By LAUREN LORICCHIO and COLLEEN WILSON
ANNAPOLIS – Maryland’s three Republican candidates who have launched official bids for governor in a competitive primary all agree on one thing: Their focus will be on economic issues in the upcoming race.
“We’ve dealt with social issues for the past eight years … We should have been dealing with the economy,” said Delegate Ron George, R-Anne Arundel, who launched his campaign in June.
Charles Lollar, a Charles County businessman and Marine Corps Reserve officer who joined the race last month, agrees that the state needs to focus on economic improvement.
“The job of the governor is not to be the priest of the state … the job of the governor is to be the governor of the state,” Lollar said.
“We have a fiscal problem now. So we’re going to have to change the way things are done in Annapolis and make sure every dollar that’s spent is spent the right way,” he said.
Harford County Executive David Craig, who officially joined the race in June, said tax rates are having a two-fold effect on Marylanders as individuals and on their businesses.
“Many businesses make their decisions based on where the people work and they’re not going to move here because the taxes that people are willing to pay are too high,” Craig said.
Gov. Martin O’Malley announced last week that Maryland has recovered 100 percent of the jobs lost in the recession, but the GOP gubernatorial candidates see this statement in a different light.
“We have less private sector jobs in the state,” George said. “We gave unemployment to part-timers. So now in the [August jobs report] we’re counting part-timers. We’re not getting an exact figure. Most of those people off unemployment are working two and three jobs.”
The U.S. Census Bureau reported that Maryland picked up 9,700 full- and part-time jobs in August, dropping its unemployment rate to 7.0 percent, down from 7.1 percent. Almost 5,000 of the job gains were in the private sector — the most created in a month by private companies in the state since 2007.
However, all three candidates said private sector jobs continue to be driven out of state by unfriendly tax policies such as the gas tax, the so-called “rain tax” and not enough emphasis on job diversity outside of government hiring.
The gas tax, which took effect June 1, raised the state tax on gasoline by 3.5 cents per gallon. The increase was approved by the Maryland General Assembly last legislative session.
“That gas tax is going up because we’re not spending the money wisely that we do have,” Lollar said.
A stormwater management fee, which critics call the “rain tax,” was signed into law by O’Malley in April in order to comply with Environmental Protection Agency standards under the Clean Water Act. The tax, effective July 1, was levied upon the ten most populated counties.
Craig said his economic approach would be to expand and diversify job growth, including manufacturing, technology and warehousing businesses outside of the federal government.
And what would the three GOP gubernatorial candidates do to boost the state’s economy?
“I think the perception is how unfriendly to business we are. So we have to lower the corporate rate but we also need to lower the individual income tax rate … to at least 5 percent flat,” George said.
The rest of his plan includes: growing the tax base in Baltimore, bringing back large corporate manufacturing companies to Baltimore, repealing the gas tax and rain tax, and removing the Affordable Care Act and replacing it with a free market model.
Lollar says his first move as governor would be to implement a Taxpayer Bill of Rights, which would stipulate that the state government can’t grow any faster than the cost of living, he said.
“I’m also going to make sure we pass an amendment to the Maryland Constitution that will not allow for any bill with a tax increase in it that proposes an increase that is more than the cost of living,” he said.
Craig said, “The key is that there are many people who are forgotten Marylanders in the working and middle class who have been overtaxed and it does come down to [that] frustration.”
While the three GOP candidates tout similar views on social issues, they say their experience is what sets them apart.
George, a jewelry store owner who has been a member of the House of Delegates since 2007, said he is known for his ability to work with both parties to get things done.
“I had Democrats and Republicans asking me to get into this,” he said.
Lollar, a U.S. Marine Corps Major and a general manager at uniform company Cintas, said nobody can surpass his leadership experience.
And Craig, former mayor of Havre de Grace, touts his executive experience: “Running for governor is not an entry-level position. … I’m the only one on either side [of political parties] that has the experience of an executive as mayor and a county executive … [and] can actually offer the people a choice to show a background on what we’ve really done and what’s good for them.”
The Republican primary is June 24, 2014. The Democrats who have announced a run for the governor’s mansion are Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, Delegate Heather Mizeur, D-Takoma Park, and Attorney General Doug Gansler.