m here as chairman of the Appropriations Committee to tell you that we will provide the money that is necessary to achieve this,” he said.
Having the commitment of Rawlings is a big plus, Eckardt said. “I felt very good today with that kind of support,” she said. “It was very exciting.”
The bill also has the support of the Glendening administration. While the money for the program was not in the governor’s 2000 budget, Fred Puddester, secretary of budget and management, said that the fund is a high priority for any money that may become available. Taylor has been working with the administration to include the $40 million in a supplemental budget.
The chances for the bill’s success in the committee look good considering that Delegate Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel, chairman of the Economic Matters Committee, is a co-sponsor. “I hope we’re going to get off to a positive start this year on the One Maryland program,” he said.
For his part, Taylor is hopeful. “In all my years, Allegany County has never been as focused on its future as it is now,” Taylor said. “I think we have a golden opportunity to break this cycle.”
Nearly four months ago, Kelly-Springfield Tire Co. said it would shutter its doors in Cumberland this year a loss of 400 mostly white-collar jobs. For Taylor, that was the last straw.
“It was the last of a long series of economic blows that we took,” he said. Taylor immediately went to Gov. Parris N. Glendening and requested that a task force be set up to examine the economic problems in Western Maryland. What he discovered is that the two western counties were not alone: “There are clearly two Marylands economically.” -30-