O'Malley calls state permit process a 'weakness'
Gov. Martin O'Malley called Maryland's often lengthy and confusing business permit process "one of the weaknesses of our state," this morning before signing an executive order aimed at easing it.
"Fast Track," he said, is supposed to help speed projects with significant economic impact in specific redevelopment areas -- so long as they would not adversely impact the state's environmental and Smart Growth goals.
Developers who qualify for Fast Track would be told up front whether their business plans have any chance at approval, or whether the state will fight "tooth and nail" against the project, O'Malley said.
The new program is part of an overall administration concept called Maryland Made Easy, which corrals state permitting and business approval information in one area. Noting that small businesses account for 85 percent of the jobs in Maryland, O'Malley said, "We understand that government is not the job creator. But it sets the conditions."
Bureaucratic red tape was a theme on the gubernatorial campaign trail last year, with Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. repeatedly criticizing the Democratic governor's "over-regulation" of private businesses.
Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who is tasked with overseeing Fast Track, said complaints about Maryland's approval process date back far longer than the O'Malley administration.
"It's not like approvals came to a standstill four years ago," Brown said. He said he and the governor have been pondering ways to improve it for years but "we needed to make sure we got it right."
The state Department of Business and Economic Development now plays "traffic cop" for the permitting process, said Secretary Christian Johansson, helping businesses contact all the right state agencies. The speed of permitting will be monitored by StateStat, allowing the governor to prod agencies that aren't moving quickly enough, Johansson said.
Maryland Business for Responsive Government -- a frequent critic of O'Malley's approach to small business -- issued a supportive press release today on Fast Track.
"Governor O'Malley is taking a step in the right direction today by streamlining regulatory processes in Maryland departments and agencies," MBRG President Kimberly M. Burns said in a statement. "The executive order has potential to increase business productivity, investment and ultimately lead to job creation."
Bakery Express in Halethorpe played host to the Fast Track executive order ceremony this morning. The many cabinet secretaries and state and local lawmakers in attendance left with boxes of doughnuts.
Owner Charles Burman said his own experience with state and local permits has been positive in recent years.
By the time he began working on the 143,000 square-foot bakery in Halethorpe in 2007, he'd already opened three others in Maryland and one each in California, Texas and Florida. He said he knew to stay in constant communication with the state agencies that would issue permits.
"The state was extremely responsive," Burman said, "but we were extremely proactive."