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Editorial: Help wanted on jobs

It seems that Gov. Martin O’Malley’s plan to address the sorry state of job creation in Maryland is going to be linked largely to transportation infrastructure improvements that he hopes will be fueled by a 15-cent per gallon increase in the state gas tax over the next three years.

The outlines of the governor’s strategy began to emerge during last week’s special legislative session on congressional redistricting, when the administration orchestrated gas tax increase endorsements from a host of officials, including a phalanx of cabinet secretaries, the mayor of Baltimore and the executives of Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

Recession or not, Maryland does need to dedicate more resources to its transportation infrastructure. The ability to move people and goods efficiently and effectively is critical to our economic base and our quality of life, and that ability is eroding before our very eyes.

There are plenty of projects on the drawing boards to address these pressing needs — the Red and Purple Lines, improvements at the Port of Baltimore, and a host of road and bridge projects – but no money to build them.

At this point, the best option we see to help address these needs is increasing the gas tax, but only with a binding commitment by the governor and legislature to stop raiding the Transportation Trust Fund to cover general operating expenses. Use transportation funds to pay for transportation, period.

But while projects financed by a gas tax increase would be a boon to the construction and engineering industries, the emphasis on infrastructure improvements would leave other segments of the economy untouched. And the gas tax hike itself will have a negative effect on individuals and businesses by increasing driving costs.

But the governor doesn’t seem to have much a plan beyond that.

True, he did toss a bone to business by ordering up a 60-day review of all state regulations to eliminate duplication and red tape to “spark faster job creation.” That’s music to the ears of many, but aren’t we supposed to have been there and done that already?

In January, the governor met with 80 business owners, entrepreneurs and developers at DAP Products Inc., in Baltimore, to launch “Business in Maryland Made Easy,” which his office described as “an economic development initiative and part of the Administration’s ongoing efforts to improve the conditions that allow businesses to grow and create jobs.”

At the same time, Mr. O’Malley introduced members of the then-new Maryland Small Business Commission and asked them to identify permitting, licensing and regulatory areas for review.

Yet, here we are nine months later, taking another swing at the same piñata.

Does that mean that little or nothing has been done on this important front in the first place, or does the governor just think we have short memories?

Pay to stay

Maryland taxpayers are going to pay the Bechtel Corp. $9.5 million over seven years to keep two-thirds of its 1,875 employees in Frederick County.

Even so, the San Francisco-based engineering and construction giant, with 52,700 employees and revenues of $27.9 billion in 2010, will move 625 of its employees from Frederick County to Virginia in exchange for undisclosed incentives.

There is strong bipartisan distaste for the deal in Annapolis, as well there should be.

“We’re not fixing anything. We’re papering it over with taxpayer money and giving it away to a corporation,” said House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell, R-Calvert and St. Mary’s.

Sen. Brian E. Frosh, D-Montgomery, said the state “can’t afford an economic development policy that pays people to keep jobs in the state.”

Not only that, Mr. O’Donnell noted that Maryland had waived the requirement that the company receiving such funding would make a capital investment of at least five times the state subsidy.

True, the state will recoup the money used for the corporate payoff through 16 months of tax revenues that would have been lost if all of the employees had moved to Virginia. But still …

“We find ourselves in pretty extraordinary times,” said state Business and Economic Development Secretary Christian Johansson.

You can say that again.