March 21, 2022,

Happy Gas Tax Holiday

Around the nation, a rising number of governors and state lawmakers have been calling to suspend gas taxes, because prices have been at record highs that could go up even higher. Maryland is right in the mix as a month-long suspension of the state’s 36-cent fuel tax became law on Friday, March 18.

The bill, passed by both the Senate and the House, was quickly signed by the Governor.  There was an amendment for a rebate to stations on gas they already have on hand to allow those stations to participate immediately. That same amendment will impose a retroactive tax on gas on hand when the tax holiday expires.

There was some talk of extending the 30-day period. In fact, the Governor said he thought that might be a good idea.  If that is going to happen the General Assembly will have to act before the session ends on April 11. Without an extension, the tax would go back into effect around the Easter holiday and spring break season.

New Date for Primary Elections

To say the redistricting process for the General Assembly and Congressional districts is not going well would be an understatement.  There are lawsuits challenging the maps that are currently approved.  The district lines cannot be finalized until the lawsuits work their way through the judicial system which takes time.  Due to the upcoming trials, the date of the primary election has been pushed out three weeks until July 19.

This may not only screw up some summer vacation plans but it creates several logistical and financial challenges for the candidates and their supporters.  The Governor’s race has a crowded field of candidates for the Democrats and Republicans and a lot of their plans focused on the original primary date of June 28.  Right here in Anne Arundel County, the hotly contested Republican primary for County Executive will be stretched out as the candidates have to re-adjust their schedules and budgets and figure out how to reach voters for another three weeks.

So don’t expect those yard signs and those digital ads to be going away anytime soon.

Not on the Same Page
HB 8/SB 275: Family Medical Leave Insurance Program

The Maryland Senate is moving forward to pass this bill while the House of Delegates is taking a more cautious approach and amending HB 8 to become a bill to create a panel to study such a program.

The proposed new insurance program would allow workers to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave. It is funded through a state-administered insurance pool into which employees and employers contribute by means of a new payroll tax.  The actual cost of the program is still uncertain, initial estimated say it would be $1.6 billion annually.  As currently written, the State would kick in $100 million to start the program and businesses and workers would start paying the new tax in October 2023. The first claim could be filed in January 2025.  In addition, the State would have to hire over 100 new employees to administer the program.

There is great uncertainty about the solvency of such a fund without detailed actuarial analysis.  The State of Washington started such a program and had to contribute hundreds of millions of dollars from its general fund to cover all the claims after the start of the program. While a good idea, this concept needs further study to ensure that it can be adequately funded by not harming small business operations. It must also be effectively and efficiently managed by the State and not become a bureaucratic boondoggle and require increased pay roll tax.

Health Insurance Help for Small Business
SB 632: Small Business and Nonprofit Health Insurance Subsidies Program

There was a hearing on March 3 in the Senate Finance Committee about establishing a new program that would help small businesses and nonprofit organizations with fewer than 25 employees pay for health insurance for their employees.

The program would be initially funded by $45 million of federal money from the American Rescue Plan, there would also be $3 million allocated to market the program. This would not impact the establishment of premium rates but would provide financial assistance to those small businesses who participate.

The County Executive from Howard County, testified in favor of the bill and told the committee the County Executives from the “big eight counties” to support the bill.  In addition, the Maryland Association of Chamber of Commerce supported the bill while representatives of the insurance industry felt the idea needed more study and proposed making SB 632 a study bill.

Political reality seems to be saying that this bill does not have traction for this session and so the committee did not take a vote on the bill.  The Anne Arundel Chamber will continue to monitor this proposal which could bring real and meaningful assistance to small businesses with fewer than 25 employees.

Environment Bill is Amended
SB 528: Climate Solutions Now Act of 2022

This bill will establish new and accelerated dates for attaining certain rates of reduction concerning greenhouse gas emissions. While the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions is important, realistic regulation must be established so that it doesn’t create economic hardship on business owners, real estate owners and utilities that provide access to traditional and renewable source of energy.

This bill has significant problems as originally drafted.  That is why it has been heavily amended and some of the target dates extended.  The bill as amended, passed the Senate by a 32-15 vote and is now before the House Environmental and Transportation Committee.

The Chamber is concerned about the impact of retrofitting certain commercial properties to meet any new and accelerated standards.  We will continue to lobby for a common sense and realistic approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and keep you informed about the status of SB 528.