Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler cast himself Friday as the pro-business candidate in the Democratic primary for governor and knocked his chief 2014 rival for skipping a forum hosted by a manufacturing association.
Gansler told a gathering of the Regional Manufacturing Institute of Maryland that the state has an anti-business climate “in reality and in perception,” and said that a series of tax increases enacted under the current administration was partly to blame for companies “fleeing our state.”
“One of the candidates isn’t here today because of that attitude that we have in Maryland,” Gansler said, referring to Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D), who is seeking to succeed his boss, Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), who is term-limited.
Gansler touted his plan to cut Maryland’s corporate income tax rate from 8.25 percent to 6 percent, and said he was open to other tax reform “so people don’t feel like we’re penalizing wealth.”
The event in Towson drew five major candidates for governor, including three Republicans, all of whom also proposed tax cuts as part of the solution to bolstering the state’s manufacturing sector, which has shed about a third of its jobs since the start of the recession. A third Democratic candidate, Del. Heather R. Mizeur (D-Montgomery), addressed the group as well, stressing the importance of high-tech manufacturing.
Brown cited a scheduling conflict for not attending, but both he and a leader of the manufacturing group said they expect him to address the organization at a later date.
“Regrettably, when the organizer of the event called us several weeks ago, we already had a prior commitment,” said Brown campaign manager Justin Schall.”They have assured us that we will be able to address this important industry later in the campaign.”
Schall also called Gansler’s corporate tax cut plan “irresponsible regardless of what group he is pitching.” Legislative analysts estimated that a similar measure proposed this year would have cost the state about $1.5 billion in anticipated tax revenue over five years.
O’Malley chose the same day as the forum to issue a proclamation declaring October as “Maryland Manufacturing Month.” In a statement, he recounted a job-training initiative and other steps his administration has taken to try to help manufacturing, which accounted for about 6 percent of the state’s economy last year.
Meanwhile, a national report presented at Friday’s forum by the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University gave Maryland a letter-grade of “D” for its manufacturing health.
Gansler used some of his allotted speaking time to recount a series of proposals made at a campaign event in July, including a proposed new preference in the state procurement process for Maryland-made goods.
Gansler also made clear that he is confident that a Democrat will prevail in the governor’s race next year in a state where Republicans are outnumbered by more than 2-to-1 in party registration.
“Look, I’m a Democrat, and I understand we’re a one-party state and all that, so that a Democrat’s going to end up winning the deal at the end,” he told his audience. “You’re going to have a choice of a pro-business Democrat or a continuation of what we have now.”
The three Republicans who addressed the crowd seemed undeterred.
Del. Ronald A. George (R-Anne Arundel) called for a gradual rollback of the corporate income tax rate to 5.75 percent and a cut in the top personal income tax rate to 5 percent. George, a jewelry store owner, also decried what he characterized as overzealous business regulation in Maryland.
“You have many people regulating your business who don’t understand your business,” George said.
Charles Lollar, a Charles County businessman, said he would examine every tax increase and new regulation that had been implemented during the O’Malley administration and promised to reduce corporate and personal income taxes by 5 percent.
“The regulation is killing industry,” Lollar said. “What we don’t need is more laws.”
Harford County Executive David R. Craig (R), meanwhile, said when it comes to taxes, he would look at reducing “all of them.”
Craig also stressed the importance of hiring talented people at the state agency charged with promoting businesses.
“If you don’t have a good team, it doesn’t matter what your plan is,” he said.
Mizeur, a Democrat, also talked about the need to examine the state’s regulatory process. She cited an effort she initiated to expand composting in which she learned that there were conflicting regulations from three different state agencies.
Mizeur said the state also needs to do a better job of “aligning” the skills of the state’s workforce with the jobs available.