Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

Church Damaged by Pipe Break Moves to Suitland

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011
(Photo by Maryland Newsline's Alexanda Wilding)

Property at the Capitol Heights church was damaged in January by the water main break. (Photo by Maryland Newsline's Alexanda Wilding)

A Capitol Heights church that was extensively damaged earlier this year by a 54-inch water main break has temporarily relocated to a new location in Suitland, where it shares a space with New Birth Christian Church.

Pastor Stephanie Stratford of the Ekklesia Family Life and Worship Center said the church ended its lease at the previous location and has been worshiping in the new location since early February. The church is looking for a permanent home and is in the process of gathering funds to eventually relocate, Stratford said.

“I am very hopeful that someone who owns property suitable for the church would consider donating it to the church because of our tragedy with our building,” Stratford said. “Even if it needs fixing up, we’d be willing to do that.”

She said she hopes the church can remain in the Capitol Heights, Forestville, District Heights or Suitland areas.

The Christian community and political leaders have been helpful in the recovery process, and the church has received some “considerably generous” donations, Stratford said.

In late January, 50 million gallons of water burst from a broken water main in Capitol Heights after reinforcing wires in the main snapped. Water rushed into the office park housing the church and onto the nearby inner loop of the Capital Beltway.

About 400,000 Prince George’s County customers of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission lost water pressure due to the burst main, and they were under a boil water advisory for four days.

The inspection of the broken main has been completed, but it will need additional repairs and is not in service at this time, said WSSC spokesman I.J. Hudson. It will cost about $480,000 to repair the main and restore the parking lot that surrounds it, he added.

WSSC is installing an acoustic fiber optics system on the larger and older mains as preventative measures to prevent further incidents. The system is expected to be installed in all the larger mains by 2013, Hudson said.

Following the water main break, the church settled with WSSC for damages to its property in an amount that Stratford didn’t wish to disclose, but said was “fair.”

The insurance company representing the owner of the damaged building – The Korth Companies Inc. of Gaithersburg, Md. – is handling financial discussions with WSSC, said company Vice President Terry Korth.

Stratford said she likes the church’s current location, on Meadowview Drive in Suitland. “It’s in the heart of the community, and our mission is directed toward the community,” she said of her following, which includes about 60 families. Members worship there at 7:30 a.m. on Sundays and hold a Bible study at the same location on Thursday evenings at 7 p.m.

In the days that followed the water main break, church members worshiped at Galilee Baptist Church in Suitland and Brown Memorial AME Church in Washington.

Donations to the church can be sent to P.O. Box 1479 Suitland, Md., 20752.

–By Maryland Newsline’s Alexandra Wilding

Previous Story: Water Main Break Gives Church Hope

Hope Still Alive for O’Malley’s Offshore Wind Legislation

Friday, March 25th, 2011

ANNAPOLIS — Despite concerns that momentum behind the governor’s offshore wind energy bill is fading, Delegate Dereck Davis, D-Prince George’s, said Friday that the bill has more than a fighting chance to pass this session.

The governor’s signature energy initiative has faced opposition from legislators concerned about the project’s costs to the state and consumers.

Davis, who is continuing to have meetings with Gov. Martin O’Malley and his staff, said he plans to turn the full attention of the House Economic Matters Committee to the bill next week. Davis chairs the committee.

That leaves less than two weeks before the end of the legislative session to get the bill out of committees and passed in the House and Senate.

The bill would contractually obligate utility companies to purchase some energy from offshore wind production companies for 25 years, once the wind turbines have been built. The turbines would be located about 12 miles offshore of Ocean City.

O’Malley announced Wednesday that he was introducing amendments to the bill that would cap rate increases at $2 per month, which Davis said could help get the bill out of committee.

“Any cap helps,” Davis said. “What folks want is a certain amount of cost certainty. That can’t do anything but help so that was certainly a good move on the governor’s part.”

Some of the bill’s opponents believe it is too cumbersome to pass this session, with some Senate Finance Committee members saying it should be recommended for a study over the summer.

Steelworkers unions and environmentalists are united in seeing the bill pass in the hopes that building the turbines would bring jobs to Maryland and help the state reach a goal of generating 20 percent of energy from renewable sources by 2022.

– By Capital News Service’s Kerry Davis.

Budget Debate Starts in House

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

ANNAPOLIS — The House of Delegates today begins debate on a state budget proposal that reforms pensions for state employees, restores a large chunk of cuts to K-12 education funding and raises several fees to generate tens of millions in new revenue to help shore up a dedicated transportation fund.

The House Appropriations Committee last week approved a series of budget cuts and fee increases to Gov. Martin O’Malley’s budget proposal.

Lawmakers will debate a series of amendments to the budget today before giving the bill preliminary approval. A final vote on the budget is expected Friday.

The budget approved by the Appropriations Committee would increase several fees to generate more than $60 million in new revenue. The bulk –about $50 million — will come from a proposed increase to the titling fee for vehicle purchases, which would double from $50 to $100. Another $2 million to $3 million in new revenue would come from doubling the fee for vanity license plates from $25 to $50.

The money generated from those two fees will go toward the state’s Transportation Trust Fund, which O’Malley is planning to tap to the tune of $100 million this session to plug budget holes.

“This is designed to provide some help and relief for transportation instead of doing some sort of gasoline tax,” said Delegate John Bohanan, a St. Mary’s Democrat and key member of the Appropriations Committee. “We’ve got to come up with some funds for transportation.”

The budget approved by the committee also increases a fee Marylanders pay to file property tax records from $20 to $40. That change is estimated to raise about $10 million, Bohanan said.

House Republicans fired back at the House spending plan Wednesday, saying the budget does little to address long-term debt and spending. The proposed fees, said House Minority Leader Anthony O’Donnell, amount to the government “taking money out of the private sector.”

“We don’t have a revenue problem. These are revenue mechanisms,” said O’Donnell, R-Calvert. “We have a spending problem and this budget doesn’t address our over-spending.”

House Republicans are readying amendments to present today. O’Donnell did not elaborate on specifics but said the amendments will “highlight greater opportunities to reduce spending in Maryland.”

House GOP leaders presented a proposal earlier this month that outlined $621 million in additional spending cuts on top of the nearly $1 billion in reductions O’Malley proposed in his budget.

O’Malley’s budget proposal would cut the state’s structural deficit, which is estimated between $1.7 billion and $1.9 billion, by $730 million. The House budget goes a bit further and seeks to slash the structural deficit by $803 million.

That’s not enough, Republicans say, and the GOP proposal presented last month would eliminate about two-thirds of the deficit in fiscal 2012 and the rest by fiscal 2013.

“The Democrat plan is silent with regard to when the structural deficit will be completely fixed,” O’Donnell said. This budget “doesn’t solve our problem and it kicks the can down the road.”

Bohanan, the chair of the Education and Economic Development Subcommittee, said Democrats refused to cut deeper because any further reductions could “decimate” education funding. The committee voted last week to restore about $58 million of the $94 million O’Malley cut in funding for K-12.

“That’s the one priority we continue to hold and maintain,” Bohanan said.

The House gets the first shot at the budget this year. Bohanan said the Senate is “in sync” with the majority of the House plan, but the two chambers will likely have to reconcile differences on pension reform.

The House is proposing to change O’Malley’s pension reform plan by requiring state employees to pay 7 percent of their salaries instead of 5 percent into their pension plans. O’Malley’s proposal would have given state employees the option to choose between 7 percent and 5 percent contributions.

The Senate on the other hand could move toward a shift to have local governments help pay for pensions. The House last year rejected a “wholesale shift,” Bohanan said.

“The main thing is going to be pensions,” he said. “We’ll be in sync on education funding, but pension reform will be different.”

By Capital News Service’s David Saleh Rauf.

Large Demonstrations Expected in Annapolis Monday Night

Friday, March 11th, 2011

ANNAPOLIS – As the Senate prepares for a final vote on Maryland in-state tuition legislation Monday night, Annapolis police will be closing segments of Rowe Boulevard, Bladen Street and College Avenue approaching the State House, anticipating about 5,000 protesters.

Senate President Mike Miller told senators Friday to arrive early for the session, which starts at 8 p.m. Monday. Miller reminded lawmakers that they would be voting for what was best for the state, and asked them not to be swayed by the crowd.

Miller’s office said the crowd would be a combination of people with interest in the tuition bill, known as the Maryland DREAM Act, and people with interest in retirement and pension security.

The city of Annapolis issued a press release naming Marylanders for Retirement Security, a coalition of organizations representing public employees, as the group responsible for the rally. The city expects 5,000 people.

Maryland Capitol Police said the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is the only organization that has taken out a permit to protest Monday night. AFSCME said they are expecting about 10,000 people, including AFL-CIO President Richard L. Trumka, demonstrating for pensions, education, health care and retiree benefits.

CASA de Maryland plans to bring 30 to 40 students and members in support of in-state tuition for undocumented students.

Incoming lanes of Rowe Boulevard will be closed at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium from 6:15 to 6:35 p.m. Inbound lanes of Bladen Street from Calvert Street to College Avenue will be closed from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., as will College Avenue from Church Circle to St. John’s Street.

– By Capital News Service’s Holly Nunn.

Cardin Proposes Elimination of Blenders’ Ethanol Tax Credit

Friday, March 11th, 2011
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., introduced legislation to repeal the  Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit, which gives companies 45 cents on every gallon of ethanol they blend with gasoline.

“There is no real justification for the subsidy for the blend on ethanol,” Cardin said. The subsidy does not help corn growers, but rather contributes to the profits of oil companies, he said.

Should the bill become law, the short-term impact on corn growers would be relatively small, said John Urbanchuk, technical director at Cardno ENTRIX, an environmental and natural resources consulting firm. But the long-term effect on ethanol demand could be substantial, he said.

The bill, which is co-sponsored by Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, comes on the heels of a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office last week saying the VEETC subsidy cost $5.4 billion in 2010. The report indicated the measure could cost $6.75 billion in forgone revenue in 2015.

“We’re looking for ways to save money,” Cardin said. “I think this is way you can save several billion dollars to help balance the budget.”

A demand for ethanol would remain without the VEETC because of the Renewable Fuel Standard, which requires minimum volumes of biofuels like ethanol in transportation fuels, according to the GAO report.

“Importantly, the fuel standard is now at a level high enough to ensure that a market for domestic ethanol production exists in the absence of the ethanol tax credit and may soon itself be at a level beyond what can be consumed by the nation’s existing vehicle infrastructure,” the report stated.

Growth Energy, an organization advocating for ethanol production and use, issued a statement condemning the bill.

“The ethanol industry is fully prepared to reform and reduce the cost of current tax programs,” said CEO Tom Buisin in a statement released Thursday. “I would suggest Sens. Coburn and Cardin introduce legislation requiring the oil industry to do the same. ”

Urbanchuk said a repeal of the tax credit could create another unintended consequence: an increase in the already-growing investment in foreign ethanol production.

“We’ll end up, instead of being a net exporter, perhaps being a net importer of ethanol again,” he said.

Cardin acknowledged opposition but remained confident in his objectives for the legislation.

“There could be some regional controversy because people identify it with corn, but I really think when people look at it they’ll see that this is not really an issue about the corn industry,” Cardin said. “It’s really an issue about removing a subsidy that’s no longer needed.”

– By Capital News Service’s Laura E. Lee

Hoyer Jump Starts Senate’s ‘Make It In America’ Hearings

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, delivered opening remarks to the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation Wednesday on the state of domestic manufacturing.

“Today, manufacturing is leading our economic recovery,” Hoyer said. “In fact, that sector has grown every month for 19 straight months.”

Hoyer was the first speaker in a series of planned Senate hearings on manufacturing in the United States, said Sen. John D. “Jay”  Rockefeller IV, the committee’s chairman.

“This is sort of our theme for the year,” Rockefeller said of the Democrats’ manufacturing agenda.

The agenda’s name, “Make It In America,” has a dual-meaning: An increase in the amount of domestic manufacturing should also buoy American workers’ ability to financially thrive, Hoyer said.

“It’s time to recommit ourselves to manufacturing, to our middle class and to the pride Americans have always taken in making things,” Hoyer said, emphasizing that the federal government must partner with the private sector when investing in the development of U.S. manufacturing.

There are about 3,680 manufacturing establishments — that employ more than 127,000 workers — in Maryland, according to the 2007 Economic Census, a U.S. Census Bureau survey that was released in April 2010.

Gary Locke, secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce, also addressed the committee’s first hearing in the “Make It In America” series. The U.S., Locke said, is on track to achieve the president’s goal of doubling exports over the next five years.

– By Capital News Service’s Steve Kilar

Supreme Court Looks at Inventors’ Rights

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

The Supreme Court heard arguments Monday in a case that could decide whether university researchers in Maryland and nationwide have control over the ownership rights to their innovations when federal funding is involved.

The case, Stanford v. Roche, had three main parties: Stanford University, the United States government and Roche Molecular Systems (formerly Cetus Corporation). It centers around Stanford professor Mark Holodniy’s research into an HIV/AIDS test.

In 1988, Holodniy signed a patent agreement with Stanford assigning it the rights to his future innovations. He then began visiting Cetus to learn about the company’s polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technology, which was integral to his HIV/AIDS test. He also signed a contract with Cetus giving it the rights to any inventions he might devise from his work there.

Cetus became Roche in 1991 and the company started selling HIV detection kits based on Holodniy’s work. Stanford later obtained three patents related to the professor’s research and sued Roche for patent infringement. Stanford’s lawyers argued that under the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980 the university had first dibs on any ownership rights to Holodniy’s work because he was a university employee, and that any contract he signed with Cetus/Roche is void because he didn’t own the rights to his inventions.

“Being covered by Bayh-Dole means he lacks the power to transfer title to someone else,” Stanford’s lawyer, Donald Ayer, said in court Monday.

A district court initially ruled in Stanford’s favor on those grounds, but the  Federal Circuit Court overturned, ruling that Holodniy did have the right to transfer title of his work.

Kathi Westcott is associate counsel for the American Association of University Professors, which filed a joint amicus brief supporting the Federal Circuit court’s decision. She said the Bayh-Dole Act was only intended to reduce bureaucracy and help bring innovations to the market, while Stanford was trying to use it to strip individual inventors of their ownership rights.

“I certainly think that that is what Stanford is arguing and our position is that they’re asking the court to read the Bayh-Dole Act much more broadly than it was intended,” Westcott said in a phone interview Monday.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg seemed to want to bring the case back to its origins as a simple contract dispute, noting that if Stanford had written a more airtight agreement with Holodniy, the case would not have ended up before the Supreme Court.

But Holodniy’s work at Stanford was funded in part by the Bethesda-based National Institutes of Health and that federal money complicates things. Ayer argued that the Federal Circuit’s judgment would not only allow researchers to cut universities out of ownership rights in third-party deals, it would also cut out the U.S. government’s ownership rights, which are second only to the contracting institution’s under Bayh-Dole when federal funding is involved.

But Justice Antonin Scalia seemed skeptical, noting that the government could just withhold federal funds from a project unless the researchers involved agreed not to transfer the rights to their inventions to a third party.

Roche attorney Mark Fleming said that the government also had other leverage, like the ability to grab patent rights by eminent domain, and needed no help from a new interpretation of Bayh-Dole to ensure its interests. He said overturning the Federal Circuit court’s ruling could cheat Roche out of any ownership rights it had to an invention that Holodniy never would have developed without the company’s help.

“He showed up because he did not know how to do the PCR,” Fleming said. “That was the basis of this invention. … To this day Stanford hasn’t explained what else Cetus could have done to protect its research.”

Justice Stephen Breyer challenged Fleming, saying that if Roche was right, then Bayh and Dole had written legislation that was so easy to subvert that the U.S. and its contracting universities might never get licensing rights to federally-funded innovations. Chief Justice John Roberts echoed that point a moment later.

Fleming countered, saying the current interpretation of Bayh-Dole had been perfectly adequate for the last 30 years. Breyer again pressed him on his view of Bayh-Dole and at one point the two briefly tried to talk over each other. But afterward Breyer was conciliatory.

“Your answer’s not as bad as I think,” he said, drawing a laugh from the gallery.

–By Capital News Service’s Andy Marso

Honest Tea’s CEO Says Things Go Better with Coke

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011
Honest Tea CEO Seth Goldman addresses the sustainable business conference on Wednesday about Coca-Cola's purchase of his company. Capital News Service photo by Steve Kilar

Honest Tea CEO Seth Goldman addresses the sustainable business conference on Wednesday about Coca-Cola's purchase of his company. Capital News Service photo by Steve Kilar

Coca-Cola’s acquisition of Bethesda-based beverage producer Honest Tea continues to move forward, said Seth Goldman, the company’s co-founder and CEO.

Goldman was the keynote speaker Wednesday at a Washington forum on sustainable business practices.

The Atlanta-based beverage giant purchased a minority share of Honest Tea in 2008. Since then, Honest Tea’s distribution has expanded five-fold — from 15,000  to 75,000 sales outlets — and sales have tripled, Goldman said.

Honest Tea shareholders were formally notified Tuesday of Coca-Cola’s plan to purchase the company’s remaining shares. The company will remain headquartered in Bethesda, Goldman said in a blog post.

Goldman is optimistic about the acquisition — under which he will maintain an ownership stake — and hopes consumers will see the potential “green” advantages of wider distribution of Honest Tea’s organic products.

“It’s easy to fall into the ‘big is bad, small is good’ trap,” Goldman said. But in addition to moving Honest Tea into a larger distribution network — helping fulfill the company’s goal “to make organics democratized” — Coca-Cola also offers resources that can further sustainable business practices.

For instance, Goldman said, Coca-Cola is developing more eco-friendly bottles made from molasses, and its bottling plants waste less water than Honest Tea’s other bottling facilities.

“Coke’s (bottling) strategies are more advanced than ours,” Goldman said.

Honest Tea, which also produces juices, is planning to expand beyond beverages and expects to launch a new fruit drink in about two months, Goldman said. “There’s a lot more on the way.”

– By Capital News Service’s Steve Kilar

Md. Black-owned Businesses Boom in Mid-decade

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

The  number of black-owned businesses in the U.S. increased by about 60 percent — more than three times the national average for business growth — between 2002 and 2007, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

Among the states, Maryland had the third-largest percentage of firms with black ownership in 2007, behind Washington, D.C., and Georgia. At the time, Maryland had about 102,000 black-owned businesses — approximately 19 percent of Maryland firms — according to the government survey.

In 2007, about 55 percent of business in Prince George’s County were black-owned, the highest percentage among the nation’s large counties. Baltimore City had nearly 15,000 black-owned businesses that year.

Among the nation’s large cities, Baltimore had the third-largest percentage — about 35 percent — of black-owned businesses in 2007. The number of black-owned businesses in Baltimore increased by about 50 percent between 2002 and 2007.

In the metropolitan Washington region, which includes Maryland and Virginia suburbs, the number of black-owned businesses increased by about 42 percent, to more than 95,000 firms. Almost 30,000 of these businesses were in two industries, “health care and social assistance” and “professional, scientific, and technical services.”

The data comes from the 2007 Survey of Business Owners, a division of the government’s “economic census.”  The data is gathered every five years. It was released Tuesday.

For purposes of data collection, businesses are considered to be “black-owned” if a majority of a firm’s equity is controlled by an owner who self-identifies as black.

–By Capital News Services’ Steve Kilar

Lawmaker to Governor: Hands Off Dedicated Funds

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

ANNAPOLIS – Delegate Herb McMillan, R-Annapolis, is preparing legislation that would allow voters to decide whether the governor can continue using funds dedicated to specific causes to help pay for the state’s day-to-day operations.

McMillan’s bill, which he’s dubbed the “Dedicated State Funds Protection Act,” would establish a constitutional amendment that would go before voters in November 2012 to block the transfer of money from the state’s dedicated funds in order to balance the budget.

The state currently allocates money to a number of funds dedicated to projects like fixing roads and bridges, Chesapeake Bay restoration and preventing cancer caused by smoking.

Shuffling money from dedicated funds to the state’s general fund has become common practice McMillan said, noting that Gov. Martin O’Malley and former Gov. Bob Ehrlich have used the technique.

“Frequently, we’ll pass a new tax or fee and it’s supposed to go to this wonderful cause. They’ll lure people into supporting something like that because they know the purpose they want it  to go to,” he said. “As soon as the legislation passes and the monies are collected the governor … will take the money and transfer that fund into the general fund.”

For example: O’Malley, in his proposed fiscal 2012 budget, wants to transfer $60 million from the state’s Transportation Trust Fund to the general fund. Another $40 million from the transportation fund will go to the state’s rainy day fund under O’Malley’s proposed budget.

Lawmakers estimate $300 million has been taken from the transportation fund in recent years to address general fund deficits.

O’Malley’s fiscal 2012 budget also proposes shuffling $25 million in money dedicated to restoration of the Chesapeake Bay.

McMillan refers to this strategy as a “shell game.”

“If you really want the money to go to a dedicated fund then you need to make sure it doesn’t’ just go there, but that it stays there,” he said.

McMillan’s legislation is similar to a bill proposed by Senate Majority Leader Rob Garagiola. Garagiola’s proposal, which seeks to raise the gas tax by 10 cents and vehicle registration fees by 50 percent, includes a constitutional amendment to prohibit the state from “raiding” the transportation fund.

McMillan’s legislation goes a step further by trying to block the state from transferring money out of any of the state’s dedicated funds.

He shopped the bill on the House floor Wednesday, looking to drum up support before it’s introduced later this week (Friday is the deadline to file a House bill with the guarantee it will get a hearing). McMillan said he secured six co-sponsors in the process, all Democrats.

“Truthfully, I’ll easily have a lot of Republicans who will be supportive of this,” he said.”I’m going to colleagues from the other side of the aisle first.”

– By Capital News Service’s David Saleh Rauf.