OCEAN CITY– The 436th legislative session may be over in Annapolis, but if Wednesday’s Ocean City Economic Development Committee Meeting is any indication, planning for next year’s session is well underway on the local level.
Ocean City business owners and community leaders listened intently on Wednesday morning at the Carousel Oceanfront Hotel as Senator Jim Mathias (D-District 38), Delegate Mary Beth Carozza (R-District 38-C, Delegate Charles Otto (R-District 38A) and Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce lobbyist Dennis Rasmussen synopsized the 90-day session in the state capital.
“This session is a snapshot in time at our state,” said Delegate Carozza to a few dozen attendees. “With Larry Hogan as our governor, we’ve been able to turn the ship around and this is now our time.”
Carozza pointed to the state’s $42.3 billion fiscal year budget that included a $400 million surplus and almost a billion dollars in the state’s “Rainy Day Fund,” no tax increases and record education funding as evidence of the state’s proverbial ship being “turned around.”
Carozza also touted roughly $12 million in combined funding for the state’s tourism budget and for future development of the industry as well as a $2 million allotment to aiding the state’s rural communities.
“Governor Hogan knows that for every dollar we invest in tourism in the state of Maryland, those dollars come back six-fold,” she said.
Mathias stumped to the audience about his rather active session as his name was on more than 120 bills, including 28 where he was the primary sponsor.
While he spent much of his time talking about the pieces of legislation he pushed to get passed, such as a bill that will fund a study about the feasibility of a third span of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, he also talked about failed bills that may resurface in future sessions, such as the controversial bill that would have granted paid sick leave for hundreds of thousands of Marylanders.
“That paid sick leave bill is going to be coming back,” said Mathias. “We will get that 120 days, but I am asking the business community to give me something to work with. Help me help this great area.”
Mathias was referring to an exemption in the paid sick leave bill that would essentially exclude seasonal businesses from having to pay employees who work less than 120 days a year paid sick leave. Local business owners were concerned that the bill, which would force employers with more than 15 employees to pay one hour of paid sick leave per 30 hours of work, would strike a significant blow to their bottom lines and create other operational issues such as staffing.
Yet, while the local business community pushed their elected officials and paid their lobbyist to fight to get the paid sick leave bill to fail, they are also similarly pushing for other bills to pass in the next session, like the one that would get schools across the state to begin the school year after Labor Day.
Currently, Worcester is the only county in the state where the public schools begin after Labor Day, and proponents believe it would pump millions of added dollars into the state’s tourism industry.
Mathias and Carozza both called for a new plan after the bill for the second straight year failed to get out of committee.
“Give me something I can work with,” said Mathias. “I’m asking the business community to help me bring something to the table to get this thing done.”
Carozza added, “I’m not going to spend a lot of political capital if we don’t have a sound strategy. It’s a heavy lift and we need a new strategy with new incentives.”
Rasmussen spoke about the need for the business community to continue to push its initiatives forward clearly and loudly to their elected officials.
“We have to have the membership participate as there are a number of things percolating in Annapolis that could impact Ocean City,” said Rasmussen. “But, what I will say is that in all my years of working in politics, the representatives that you have here on the Eastern Shore working for you do a great job and they work hard for this area.”
Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan also praised the work of the elected officials and spoke about some of the future initiatives he plans to push for in future sessions including the next phase of the Convention Center expansion, the dualization of Route 90, continued funding for beach replenishment, the post-Labor Day school effort and a new initiative, economic development at the Ocean City airport.
“We are pretty self-sufficient here and Ocean City has a small agenda in Annapolis compared to other towns,” said Meehan. “[Former OC Mayor] Fish Powell taught me a long time ago that you have to qualify your main issues and make sure that when you go to Annapolis to ask for something, it’s for something very high on your list.”