Seven ways the gubernatorial election could change Maryland

Monday, November 1, 2010; 10:50 PM

Maryland's leading candidates for governor made late appeals Monday, sharing their visions for the state at restaurants, small businesses and big rallies. Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) focused his pitch on Baltimore and Prince George's County, two heavily Democratic jurisdictions that are key to his success Tuesday, while former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) capped his campaign with a rally near his boyhood home of Arbutus, the same place he stood the night he entered the race in April. The frenetic campaigning will soon come to a close - but the consequences of the choice Marylanders make will be felt for years. Here's a look at seven ways the state could be different, depending on which way voters go Tuesday. Some of these issues have dominated the race; others have received relatively little attention. - John Wagner

1 Sales tax

An Ehrlich victory could save Maryland consumers every time they go to the store - but at a large cost to the state treasury. The most expensive promise of the 2010 campaign has come from the Republican challenger: rolling back the state sales tax rate from 6 to 5 percent.

Ehrlich's plan would repeal an increase from early in O'Malley's tenure. Legislative analysts say it would cost the state more than $600 million a year. Ehrlich has not said how he would compensate for the lost revenue. O'Malley says the state can't afford the tax cut at a time when it is facing long-term budget shortfalls. Ehrlich, he says, is "trying to eat cake and lose weight."

If passed by a Democratic-led legislature - no given - Ehrlich's plan would save consumers about 40 cents on a basic pair of jeans, $2 on an iPod and $10 on a typical 46-inch flat-screen TV.

2 Purple Line

The outcome of the election could determine whether passengers on a future Purple Line will ride trains or buses.

The O'Malley administration is close to finalizing a proposal to seek federal funding for at least half of the estimated $1.68 billion in construction costs for a light rail line linking Bethesda and New Carrollton.

Ehrlich wants to scrap the plan and instead offer rapid bus service along the 16-mile route - a more practical alternative, he argues. O'Malley acknowledges Ehrlich's proposal could save money in the short term but says it would not spur the same kind of economic development a new rail line would.

Ehrlich says the savings could be used to help fund other transportation priorities, including the $60 million a year more he has promised for local road projects.

3 Education funding

Ehrlich has declined to say whether he will continue to fund a program that would send $127 million next year to 13 school systems where education costs are particularly high because of needy students, the cost of living and other factors.

Montgomery County is set to receive nearly $32 million in aid, and Prince George's would get nearly $39 million. O'Malley has promised to pay for the program, which is considered discretionary under the landmark 2002 Thornton education law in Maryland.

O'Malley did not pay for the program his first year in office but has done so since.

4 Gay marriage

Same-sex couples would be more likely to get marriage licenses in Maryland if O'Malley is reelected.

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