- The Washington Times - Monday, April 17, 2000

Maryland businesses specifically service-oriented and high-tech companies were victorious this General Assembly session when lawmakers voted to raise late fee charges and adopt rules that will govern electronic-commerce transactions.

Maryland legislators, however, failed to find ways to replenish the state's main source of funding for long-term transportation projects or ease the tax burden on Marylanders.

"It was a very interesting session," said Kathleen T. Snyder, president of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce. "On a scale of one to 10 10 being a big success for the business community [this session] was a six or seven."

The General Assembly overturned a Maryland Court of Appeals ruling that said businesses could only charge a late fee that is half of a percent of the total bill for goods and services.

The new legislation allows businesses to charge a monthly late fee of $5 or 10 percent of the unpaid balance, whichever is greater. No more than three monthly late fees can be imposed for a single payment that is past due.

"It was a big win for the business community and it protects the people who do pay their bills on time.," Ms. Snyder said.

Maryland became the second state behind Virginia to adopt the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act, a legal rule book designed to govern the future of electronic commerce. If Gov. Parris N. Glendening signs it, Maryland will become the first state where the law takes effect on Oct. 1, 2000.

The business community also won a battle against trial lawyers who were fighting to change a Maryland law that prohibits anyone who files a lawsuit from collecting punitive damages if the person filing the suit is at all responsible for the damage or injury.

The fight to eliminate the inheritance tax was a partial win for businesses after lawmakers said only direct descendants would be exempt.

The business community didn't have much luck with an acceleration of the income tax cut that is currently being phased in over a five-year period.

Ms. Snyder said the taxation issue was "disappointing."

The state has nearly a $1 billion surplus and "none of that money is going back to the tax payers," she said. "The economy is booming and the legislators must have felt taxpayers weren't screaming loud enough for tax cuts."

The General Assembly failed to resolve the state's long-term transportation needs that will amount to a minimum investment of $27 billion in the next 20 years. Maryland's Transportation Trust Fund, which provides money for the state's highways, mass transit, airports and the port, does not have adequate funds to pay for the long-term projects.

A proposal by Speaker of the House Casper R. Taylor to set aside a part of the sales tax to pay for mass transit projects did not pass in the Senate.

The Chamber, which supported Mr. Taylor's bill, will continue working this summer to come up with a proposal that is acceptable to both the House and the Senate, Ms. Snyder said.

For the first time the governor has allocated money from Maryland's General Fund to help pay for two of the state's largest transportation projects. The state's $200 million commitment to help replace the Woodrow Wilson bridge and a $175 million commitment to extend the Washington Metro rail blue line to Largo Town Center will be drawn from the General Fund.

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