This has been a debate for many years from many people including Republicans, Democrats and independents.
True conservative Republicans would say that being open for business means no government restrictions, other than protecting the public, allowing the free market to dictate winners and losers. Liberal Democrats have a much broader perspective of what protecting the public is and include all kinds of tax credits and special incentives for special classes of businesses and people. The free market would be limited and the government would be involved in picking winners and losers.
Sometimes the government would even go into business competing against the private sector, such as a golf courses, health and fitness, aquatics, nursing homes, entertainment, hotel and conference centers — just to name some categories close to home. Then you have Republicans and Democrats all over the place with tax credits, tax increment financing, free land, free government services and government loans. It’s a mess, with one side perceived as giving it away to those that have nothing and instilling an entitlement sentiment, and the other side giving it away to those that have plenty and will make more. Yes, I have been accused of this myself at times.
The tax code is a mess on all levels, local, state and the federal, but we created this mess. We desperately need tax reform and a simpler, more equitable tax code. I’d propose either a flat tax or fair tax. But this will never happen, because politicians would lose the power to directly benefit those who helped elect them.
Now, to turn the discussion back to Maryland. With only a handful of Fortune 500 companies headquartered in Maryland, none of them located in Baltimore City, one wonders what can be done here. It was a major step to elect a governor who understands how business works. Gov. Larry Hogan actually owned and operated a business that employed people. Now, no disrespect to other small-business owners, but unless you have a business location and employ at least a handful of people, it’s hard to understand the everyday challenges that a business owner encounters. In my opinion, career politicians who have never owned a business are the core of the problem, and this needs to be addressed if we are ever really going to have a government that encourages free enterprise instead of stifling it. We have very few business people serving in elected office or who ever aspire to serve. When I look locally, I can only find one, and they are trying to drive him out of business or out of office. But this is true across the state.
The one business owner who actually had a business location and employed at least a handful of people in our local state delegation is gone. So, we can talk about being or wanting to be “open for business” all day long, but until we encourage and seek business people to get involved again, it’s just words.
It wasn’t always this way. If you look at many of the people who served in elected office decades ago, many of them were business owners. It was no big deal: They were serving their community and not looking for a career in politics. Politics has changed, with attacks, mudslinging, and with people making it their only job, making it a career. Now more than ever we need business people, and until we realize that, we will never really be open for business — it will just be a sentiment. Both parties will continue with business as usual.
This is why I believe Donald Trump has hit a nerve in this election cycle. Some people say we need a successful business person who tells it like it is to straighten this country out. Now, we always want to start at the top to fix our problems but it’s Congress and the state Legislature that needs to be changed first. Hogan is experiencing this firsthand as it’s almost impossible to implement change when the Legislature stops or overrides you at every turn.
Is it too late? No, but the silent voting public will have to get truly fed up and make the changes necessary if we ever want to be truly open for business. Otherwise, get used to buying more products that say “Made in China,” and get used to more taxes and fees on all levels.
Blaine Young is a lifelong resident of Frederick County, a former Alderman of the city of Frederick and former president of the Board of County Commissioners. His email is email@example.com.