Hogan Doubles Down on Dems’ Anti-regulatory Moves

Gov. Hogan wants a new commission to loosen regulations on business. Apparently he wasn't satisfied with the work of the Augistine Commission, appointed -- by Democrats -- to accomplish the same goals.

/By Woody Woodruff/ Gov. Larry Hogan has announced a remarkably partisan commission to re-examine (read: eviscerate) state regulations that may affect the business community and (mythically) Maryland’s ability to woo new businesses.

It’s puzzling why Hogan felt the need to do this, since the business agenda has already been sneaking into Maryland governance under the bogus cloak of expert authority – an earlier “commission” that was the brain child of the Assembly’s two top Democrats.

About a week after the election, a commission tasked with shaping up the state’s economic climate and business development approach held its eighth and last meeting; its report was eventually submitted in February. This Augustine Commission, so-called for its chairman, ex-Lockheed CEO Norm Augustine, had a charge responding to the state’s revenue losses due to federal budget sequestration over the last half-dozen years: Improve the business climate to attract more non-federal employment.

The leaders of the House (Speaker Mike Busch) and Senate (President Mike Miller) had unilaterally announced the creation of this “Maryland Economic Development and Business Climate Commission” (its formal name) in the 2014 session, nearly a year before Inauguration Day. Coincidentally or not, this by-fiat MEDBCC stepped all over the chances of a 2014 bill that proposed a “Maryland Futures Commission” to study the same problem, generated and pushed by a coalition of progressive groups.

The hand-picked MEDBCC panel did not contain any of the sort of troublemakers who vex Miller and Busch during the session, nor the balanced and diverse group proposed in the discarded “Maryland Futures Commission” bill by its progressive initiators. And most of those who testified at the MEDBCC’s numerous public hearings were business persons of various sorts; there were few representatives of workers or consumers. They produced five pro-business bills that were easily passed by both houses, shepherded by the leadership.

The overwhelming pro-business slant of the Augustine Commission apparently didn’t satisfy Hogan and his minions. His new, improved commission is overtly run by reps of big businesses who will try to mask their predatory work as done with small businesses in mind, and many tears shed for them. Hogan and his business consigliore and transition team chief, James T. Brady, are going to double down on the pro-business agenda already enabled by the two legislative honchos. Guess those five bills weren’t enough.

Nevertheless, as you might expect, there are some real antiworker ambushes in several of the MEDBCC bills that were fast-walked through the 2015 session after the Augustine Commission report appeared one month into the scrum.

Though the bills had a bipartisan flavor and appeal, at least one of them could cause great mischief – if you think of mischief as, for instance, adding a new team member to the anti-worker one-two punch of the House Economic Matters and Senate Finance committees.

In that worst example, another hurdle is put in the way of any proposed bill or agency ruling that could have “meaningful” negative impact on small businesses. That could be a barrier or grinding war of attrition on most social provision bills: future minimum wage increases, or adding tipped work to the minimum wage bill, or the earned sick leave bill that failed in the 2015 session for the third year in a row. This year’s sick leave bill, HB 385, was said in the fiscal note attached to have a “meaningful” small business impact. That, as in each of the previous two sessions, doomed it in the House Economic Matters Committee, that graveyard of pro-worker bills. One of those five bills filed for the 2015 session that are acknowledged to have come directly from MEDBCC, SB 775/HB 939 establishes “an advisory commission that includes private sector stakeholders to assess small business impact of new bills or regulations.” It will be staffed by the Department of Economic and Business Development. The advisory panel has no consumer or labor advocates, one senator and one delegate, and four small business persons, all appointed by the Senate prez and House speaker. The range of opinions – and economic interests – in the “Advisory Council on the Impact of Regulations on Small Business” can be as narrowly pro-business – or not – as Miller and Busch please.

The Gov’s office tells your correspondent that the small business panel won’t be appointed until October 1, when the law takes effect. In the meantime, those who have some pull with Busch or Miller might remind them that their appointments to the panel could, indeed should, be considered as a counterweight to a looming pro-business bulldozer on the executive side that could stymie pro-worker legislation that even they might like. The chair of the panel is probably going to be Hogan’s DEBD secretary or his designee so appointees of independent temperament are a must.

Miller and Busch said in a news release Feb. 12 that they were so pleased with the MEDBCC’s work that they had asked members to take on an extended mission – “examine the business tax and incentive structure in Maryland.” That should bring a further chill, given the MEDBCC’s path so far. Working people and consumers will always be on the losing end when only those aspects of the tax system are under inspection. So the business interests have, once more, colonized governance, with the trappings of deliberation used to make a fait accompli seem like a reason-based process. And Larry Hogan, who apparently wants to have his own people to rip up the state’s social contract, wouldn’t really have had to lift a finger, other than to sign off on Miller and Busch’s doings.