It’s the exaggeration of the year to say it’s a tough time for small business, and a letter in the mail this week confirmed what had already been in the news regarding unemployment. Through some grisly numbers detailing the “economic storm” in Maryland, the generic letter detailed why the state has been forced to increase the current rate schedule. As a result of a 92-percent increase in the number of unemployed individuals seeking state help over the last two years, the unemployment insurance fund is in serious jeopardy of being depleted. Subsequently, the state will be raising businesses unemployment rates across the board to keep the account at mandated levels. Depending on how many employees the business has sent to the unemployment line and the size of the company, the per-employee cost could range from $187 to $1,147 per year.
In her letter to businesses, Unemployment Insurance Division Assistant Secretary Julie Ellen Squire wrote, “Unemployment insurance is just that – insurance, a pool in which all participants share risk. When any form of insurance experiences a dramatic increase in claims, rates go up. Once reserves are replenished and the pace of claims recedes, rates go back down.” Doesn’t that just make you feel warm and fuzzy? I prefer this quote from the National Federation of Independent Business/Maryland Director Ellen Valentino. She said, “While the economic slowdown is largely responsible for the fund’s strain, continual expansion of unemployment benefits only exacerbates the problem. As recently as this spring, lawmakers refused to listen to the small business community when they created a new benefit for part-time workers, despite numbers clearly showing the trust fund was already under tremendous strain. Actions that increase the fund’s long-term liabilities will only mean higher taxes on job creation and a slower economic recovery for those who are desperate to get off unemployment and get back into the workforce.”
Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan broached a subject this week that has not been discussed publicly in some time – the dualization of Route 90. The mayor said he thinks making the secondary artery into Ocean City four lanes is more important than building a new Route 50 Bridge, a planning process that’s been underway for a couple years. It’s unknown how much support the concept has on the state level, but it’s an interesting proposal nonetheless. Meehan said he has discussed his belief a Route 90 widening project should be prioritized over the Route 50 Bridge with the governor privately. He seemed to indicate he would be asking the council to formalize his position in a letter to the State Highway Administration in the near future. This would be a major undertaking, obviously, as additional lanes would need to be added to both the Assawoman and St. Martin’s spans. It’s too early to tell if this dualization project would be more economically feasible and practical than replacing the Route 50 Bridge, but it certainly deserves some thought. It’s one of those concepts worth formalizing, throwing it on the board and seeing if it sticks.
I had to check out the video images after hearing Ocean City had pointed its web cam atop the Public Safety Building toward the Route 90 project. For those who have some spare time, take a look at it. You can access it through www.oceancitymd.gov, and you will immediately understand why there’s a disclaimer that the camera sits atop a tall tower and the image may be fuzzy. It’s not much to see, but it’s a decent dabble in the multi-media world by the town.