Column originally published by Center Maryland on May 30, 2014
By Donald C. Fry
With the primary elections less than four weeks away, and with a barrage of professionally crafted message points and carefully-selected campaign sound bites being directed to television viewers and audiences at candidate forums, what more do voters need to hear from candidates for governor?
Substance. Candidates need to offer voters more details to support their message points.
Democratic and Republican candidates for governor in the June 24 primary elections are passionately communicating their commitments to improving Maryland’s business climate, creating jobs and strengthening our state’s competitiveness for economic growth.
All vow to make job creation a high priority. All have something to say about taxes.
Contrasting promises range from vows by two Republican candidates – Harford County Executive David Craig and Charles County business executive Charles Lollar – to eliminate state income taxes entirely to Democratic candidate Delegate Heather Mizeur’s pledge to increase taxes on large corporations and high earners and to dedicate the new revenue to tax relief for middle-income families and small business employers.
In between, pledges from Democrats include a vow from Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown to create a commission to study tax reform and a proposal from Attorney General Doug Gansler to gradually reduce the corporate income tax rate through annual quarter-percent reductions.
Other proposals from Republican gubernatorial candidates include a call from business owner and Anne Arundel Delegate Ron George for a 10 percent across-the-board personal income tax reduction and a promise to “get the government off our backs” from Larry Hogan, an Anne Arundel County business owner and a former member of Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s cabinet. All Republican candidates vow to repeal the rain tax.
While many of the proposals promising to eliminate or reduce taxes sound promising on their face, they fail to address the very important issue of what to do about the lost revenue.
The state’s income tax is the single largest source of revenue for the general fund, estimated to generate more than $8 billion in FY2015. These revenues are used to support services that almost all Marylanders rely on, such as K-12 education, public safety, and health care. How the candidates intend to eliminate major revenue sources without proposing a solid plan for continuing to fund critical services should be the question posed at debates and candidate forums in the last 30 days before the primary elections.
Some candidates suggest that enough economic growth will result from the elimination or reduction of taxes to cover the lost revenue. Others propose that the budget can be balanced simply by eliminating waste in state government.
A candidate’s suggestion that the elimination or reduction of taxes will simply result in economic growth that will generate equivalent new revenue to government or that a reduction of government “waste” should suffice is too simplistic.
Candidates owe it to voters to be more specific in their answers. Voters and moderators at candidate forums have to demand that specificity.
For example, there is no question that Maryland’s high taxes are burdensome to business, but a proper solution should include both rate reduction scenarios and more specifics, ideally supported by credible expert analysis, on how to address the lost revenue.
We all understand that message points are an important element to any campaign. They enable a candidate to communicate what they stand for in a succinct and appealing way.
I also understand that candidates offer details on their web sites amplifying their campaign promises. But even if voters take the time to read through all of the campaign web sites, they will find that specifics are, for the most part, lacking.
At this pivotal moment in time when thoughtful, effective public policy is sorely needed to position Maryland for strong economic growth and job creation, I’m simply suggesting that candidates for governor afford voters a better glimpse of the substance behind their message points.
Donald C. Fry is president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee. He is a regular contributor to Center Maryland.