Viewpoint – December


As we begin the process of closing out 2013, we open the door on a new General Assembly Session in Annapolis on January 8th running through mid-April 2014.

On December 19th at our monthly General Membership Luncheon to be held at the Wicomico Youth & Civic Center, we’ll host our annual Eastern Shore Legislative Delegation and their thoughts/review of what they feel will be issues/concerns for the Eastern Shore and Maryland as a whole. Just a footnote:  start time for the luncheon will be 11:30am until 1:30pm.

One item that’s expected to surface is a bill to increase the minimum wage from $7.25 to anywhere from $10.25 to $16.00+ per hour. The Chamber’s Advocacy Division has sent out a survey to its membership asking for feedback on this topic.

Our Chamber would be opposed to any increase in minimum wage right now for the following reasons: 1) The Eastern Shore historically is 12 to 18 months behind the rest of the state and country in the recession recovery, 2) some are still or will be dealing with impacts from sequestration, 3) still concerned about how the Affordable Health Care Act will impact local business owners, and 4) at this period in the economic recovery, any mandated increase could put some small businesses over the edge and out of business. A lot of the businesses in our area already pay above $7.25 minimum wage so this bill would not be of concern to them. But say fast food restaurants or regular restaurants…pushing this wage could be the final straw.

Another bill that’s sure to surface again this year is the Maryland Paid Sick and Safe Leave Act. This bill would have required Maryland employers to have a sick and safe leave policy that allow their  employees to accrue a minimum of 1 hour of paid sick and safe leave for every 30 hours worked. How the bill will be structured remains to be seen but expect some noise on this one during the session.

All of this raps around the fact that the State of Maryland will once again fight with next June facing at least a half a billion dollars in red ink. I’d be surprised to see any proposed tax increase (primarily the state property tax) to off-set this deficit in Maryland since 2014 is an election year. Economic uncertainty and the prospects of another train wreck early next year on the Federal Budget and keeping the Federal Government open for business will keep many businesses from hiring and expanding as Marylanders cut back on purchases due to worries of a second federal closure on the heels of an already weak recovery..

The Maryland Department of Agriculture’s proposed Phosphorous Management Plan using a newly developed University of Maryland Phosphorous Management Tool (PMT) has been in the news of late. Basically, it’s a proposed regulation that deals with the amount of chicken manure that can be spread on farm fields and not damage the Chesapeake Bay and environment in Maryland. We believe this new science to be unproven and untested.

The Chamber is opposed to the implementation of this proposed regulation until such time as a complete and unbiased economic impact study is completed. This proposed regulation as it stands right now would have a major negative impact on the poultry industry here on the Shore as well as poultry growers, grain farmers, farm land owners, sewage waste bio-solid disposal and those businesses that surround the Poultry Industry. This bill could also be even more damaging to crop farmers here on the Shore.

Agriculture here on the Eastern Shore has and will continue to be environmentally friendly.

 The Ag industry and primarily the Poultry Industry are tired of taking the rap that we’re the root of most of the pollution in the Chesapeake Bay. One has to just look north of the Maryland border and the infusion of pollutants coming downstream from the Conowingo Dam and the Susquehanna River to realize that these areas are a primary contributor to pollution in the Bay. So once we are able to control the flow of pollutants from the North into the bay (one can only hope!), I feel sure if any pollutants are injected locally by farmers their impact would be minimal compared to the upper Bay flow. Following 2017, the Agriculture Community is expected to carry even a greater burden of the load for Chesapeake Bay Restoration.

*********UPDATE:  Just a few days prior to this article going to print, the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) withdrew its proposed regulations to implement the new Maryland Phosphorus Management Tool (PMT) from consideration by the Joint Committee on Administration, Executive, and Legislative Review (AELR).

As stated by this writer, if we don’t address the enormous concentration of phosphorous loading to the Bay from the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania AND have the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) set the same standards for Pennsylvania as those in Maryland, we will continue to simply “beat our heads against the wall” and the finger pointing will continue towards the farming community as primary contributors of pollution in the Bay.

The Chamber will continue to monitor this matter as it will come back around next year. What on the surface may appear to be just something that affects farmers, there is a “domino effect” that rolls down to those businesses locally that support the agriculture/poultry industry and could put our recession recovery efforts into a tail spin. The very reason we ask MDA to provide an “economic impact study” on the implementation of this tool.

Speaking of “waterways”….maintaining the dredging of the Wicomico River is critical to our economic business base in Salisbury and the County. That State funding is threatened by County TMDL Loads. Navigation of the river for ships and barges to and from Salisbury could be in jeopardy should the loads reduce and the Army Corp of Engineers stop dredging the river.  This is an area that the Chamber will continue to monitor in the months ahead.

Finally, as I mentioned last month, on January 16th at University of Maryland Eastern Shore Campus, the Chamber will hold its Annual Economic Forecast 2014.  The agenda will start with a continental breakfast from 8:30 to 9am and the program beginning at 9am and will include a keynote speaker followed by panel discussions and a Noon luncheon with other keynote speakers.  We’re building a powerful lineup that you wouldn’t want to miss.

Remember if you have an opinion or view point express it on The Chamber Voice blog on our website