By Mike Denison, CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE
All the major candidates for governor agree that Maryland’s business climate has room for improvement. But neither Democrats nor Republicans agree on how exactly this improvement will come about.
Democratic candidates see the state’s business landscape as a healthy environment with potential for growth, while Republican candidates see a wasteland wracked by government interference, according to their written responses to a Capital News Service candidate questionnaire.
The three major Democratic candidates all proposed government programs that would create new business opportunities.
Attorney General Doug Gansler’s plans highlighted the stark differences between Western Maryland, the Eastern Shore and the rest of the state.
"We should celebrate and build on each region’s strengths, not continue with a failed one-size-fits-all approach to bringing business to Maryland," he said.
To that end, Gansler proposed the formation of "academic manufacturing clusters," enticing businesses to work with flagship programs of nearby universities, such as using the University of Maryland Eastern Shore’s solar farm to lure green energy businesses.
“California has Silicon Valley with its universities; Maryland should have Security Valley, Renewable Shore and Medical Hill,” he said.
In addition to technology, environmental and health businesses, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown emphasized the state’s transportation and distribution opportunities as potential job creators. He offered the proposed Red Line, which would connect several Baltimore neighborhoods via light rail, and the Purple Line, a proposed light rail running from New Carollton to Bethesda, as job creation opportunities that will also provide valuable infrastructure for existing businesses.
Brown was not troubled by Maryland’s connections to federal contractors, calling them a “significant economic benefit” and declaring intent to encourage federal partnerships in the future.
Gansler had a more negative view of the state’s reliance on federal jobs, citing the “big and needless” impact of the government shutdown as evidence.
“When planning for your future, the first thing they teach you is never put all your eggs in one basket,” he said. “The same goes when planning for our state’s future.”
The four major Republican gubernatorial candidates argued that an easy way to put more eggs in more baskets would be to repair what Delegate Ron George, R-Anne Arundel, called Maryland’s “terrible manufacturing reputation.” He proposed eliminating taxes on manufacturing equipment that are four times the national average.
“We have chased away the businesses with entry-level and mid-level jobs and with them, any hope of sustained long-term private sector growth,” he said.
Charles Lollar, a Charles County businessman, targeted even more taxes, saying the corporate income tax should be reduced by 40 percent, the so-called “rain tax” and gas tax should be eliminated outright, and “all specialized taxes” should be reviewed to determine their effect on state businesses. He also suggested that wasteful government entities could be eliminated, reducing the need for tax revenue.
“We need to stop picking the pockets of Marylanders to fund excessive government agencies and programs,” he said.
Harford County Executive David Craig also supported tax reform.
“Reforming Maryland’s tax structure and having less reliance on federal funding will poise the state to attract innovative businesses,” he said.
Craig also advocated a gradual reduction of the corporate income tax to 1.25 percent—which would tie Maryland with Kansas for the nation’s lowest—and aiding small businesses by eliminating the state income tax entirely.
Tax reform was not limited to Republican agendas. While she did not propose eliminating any business taxes, Delegate Heather Mizeur, D-Montgomery, proposed a $197 million tax rebate for small businesses so they could hire more workers, as well as a job training program to help companies fill skilled-labor gaps.
“By encouraging more growth in our already strong innovation economy, we can lead the nation into a new era,” said Mizeur, who singled out energy, biotech and cybersecurity as industries worth government attention.
Revamping the Port of Baltimore, a key focus of Republican platforms, was also on Brown’s agenda. He hopes that promoting the port will allow Maryland to become “the epicenter of distribution for the entire East Coast.”
Larry Hogan, a Republican candidate who is an Anne Arundel County real estate broker and the leader of the conservative action group Change Maryland, said the port’s ability to accommodate massive ships designed to fit through the upcoming wider version of the Panama Canal should be highly touted and used to attract more shipping activity. Currently, the only East Coast ports that can house such ships are Baltimore and Norfolk, according to businessfacilities.com, a business media organization.
Fueling the ongoing controversy over hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” for natural gas, Lollar proposed exploiting the Maryland section of the Marcellus shale beds to create new jobs.
Gansler, however, focused on alternative energy, including a plan to create a facility that could convert chicken litter into fuel, allowing farmers to sell waste for profit while keeping the Chesapeake Bay clean. Brown said he would aim to create jobs with investments in offshore wind, solar energy, and state waterway protection.
The Maryland primary elections are June 24.