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Democrats and Republicans Alike See Dip in Business Group’s Ratings After 2020 Session

Votes on high-profile taxes and spending increases during the 2020 session earned the Maryland Senate a dismal rating on a pro-business group’s annual scorecard, with the average senator’s score falling to just 29%.

The Maryland Free Enterprise Association released its annual Roll Call scorecard on Tuesday. The scorecard rates state senators based on how they voted on 11 bills during the 2020 session, and delegates based on how they voted on 20 bills.

Some of those bills were high-cost efforts, like the “Blueprint for Maryland’s Future,” a multibillion-dollar education overhaul that was later vetoed by Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R). Republicans generally fare better in the business group’s rankings than Democrats, but even some of the Senate’s most pro-business members saw their score fall this year.

Only one senator, Christopher R. West (R-Baltimore County), was given a score higher than 70% in 2020. In 2016, by comparison, 14 senators received perfect 100% scores. The Senate as a whole has gradually declined in the scorecard’s ratings over the past several years: While the average senator’s score was 59% in 2016, it has since dropped to 29% in 2020.

The 2020 session was shuttered early due to the coronavirus pandemic, but legislators managed to pass hundreds of bills in the eleventh-hour of the session. Many bills that involved spending or tax increases were rejected by Hogan, although lawmakers could override those vetoes during the next session.

Duane Carey, the president of Maryland Free, said he’s worried that lawmakers are becoming increasingly polarized in both the House and Senate – and added that he doesn’t see an end to that polarization any time soon.

“There’s no middle anymore,” Carey told Maryland Matters. “The roll call data show that pretty clearly.”

Carey added that he thinks some of the spending increases approved by lawmakers during the 2020 session will hamper Maryland business’ ability to weather the pandemic. He specifically cited the “Blueprint” education reform and a digital advertising tax, both of which Hogan vetoed, as harmful to businesses in the state.

“Certainly, Maryland should not be raising taxes or erecting any additional barriers to employment growth when we have so many people out of work because of the pandemic,” Maryland Free Board Chair Scott Dorsey, who was a business representative on the commission that recommended education reforms, said in a release. “Nor should we be committing to spending increases that we can’t pay for without future tax increases.”

A coalition of businesses and advocacy groups was formed in the fall to oppose overriding Hogan’s veto on the digital advertising tax. The digital advertising tax was combined with other tax efforts during the waning days of the session to help pay for the education reforms.

Democratic lawmakers who supported the bill pushed back on the coalition’s claim that the digital ad tax’s costs, while intended to target large corporations, will be passed down to smaller businesses and individuals.

“This tax affects companies only making $100,000,000 or more a year on the free exploitation of Marylanders’ personal and private data,” Senate President Bill Ferguson’s (D) office said in November in response to the coalition. “We have, and will continue to stand side-by-side with small businesses to protect them from being taken advantage of by multinational corporations. Shame on these out-of-state corporations that are looking to harm Maryland small businesses instead of paying their fair share.”

Maryland Free, which was previously known as Maryland Business for Responsive Government, also gives a cumulative score for lawmakers based on how they’ve voted throughout their tenure in the legislature. Maryland Free makes note of lawmakers with high cumulative scores and at least four years of experience.

While his rating dropped slightly in 2020, Sen. Justin Ready (R-Carroll) holds the highest cumulative score of any lawmaker in the Senate at 93%. The Senate Democrat with the highest cumulative score was Katherine Klausmeier (D-Baltimore County) with 59%.

In the House, two Republicans are tied for the highest cumulative score: Matthew Morgan (R-St. Mary’s) and Haven N. Shoemaker, Jr. (R-Carroll) both have perfect track records, according to Maryland Free, and a 100% score. The House Democrat with the highest cumulative score is Edward P. Carey (D-Anne Arundel) with 44%.

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