2019 session predictions made at chamber breakfast
Calvert County’s state legislators broached priorities and made predictions for the upcoming Maryland General Assembly session at the Calvert County Chamber of Commerce’s pre-legislative breakfast Monday.
The lawmakers were also peppered with a barrage of questions from Calvert’s business community on issues to include reducing the corporate tax rate, implementing sports betting and raising the state minimum wage to $15 an hour.
“To mandate wages, to
me, is just totally wrong — the government does not belong in telling small business people what they should pay their employees,” Del. Gerald W. “Jerry” Clark (R-Calvert, St. Mary’s) said at the event, held at the Rod ‘N’ Reel Restaurant.
Clark said the government does not help him pay his business’ electric bill, and that mandating a pay rate gives govern- ment a “little bit of ownership in your business,” and stressed it’s the businesses that are taking the risk to create the jobs.
Clark said he treats his employees well, but did acknowledge some business owners are bad and do not take care of their employees with regard to pay and benefits.
“But let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water,” Clark said. “Let’s give small business people credit at being smart enough to adapt and keep their employees and give benefits to their employ- ees to keep them working for them for [a long] time.”
Freshman Sen. Jack Bailey (R-Calvert, St. Mary’s) said the $15 minimum will be a burden on small businesses and recommended possibly implementing small incremental increases, possibly a dollar a year, so it does not impact businesses at one time.
“I support the minimum,” Del. Michael Jackson (D-Calvert, Prince George’s) said, adding that he is open to step increases over a number of years. “I think it is high time that we make sure that our citizens can take care of their families.”
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert, Charles, Prince George’s), who owns a law practice, said all his employees make over $15 an hour, even though the federal minimum is $7.25.
Miller said he caught a lot of grief for defeating the wage hike proposal last year, noting that Maryland legislators needed more time to study how it was going to work, using data from any of the 10 states that have already implemented it.
“My prediction is that Maryland will move forward in this regard,” Miller said, noting the implementation may be similar to that of New York, where the wage increase is tied to the cost of living or consumer price index. “It’s going to happen. It’s going to be delayed and hopefully as business friendly as possible.”
The lawmakers were of one accord in their support of association health plans, such as the chamber pooling together to offer health care plans to its members. They were also in agreement in permitting sports betting in the state.
“I am a fan of sports betting, but I do understand that there are a lot of things we need to do to make sure it is properly regulated and it’s in the right places,” Bailey said, recalling when slot machines came to St. Mary’s County when he was a boy.
Miller said sports betting raises very little money, $25 million to $30 million, and that race tracks and casinos are competing for it, but the matter will not be settled until there is a referendum vote. He predicts it will happen next year when voters go to the polls. Jackson said he supports the initiative for race tracks and casinos.
“I have no problem with sports betting — I probably did it legally and illegally,” Clark said, drawing laughter and applause from the crowd. “It sort of completes the cycle for the casinos.”
There was division among party lines on the issue of an individual payer health care mandate, which could include a penalty of up to 2.5 percent of total household income, if implemented.
Miller and Jackson were in support of the plan for those who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, with Miller noting the measure was part of the federal Affordable Care Act. Miller thinks Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who he says sees it as a tax, will veto it.
“Being a Republican, obviously we do look at it as a tax and we’ll probably be opposed to it,” Bailey said, but promised to at least have a look at and evaluate it.
“As soon as you say mandate, it throws up my radar,” Clark said. “On the surface, the individual mandate, I’m not a fan, but I do understand we need some answers to health care.”
Clark said the health insurance marketplace is “brutal” and people are paying more for health care than the mortgage on their homes in some cases. “We need to fix that. We’ll be putting a lot of time in that to make health care affordable to everyone,” he said.
Del. Mark Fisher (R-Calvert) was unable to attend due to prior commitments.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert, Charles, Prince George’s) fields questions at the Calvert County Chamber of Commerce’s pre-legislative breakfast Monday at the Rod ‘N’ Reel Restaurant.
Above left, Sen. Jack Bailey (R-Calvert, St. Mary’s) speaks with Calvert High School Equity Team members Kelsey Snowden, Sierrah Hanway, Neil Chapman (not pictured) and Zhane Norris at the Calvert County Chamber of Commerce’s pre-legislative breakfast Monday at the Rod ‘N’ Reel Restaurant. Above right, Del. Gerald W. “Jerry” Clark (R-Calvert, St. Mary’s), center, speaks at the breakfast while Bailey, left, and Del. Michael Jackson (D-Calvert, Prince George’s) listen.