Group rallies to change Maryland’s business climate

Change Maryland breakfast

Change Maryland breakfast

Can “Change Maryland” actually change Maryland into a state friendlier to business?

That’s what almost 400 executives explored Thursday morning at the first large event sponsored by Change Maryland, a group founded by Larry Hogan, a real estate entrepreneur who was an Ehrlich administration cabinet secretary.

“We don’t have to have the lowest taxes,” said keynote speaker Anirban Basu, Maryland’s go-to economist. “We just have to be competitive.”

“You have to be competitive with at least your neighboring states,” especially Virginia, said Basu. “We’re not desperate enough yet.”

Basu favors totally eliminating the corporate income tax as a way to show that Maryland is really open for business.

Basu, a favorite with business groups, was at his most political Thursday, and described an encounter with Gov. Martin O’Malley in which “he started yelling at me” for trashing Maryland’s business climate.

Who’s trashing Maryland?

The usually glib Basu said he was not quick enough with the comeback line he thought of afterward. “I’m not trashing the business climate. You are,” he said he wanted to tell the Democratic governor.

The breakfast meeting at the Annapolis Westin Hotel had the flavor of a Republican fundraiser. Hogan briefly ran for governor in 2010 and Change Maryland is seen by Democrats as a political vehicle for 2014.

Other speakers at the event were Del. Steve Schuh of Anne Arundel County, Sen. Allan Kittleman of Howard County, conservative columnist Marta Mossburg, former economic development Secretary Aris Melissaratos and Christopher Summers, president of the Maryland Public Policy Institute, one of the lead sponsors of the event.

“We have allowed private enterprise to wither on the vine,” said Schuh, who lost his bid to be appointed Anne Arundel County executive Thursday night but plans to run for the post in 2014.

“We could be the strongest economic engine in the world,” Kittleman said. “We could blow other states out of the water,” if Maryland would only adopt a right-to-work law like Virginia has and repeal other laws that favor labor unions.

Not in the game

Melissaratos agreed. “No corporation will move to Maryland because we don’t even get in the game,” he said. He joked that “Anirban will have a hard time to be hired by a Democrat.”

The audience at the event was predominantly white males, mostly older, which Hogan said still reflected the business leadership in Maryland. He said his Change Maryland organization’s membership of 30,000 on Facebook includes a lot of Democrats and independents.

“This event today was to raise awareness in the business community,” Hogan said.

One reason for the lack of diversity, said lobbyist Don Murphy, is that pro-business Democrats would be afraid to attend an event like Hogan’s for fear of retribution.

Hogan told the crowd, “My hope this morning is that you will never give up hope in this state.”

–Len Lazarick