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  • Analysis of Sauerbrey's tax plan
  •   Sauerbrey Talks About Economics

    Ellen R. Sauerbrey
    (File Photo)

    June 29, 1998

    The following is an excerpt from a conversation between Ellen R. Sauerbrey (R) and Washington Post reporters and editors.

    Q: In that campaign you did very well by the tax issue. It appears to have drawn a lot of votes for you. Since then, obviously, taxes have been reduced. What can you draw on this time as a similarly powerful issue in this campaign?

    A: Yes, taxes have been reduced. By the time people go to vote in November I think they will have achieved about a $20 per person reduction. But the interesting thing is that, according to "Governing" magazine, which I think is a well respected publication of state government, their financial analysis of the states in January had Maryland having moved from the fourth highest in the country when I was leading that charge in 1994 to the second highest in the country per capita. So what has happened has been other states have acted more aggressively in terms of reducing their tax burden, which means that Maryland still is in a very non-competitive posture as far as the states that we compete with, particularly our surrounding states, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, West Virginia.

    So I think the tax issue is still, to me, it is still an issue because my argument in 1994 was that as long as Maryland's personal income tax burden was so out of line with the rest of the states, a business in Michigan looking at relocating into the mid-Atlantic region was going to have a great deal of incentive to go to Virginia rather than to Maryland. And I don't think that's good for us. So I don't the tax issue is off the table.

    Q: Would you be expecting then to make a specific kind of proposal as you did in 1994, and as the governor of Virginia did successfully in the last [election].

    A: Well I still believe exactly what I said in 1994 which was that the overall goal needed to be to achieve about a 24 percent reduction in Maryland personal income tax rates. Most of what you all have written about is a headline, a promise for the next governor to deliver, and I intend as governor to deliver that 10 percent [tax cut] but I also intend to continue to work towards bringing Maryland's tax rate down, consistent with what Gov. Glendening's own economic, I've forgotten the name of it, the economic development commission made that same recommendation that Maryland needed to reduce its personal income tax rates by 25 percent.

    Now in 1994, I was attacked as being irresponsible and I am delighted that Parris Glendening belatedly came to believe that maybe personal income tax rates were a problem and supported the legislative efforts to move in the right direction. But I think we need to go farther with that.

    Q: In 1994 that issue attained top priority in voters' minds. When they came to assessing your campaign, that was the one thing everyone knew about your candidacy was that you were promising a 24 percent tax cut. Do you expect that issue to have the same priority in this election in your campaign and, if not, what else is going to be up there?

    A: I think that while taxes and economic development to me are still extremely important, I think that there are other issues that the voters are a lot more focused on and clearly your poll shows exactly what I find every day when I'm out speaking to groups around the state. What people are very focused on right now is the deterioriation of the quality of education in Maryland, or the failure of Maryland public schools to be providing people a safe and effective education.

    I am, as you know, a former high school science teacher, public school teacher, and I have very, very strong beliefs about what I see and I have spent the last four years traveling Maryland and listening to people, and particularly visiting a lot of schools. And I think that focusing on some of the key problems in education is going to be a big part of my campaign. And I'm talking about dealing with disruption, which is not an urban problem, and I have learned a great deal over the last four years about how widespread the breakdown of just basic civility discipline in the classroom has become.

    The couple of issues in education that are going to really be the focus of my attention are testing children in the first grade, identifying learning disabilities, reading problems, attempting to remediate them promptly, putting reading specialists in our schools and focusing on phonics. Your competitor newspaper has picked up on something that I've been banging the drum on for a long time – which is that we don't teach children to read properly.

    Trying to end social promotion, which is pushing kids through the grades before they have the basic skills, I think is essential.

    What I see, and I'll speak for a minute to Baltimore City schools because it is the worst example in the state, 17 percent of the children in the Baltimore City school system are in special education. They're taking 33 percent of the school budget. That is appalling because probably 80 percent of those children don't belong in special education. They are there not because they can't learn, they are there because they were not taught to read.

    And that is a national study and I can't prove it because we haven't done that kind of a study of Baltimore City specifically, but nationally that's about what is the case. That most of the children in special education are perfectly capable of learning but they weren't taught and they end up in special education costing us twice as much to educate. We would be much better off to put the money into reading specialists, proper testing, a phonics based structured curriculum like the Calvert school curriculum in troubled elementary schools and trying to channel those kids into a successful future rather than passing them on with social promotion and allowing them to become frustrated, angry, hostile, acting out, becoming disruptive kids and probably ending up dropping out of school.

    Q: But you don't see the need for serious budget cuts to accommodate the tax, either in education or other areas?

    A: Well I certainly don't see any budget cuts in education or public safety because those are the two highest priorities to me. I do think that there are things that ought to be looked at. I think that we ought to be looking seriously at the amount of money that we're putting into public housing programs that is being ripped off every day to politically well connected people. When I read the papers and I see the stories just coming out, the stories keep coming and nothing gets done about it and it infuriates me.

    A judge who owns a row house and gets a couple of hundred thousand dollars to rehabilitate a row house that he can rent and if at the end of five years he's rented it, he gets to write it off as a grant. Three hundred and ten thousand dollars ($310,000) being put into low-income housing in Baltimore City, which is megatimes the amount that the average house value is in Baltimore City. There's tremendous abuse in that program.

    Sunny Day funds being given to in too many cases well connected people who in turn make political contributions. These kinds of things I think really, everybody ought to be concerned about.

    Q: In essence, in November, one of the things you're going to have to do is convince Maryland voters to fire the incumbent governor, say he's not doing well enough to be reelected. How will you convince them to do that? How do you think he's fallen short of what's necessary to retain him in office?

    A: I think Marylanders are going to have to look at Maryland and decide whether they think Maryland is underperforming. I think Maryland is underperforming and I think you can make a very strong case economically, by comparing Maryland to Virginia, that the people on our side of the river are every bit as smart, every bit as well educated, every bit as industrious.

    And I look at commercial, the first quarter of this year, and I should have brought the paper along because I can't remember who to attribute it to, but commercial space in Montgomery County something like 100,000 square feet this first quarter. In Fairfax County 5 million, over 5 million square feet. There are many ways to demonstrate that Maryland is not keeping up economically.

    And then let's look at our school system. We're spending something like 14 percent more than the national average, considerably more than, I think it's closer to 20 percent more than Virginia. But our kids are testing in the mediocre middle – at best.

    The drop out rate, the graduation rate has not improved over the last four years, it's in fact gotten worse. Our test scores in our urban communities are among the very worst in the country, whether you're looking at reading, math, science, urban children are testing at the very bottom of urban communities in the nation. And then you start looking at the social issues. Look at heroin and cocaine emergency room admissions in Baltimore City, leading the nation. Syphilis in Baltimore City, leading the nation. The number of people who are arrested who have cocaine and heroin addictions, Baltimore is not one of, it is so far above that of the rest of the country.

    Where's the war on drugs in Maryland? Where's the serious war on crime in Maryland? Have crime rates really gotten that much better.

    Q: In contrast to four years ago when you ran for governor, ... unemployment in Maryland right now is invisible, growth may not be as fast as it is in Virginia but it's fast enough that companies in Maryland have a very hard time finding people to fill jobs. The first half of the question would be, ... how do you make the case that in good times for replacing an incumbent governor and when you put the emphasis on education and poor performing schools and heroin and cocaine addiction in Baltimore, people will immediately say well how's having a new governor going to change that? Where is a governor in the United States who's turned around a school system or turned around crime in an inner city? I'm really asking you two questions.

    A: Well, I think we do have to look at where things have changed, and I will grant that it has been a mayor, with the help of a governor, but I think New York City is one of the best examples of how good policy can turn a city around. I see the phenomenal changes and I was up and met with [New York Mayor Rudolph] Giuliani a month or so ago and we talked about how he had cleaned up New York City and I grant that the governor has to be able to work with the mayor, but we have a governor who doesn't seem to be able to work very well with the mayor and I'd like to think that I could perhaps do better.

    But, you know, this concern about the current governor is obviously not a partisan issue. And if it is a unique situation for a governor, an incumbent governor, to have the kinds of challenges that he has within his own party, I might not have to make the case because by September I'm thinking that the case may have been made for me. A lot of that case has nothing to do, I understand has nothing to do with policy, it has everything to do with character.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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