O'Malley, Ehrlich have fuzzy views of each other's taxes, spending

By Aaron C. Davis and John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, June 11, 2010

Unemployment, a shaky recovery, mounting government debt and a host of other fiscal anxieties have distilled into a single question dominating the Maryland governor's race:

Whom do voters trust more to control taxes and spending: Gov. Martin O'Malley or his Republican rival, former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.?

In a state that has generally fared better in the recession than others -- but has also raised a bevy of taxes over the past eight years -- each is racing to cast his opponent as a tax-happy, out-of-control big spender.

In so doing, each has concocted a convenient history of his opponent's time in Annapolis and assigned sinister motives that often only make sense in the candidates' jumbled versions of the past.

The two candidates' pithy campaign lines about egregious tax and spending changes almost always omit any nod to the dire budget situation the other faced. And through a hail of numbers, they each grossly inflate totals for the other's spending and tax increases by counting the same cuts, taxes and fees over and over again.

To hear Ehrlich tell it on the campaign trail, O'Malley and the state's Democratic-controlled legislature have run amok in the past four years.

O'Malley increased spending even as the housing crisis loomed, Ehrlich says, and it was all just a setup so O'Malley could later claim that he had no choice in 2007 but to lead Democrats to raise a heap of new taxes -- sales, income and corporate, as well as ones on car titles, cigarettes and electronic bingo.

"They spent beyond our means, and we spend within our budget. They kill jobs. We help create them. They whine, and we lead," Ehrlich has told crowds of cheering supporters.

By O'Malley's math, Ehrlich committed the bigger budget sins during the previous four years. He raised property taxes, let tuition for state university students soar by more than 40 percent and, when state coffers were flush with housing-bubble money, engineered Maryland's biggest single-year spending increase in decades, funding programs to please both friends and foes before he ran for reelection.

"He wants to take Maryland back -- back to what?" O'Malley charges each time he takes the stump. "Back to a time when special interests had control in Annapolis and [Ehrlich] proposed $3 billion in new tax increases and the largest spending increase of any governor?"

So where does the truth lie?

As governor, Ehrlich made good on a pledge not to raise the income tax or sales tax. But he did raise property taxes for the first time in decades.

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