Maryland GOP gubernatorial hopefuls pledge tax cuts, question O’Malley priorities

The Republicans vying to be Maryland’s next governor pledged to cut taxes and make the state more friendly to businesses during an hourlong debate broadcast statewide on Sunday afternoon during which they steadfastly avoided criticizing one another.

All four hopefuls vowed to chart a new direction from the Democratic governor and Democrat-dominated legislature in Annapolis — while at the same time reach out to enough Democratic voters to get elected in a state where registered Republicans are outnumbered more than 2 to 1.

“This may be our last chance to turn this state around before it’s too late,” said Anne Arundel County businessman Larry Hogan. “We simply cannot afford another four years by the same monopoly that has run our great state into the ground over the past eight years.”

Hogan appeared on stage at Salisbury University with Harford County Executive David R. Craig, Del. Ronald A. George (Anne Arundel) and Charles County businessman Charles Lollar on Saturday night — all candidates in the June 24 primary.

The debate was broadcast live by the local ABC affiliate but not available to a statewide audience until Sunday afternoon, when it was aired by Maryland Public Television.

Both Craig and Lollar touted their plans to phase out the state’s personal income tax over five years. George promised “emergency legislation” to immediately lower income taxes by 10 percent, while Hogan was less specific.

Hogan, a Cabinet member under former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the state’s last Republican governor, promised to first get spending under control and then roll back as many tax increases as possible passed during the tenure of Gov. Martin O’Malley (D).

Lollar also promised a taxpayer bill of rights, which would restrict growth in state spending to the rate of inflation or less.

“I believe it’s criminal for the government that you pay for ... to take more money out of your pockets to take care of its everyday bills for you the citizen, at a rate that’s much faster than your own wallets grow,” Lollar said.

All four contenders also said that they would prioritize state transportation spending to focus on roads rather than mass transit projects.

Lollar said the state can’t afford either the Purple Line or Red Line, two long-planned light rail projects in the Washington and Baltimore regions, respectively. Craig said he is not “going to send any money” to those projects at the expense of local road projects.

Craig was particularly critical of the O’Malley administration’s decision to divert funding intended for such road projects in recent years to help balance the state budget.

“I was the county executive when we got hit by this robbery by the current administration,” Craig said. “All counties have been hurt by this.”

Appearing before an audience on the Eastern Shore, all four GOP candidates sought to play up their commitment to the region.

Craig touted his choice of a running mate — Del. Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio (R-Talbot) — whom he said he said would be the state’s first lieutenant governor from the Eastern Shore.

Hogan also praised Haddaway-Riccio, saying she would make a fine member of his administration, perhaps as a liaison to the Eastern Shore.

During the debate, Lollar pushed a plan to impose term limits on Annapolis politicians, arguing they were out of touch with the interests of the business community.

“It’s time for us to get rid of the career politicians and send them home to get a job,” he said.

While none of his opponents endorsed that step, they all sought to make the case that they would make Maryland more hospitable to business.

George touted his credentials as a jewelry store owner in Annapolis.

Craig suggested that the O’Malley administration had spent too much time trying to recruit businesses on overseas trade missions at the expense of tending to the needs of companies currently operating in the state.

“We need to make sure that you don’t go to India or Brazil to say let’s bring new jobs here first,” Craig said. “Let’s keep the ones that are here first.”

He pledged he would turn Maryland into the “Silicon Bay.”

Hogan argued that lowering taxes and reforming regulations are keys to improving the business climate.

“Jobs are fleeing our state at an alarming rate,” he said. “We’re taxing businesses out of the state.”

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