CPA Day receives warm welcome at Statehouse, despite snow on the ground

Neither snow nor busy season kept more than 130 CPAs from descending on Annapolis for CPA Day 2016. Organized by the Maryland Association of CPAs, the annual event includes legislative briefings, meetings between members and their district delegates and senators, and a legislative luncheon.

Following the area’s first snowfall of the year and with a record-setting blizzard predicted to begin the next day, the die-hard MACPA members who participate in CPA Day year after year and some new faces -- including a group of 20 students -- studied position papers on the issues, learned about the status of key bills, met with their state legislators and staff, and shared feedback with each other.

Focus on four issues

“Despite the snow, we had an incredible turnout and an energy and excitement even bigger than in prior years,” said Tom Hood, executive director and CEO of the MACPA. He led the group through a series of briefings, focusing on four key issues to be discussed with legislators:

  1. Support a lower cap for small business on supersedeas bonds (appeal bond cap).
  2. Support conforming Maryland tax due dates to the new federal due dates.
  3. Oppose sales tax on professional services.
  4. Support retaining the contributory negligence rule; oppose any change to comparative negligence.

Hood also explained the timing of CPA Day in January. Albeit busy season for CPAs, the event coincides with the fact that the Maryland General Assembly only meets from January until April. Hood thanked members for supporting the CPA Political Action Committee (CPA PAC) and expressed his appreciation for the support of the Big 4 firms and top 10 firms in Maryland as well. He added that there are sometimes business-related legislative issues that the Maryland Chamber of Commerce takes the lead on, which the MACPA supports.

As part of the opening briefing, MACPA Chair Mike Manspeaker and past Chair Al DeLeon demonstrated, through role playing, how to brief and take questions from legislators.

Explaining that the origin of the word “lobbying” is said by many to date back to meetings that President Ulysses S. Grant held in the lobby of the Willard Hotel (with some saying the word dates back to meetings in the lobby or anteroom of the British House of Commons), Hood noted the importance of the MACPA and its members serving as an educational resource to legislators. “It starts with understanding what we are doing and why it is important,” said Hood. He noted that the MACPA’s registered lobbying firm is Manis, Canning & Associates, adding, “They have represented us for over 30 years and are among the best lobbying groups in Annapolis.”

Lt. governor, legislators and staff meet with MACPA
The group also received a special briefing from Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, introduced by MACPA member Chris Rosenthal. Rutherford emphasized the governor’s proposals to build the business and economic environment in Maryland, including efforts to stimulate growth in empowerment zones through tax incentives.

“We have reduced regulatory burdens that make it difficult to do business in our state,” said Rutherford. “Our goal is to make Maryland a great state in which to live, work and retire.”

In addition to the meetings with state legislators and their staff which took place in their offices during the morning, the MACPA invited legislators and their staff to a luncheon at the Governor Calvert House.  

State Sen. Justin Ready, attending the luncheon, said, “I generally support what the MACPA wants. It is generally pro-business. If there are things you believe are important, we would like to help.”

Shane Benz, an intern for State Sen. Brian J. Feldman, was among the Senate staffers who joined the MACPA’s legislative lunch. “CPAs are crucial to our economy and business environment,” said Benz. He noted the role of CPAs in helping people plan out their lives and their future. Currently a senior at Washington College, Benz relishes the experience of being an intern in the Statehouse, and said he was pleased to see groups like the MACPA who try to make a difference. Benz’ boss, Sen. Feldman, is a CPA and JD and received the MACPA Chair’s Award in 2004.

The member experience
Anoop Mehta, a past chair of the MACPA, said, “We talked to the legislative aides. They were very happy to see us; some remembered us from prior years. There was an appreciation of our commitment in coming here. They asked us questions and indicated they were aware of some of the challenges and concerns we have.”

Debra Hale noted that, “all our people (state senators, delegates and aides) were at a Hartford County Delegates meeting, but we heard our meetings and lunch were on their calendars.”

Ken Kelly noted that although they could not meet with the Hartford County delegates, “We sat in on the Senate floor in session,” adding, “it was great to see it in action.” He noted, “We heard the legislative aides say, ‘The CPAs are here!’ That is great recognition that we are here year after year.”

Joselyn Martin, a CFO and member of the MACPA’s Business and Industry Committee, noted that CPA Day isn’t just for those who practice as external CPAs or auditors. “The legislators value the voice of CPAs in business and industry,” she said. Business representatives provide crucial information on practical aspects of legislation and how it can impact jobs, revenue, and the economic and business environment.

Avonette Blanding, another member of the MACPA’s Business and Industry Committee, said, “I always enjoy CPA Day. It’s nice to connect with the legislators and remind them that we vote.”

Tanyeka Alexander said there was such a large group of MACPA members, a Statehouse staffer said, “All of you are with this group?” She added, “The aides were very receptive, and they appreciated learning about some issues from us -- e.g., they didn’t know about the difference in tax deadlines between Maryland and the new federal deadlines.”

Alice Porter said, “I feel like our mission was accomplished. We found out our senator is against sales tax on services. We’ll have to work a little harder with them on the appeal bond issue (small business cap).”

Jerry Beard, chair of the MACPA’s State Tax Committee, said, “It’s always nice to be here, meeting with our representatives to chat and hear what’s happening. While the things we support or do not support may change, we come down here year after year to try to make Maryland a better place.”

Augustus (Gus) Alonza said that although he was not able to meet with his representatives, “I went by the Senate gallery and waved to our friends in the Legislature; it gives figurative meaning to the word, ‘We are watching you.’”  He added that, while MACPA members may hold a variety of views across social issues, it is important to stay on message on the issues on the MACPA’s agenda.

A new participant, Thelburt Williams, said he had just graduated from college and heard about the event in emails from NABA and Beta Alpha Psi. “I loved the experience,” he says of CPA day. Interested in politics himself, Williams says, “I got to see CPAs come together as one, to be proactive with legislators. Sometimes, legislators don’t understand fully certain issues or their significance; they welcome us to come out to add to their understanding and explain our needs.”

Another first time participant, Erin Mooney, is on the Contracts and Grants team with her firm. She said, “I met with State Senator Miller’s legislative aide, we touched on the sales tax issue and the appeal bond issue.” She also met with an aide to Delegate Fisher and said, “I found the staff were very receptive, and asked questions.”

Joseph Musemeci, Jr. a MACPA member for over 10 years and a member of its State Tax Committee, was also a first-time participant in CPA Day.”I worked late a couple of nights,” he says, “because I thought it was important to be here today.” He adds, “It was interesting to be in Delegate Dan Morhaim’s office, not only to discuss the issues but to see what’s on the walls in the offices, their personalities, to be relatable as a human being besides being a legislator.” (Morhaim, an M.D., had some items in his office referencing his medical background, lending new meaning to the phrase, “Is there a doctor in the House?”) Musemeci, reflecting on the briefings and legislative update provided by MACPA leaders, said, “It’s helpful in understanding how to be a good citizen.” 

‘Building the bench’
Reflecting on the day, Hood said, “Probably the most significant thing for us this year is we are now building our bench-strength with young people - in addition to our seasoned veterans - who are going to be able to talk to our legislators. Almost half our group this year includes first timers, and it’s the biggest group of students by far; we are pleased to have a large group of interns as well.”

“The CPAs who have been here in past years know that this program is about building relationships,” observed Hood. “If these young people come here for the next 15 years, gaining an in-depth understanding of the legislative process, building their knowledge base, that’s invaluable, and builds our ability to participate  in the legislative process at the grass roots level.”

Read more about CPA day on Twitter #CPAday, and follow the MACPA @macpa. See also MACPA CEO Tom Hood’s Storify recap of the day. The MACPA wishes to thank event sponsors Deloitte, EY, KPMG, PwC, Aon, Kelly Payroll, and Tri-Bridge Partners.