Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Ellen R. Sauerbrey and Marvin Mandel: Fundamental reform needed on regulations

We constantly hear our elected officials say that their number one priority is jobs, jobs, jobs, but they support government policies without consideration of the adverse impact on business and jobs.

Both President Barack Obama and Gov. Martin O’Malley have ordered reviews of regulatory procedures. Obama rightly pointed out that rules and regulations have gotten out of balance, stifling job growth and innovation. O’Malley publicly announced an expedited business licensing and permitting process, but it is limited to state-sanctioned “qualifying growth areas” and coordination among state agencies that have overlapping authority.

A review of regulatory processes is a step in the right direction, but what is needed is fundamental reform.

Given Maryland’s lackluster private sector job creation, the whole state should be a “qualifying growth area,” and state departments and agencies should already be coordinating their efforts anyway.

The O’Malley administration launched a website in January to highlight the tweaked regulatory process called “Maryland Made Easy.” Under the “latest progress” tab, the last entry is from June 22.

Under a dozen “categories” of functional areas where streamlined regulatory processes would purportedly apply, such as transportation and environmental policy, it says “check back soon for updates.” Where is the sense of urgency? The sense of urgency certainly exists for people looking for work and businesses that want to expand or simply survive in Maryland.

For example, one of Maryland Business for Responsive Government’s members deals with thousands of regulations every day. In the heavily regulated retail food service industry, this individual describes how counties create a patchwork system of varying regulations, which only complicates compliance. For example, Baltimore County requires at least one certified “food handler” be in the store at all times. In Harford County there is no such requirement.

So how does one comply with the Baltimore County requirement? According to the Code of Baltimore County Regulations, food-service businesses must provide written evidence that “the employee has attended an approved, accredited program, and has passed the certification.”

Undefined is what that evidence is, or what is approved or accredited. Sending employees to school adds to the cost of hiring and begs the question as to why these businesses can’t train their own workers on processes that are fundamental to their operations.

We are citing just one industry sector, which, by the way, faces regulations on everything from what kind of strainers are used in the sinks to the types of containers employees can drink beverages from. Complying with all of this gives onsite inspectors wide latitude in interpreting how regulations apply to individual businesses.

There are endless columns we could write on how regulatory processes stifle Maryland industry. Imagine the requirements of operating a gasoline station, a power plant or building an apartment complex, or, for that matter, just starting any business.

The State Department of Assessments and Taxation website makes the point about the complexity of regulations better than we can. The “Maryland Checklist for New Businesses” has this disclaimer: “Regulations and other legal requirements change constantly…we strongly suggest you consult an attorney, accountant or other business consultant.” We would strongly suggest that entrepreneurs should not have to pay someone to understand how to do business in Maryland. That would be a start toward real reform.

Society benefits from common sense regulations that protect the public’s well being.

But this objective need not conflict with an equally, if not more important goal — employment. If our No. 1 priority is “jobs,” we must address the role regulations play in a more serious, thoughtful manner, one that goes beyond launching websites and holding press conferences.

The writers are co-chairpersons of Maryland Business for Responsive Government. They may be reached at info@mbrg.org.