Facing The Issues
Oil pipelines, cybercrime, rain tax, minimum wage, common core, charity scams, health-care reform and the right of low-income defendants to public defense attorneys at bail review will be some of the most pressing issues facing the General Assembly when it begins its 2014 legislative session, said five local officials who joined the Pikesville Chamber of Commerce at its Dec. 4 Legislative Breakfast.
Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-11) and Delegates Jon Cardin (D-11), Sue Aumann (R-42), Dan Morhaim (D-11) and Dana Stein (D-11) discussed their opinions about what the biggest issues will be before the floor was opened for questions at the members-only event.
Comments from the Chamber centered on taxes and minimum wage, as many business owners and community members tried to grasp what an increase in minimum wage or the possibility of even higher taxes resulting from new legislation could mean for their businesses and livelihoods.
When one questioner asked about the upcoming Foundry Row project and the decline of the Owings Mills Mall, Zirkin fielded the question, telling attendees that he shares a lot of the concerns many have over the repercussions the opening of a Wegmans and the other stores that come with it could have on the surrounding businesses.
“We can’t let bright, shiny new things kill everything else on Reisterstown Road,” he said. “[We] can end up with a lot of vacant places up and down Reisterstown Road if [we’re] not careful.”
On minimum wage, one Chamber member, who asked the crowd to consider the people who must survive on minimum wage, was countered by another attendee who noted that a raise in minimum wage could result in layoffs at small businesses and increased unemployment in the community.
“This is going to be a massive debate this year,” said Zirkin.
Stein added that there are two sides to the issue, and legislators will take both into account if the issue makes its way to Baltimore County, though Zirkin predicted it wouldn’t, at least this year.
Late last month, both Montgomery and Anne Arundel counties — where almost a third of the state’s residents reside — voted to raise the minimum wage from the current state and federal standard of $7.25 per hour to $11.50 per hour. The change will take effect gradually over the course of the next four years.
Other questions from attendees focused on state efforts to help the elderly with aging-at-home programs, concerns over the Common Core Standards that many teachers have been speaking out against, funding for volunteer fire departments and the process for determining the cost of new legislation to area taxpayers.
Heather Norris is a JT staff reporter