GOP candidates for Md. governor call for cuts in income tax, others during radio debate

During a radio debate Saturday morning, the four Republicans running to become Maryland’s next governor promised an array of tax cuts as each sought to make the case that they could work effectively with a legislature in Annapolis dominated by Democrats.

The candidates also pledged to expand gun rights, called for more local control of education policy and criticized the state’s repeal of the death penalty during the hour-long broadcast on Baltimore’s WBAL (1090 AM).

“You can name the tax . . . and we’re going to work to get rid of it,” Harford County Executive David R. Craig said, expressing a common sentiment among the four GOP hopefuls seeking to succeed Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), who is term-limited.

The June primary also includes Del. Ronald A. George (R-Anne Arundel); Anne Arundel County businessman Larry Hogan; and Charles County businessman Charles Lollar. The Republican who prevails is likely to face a tough fight in November in a state where Democrats hold a more than 2 to 1 advantage in party registration.

Craig was the most aggressive Saturday, promising to phase out the personal income tax — the state’s largest source of tax revenue — and to repeal the estate tax and the “rain tax,” a storm-management fee intended to cut down on pollution flowing into the Chesapeake Bay. He said he would also roll back planned increases in gasoline taxes, among others.

Hogan was critical earlier in the week of calls by Craig and Lollar to eliminate the income tax, saying he would take a “more reasoned and reasonable approach.”

During Saturday’s debate, hosted by talk show personality Jimmy Mathis, Hogan reiterated his view that the state should get spending under control before cutting taxes.

But Hogan added: “We’ve got to look at rolling back as many of these taxes as possible.”

George pushed his plan to cut income taxes by 10 percent across the board, while Lollar also promised to cut “excessive tolls,” roll back the gas tax and repeal the rain tax.

During the debate, the candidates did not detail how they would pay for their tax plans. Lollar pledged that “we’re not going to cut essential services that Marylanders have become used to.”

The tone was cordial throughout. At one point, Hogan even suggested that George would make “an excellent member” of his administration.

One of the few areas where the candidates diverged was on a question of decriminalizing marijuana. Last month, O’Malley signed a bill that will impose only civil fines on those caught with small amounts of the drug.

Craig, George and Hogan said they opposed that move, while Lollar said he was open to the idea of decriminalization but opposed to outright legalization of the drug.

All four candidates said they favored broader rights for gun owners, and they were critical, to varying degrees, of a gun-control bill passed by the legislature last year.

Three of the four said they would be likely to support a Maryland version of a “Stand Your Ground” law, under which a person could justifiably use force in self-defense without an obligation to retreat first. Hogan said he had not given the issue much thought because his campaign is focused so heavily on improving the state’s economic conditions.

All four Republicans said they opposed the legislature’s repeal last year of the death penalty, and all four called for addressing problems with immigration laws. Craig said he considered the passage of Maryland’s “Dream Act” a mistake. The 2011 law extends Maryland’s in-state college tuition rates to the children of undocumented immigrants under certain conditions.

All of the candidates also voiced support for giving more control of educational policy to local leaders and were critical of Maryland’s implementation of Common Core, a national initiative designed to established a single set of standards for kindergarten through 12th grade in English-language arts and math.

Craig went a step further, saying the state should reject federal education grants that require policy changes and expire after a number of years, leaving the state to foot the bill.

“The grants that come from the federal government are bribes,” Craig said. “We’re going to start saying, ‘No, we’re not going to take your grant.’ ”

During the debate, each candidate offered a rationale for why he would be able to produce results with a heavily Democratic legislature.

Hogan stressed that he had served as appointments secretary under former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the state’s last Republican governor. In that capacity, he was responsible for steering thousands of people into administration jobs and posts on state board and commissions, Hogan said. Many of those positions required approval from the heavily Democratic state Senate.

Hogan also relayed that for the past three years, he had led Change Maryland, a grass-roots watchdog group whose membership includes Democrats and independents.

“My whole life has been about bipartisanship and reaching across the aisle,” Hogan said.

Lollar noted that he has already started forming Democrats for Lollar groups and wants to lead on a nonpartisan basis.

George cited his work in the legislature on issues that required help from Democrats.

And Craig said that both as Harford’s executive and the former mayor of Havre de Grace, he has learned how to work with legislative bodies to get things done.

John Wagner has covered Maryland government and politics for The Post since 2004.
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