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Senators want security clearance tax credit

ANNAPOLIS — A bipartisan group of state senators called Thursday for $6 million to pay for a new tax credit for Maryland workers seeking federal security clearances.

Sen. Roger Manno

The state’s economy relies heavily on federal contractors clustered around the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command headquarters at Fort Meade and other military, intelligence and aerospace installations.

“We want to ensure that those jobs are going to Maryland workers and that those workers have the tools that they need and the opportunities that we can give them to be successful to compete for those jobs,” said state Sen. Roger Manno, the Montgomery County Democrat sponsoring the tax credit legislation.

Manno said he suspects many jobs here that require security clearance go to people from Virginia or Washington, jurisdictions better known for their defense and intelligence clusters.

The Senate proposal would offer tax credits worth up to $3,000 or half the cost of the security clearance, whichever is less, to the individual or company paying for it.

Manno said $3,000 is about the cost of an “entry level” clearance application.

John Eckenrode, president of CPSI, an IT staffing and consulting company in Baltimore, said it is “very difficult” to find job candidates with the proper security clearances.

And earning those clearances, especially those required by intelligence agencies, is a “tremendous hoop to jump through,” he said.

“It can take a year, a year and a half to do all that with no guarantee of a positive outcome,” said Eckenrode.

Sen. James E. DeGrange Sr., an Anne Arundel County Democrat whose district includes Fort Meade, said the security clearance issue is important as the state struggles to replace jobs lost in the recession.

“There are jobs available that need these security clearances,” he said.

The tax credit bill was unveiled Thursday as part of a package of legislation supported by Republican and Democratic leaders in the state Senate who sought to contrast their cooperative spirit with Washington’s partisan gridlock during what is expected to be a challenging session.

“We’re coming together as best we can,” said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert and Prince George’s. “The things we can agree upon, we’re going to bring forward.”

Senators also threw their support behind a bill to exempt up to $5 million in qualified agricultural property from the Maryland estate tax.

The legislation would also reduce the estate tax for farms from 16 percent to 5 percent on land valued above $5 million. Non-farm items would still be taxed at the 16 percent rate over $1 million.

Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Garagiola, D-Montgomery, said too many families end up losing a portion of a farm or the entire farm to development, because they are land-rich but cash-poor.

The senators also showed bipartisan support for bills that would reinforce social studies as a core discipline area in public schools, protect children from identity theft, and extend a scholarship program for veterans.