By Glynis Kazanjian
Attorney General Douglas Gansler declared Maryland a one-party state at a forum on manufacturing for candidates for governor.
"We are a one-party state, and so the Democrat is going to end up winning the deal [the election] at the end," Gansler said, seemingly dismissing Republican and independent voters. "We have a choice of a pro-business Democrat or a continuation of what we have now."
Gansler's principal Democratic foe, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, was a no show at the event, and his campaign told organizers they had a scheduling conflict they would not describe. Brown has already been endorsed by much of the party establishment and a number of unions.
The forum was hosted by the Regional Manufacturing Institute of Maryland (RMI), a statewide consortium of business, education and government stakeholders representing the interests of the manufacturing industry. Gubernatorial candidates were invited to participate in a policy discussion on how to improve Maryland's manufacturing industry. A Ball State University study recently gave Maryland a "D" for it manufacturing climate.
Take Post with ‘grain of salt’
Gansler also cautioned the audience to take "with a grain of salt" Washington Post articles until the election had advanced. He was responding to a panelist who referenced an Aug. 29 Washington Post article about regional manufacturing statistics.
"The Washington Post stories, you gotta, sort of, take all of those stories with a grain of salt until the campaign gets [beyond] a level," Gansler said. Other forum participants included Montgomery County Democratic Del. Heather Mizeur; three Republicans, Harford County Executive David Craig, Del. Ron George of Anne Arundel, and Charles Lollar, a former congressional candidate.
Manufacturing makes up 3.5% of the state economy in Maryland, according to the study. The industry lost about a third of its workforce between 2001 and 2010. The state ranks 43rd in manufacturing nationwide, according to Gansler.
Across-the-board consensus that state regs hinder manufacturing
Despite political persuasions, all five of the candidates agreed on one thing: complicated state regulations were a primary reason the state has fallen so far behind.
"Bring the private sector to the table with the agency heads," Mizeur said. "Generate a consensus on how [to] rewrite these rules."
A small business owner who says she is the only Democratic candidate with private sector job creation experience, Mizeur said when she talked to large, industrial commercial composting facilities around the country and asked why they weren't locating in Maryland, they said, “Maryland is too confusing. I don't know how to be successful in Maryland.”
High corporate taxes another cause of decline
Gansler, Craig, George and Lollar said high corporate tax rates were an equally contributing factor behind the decline in the industry. All supported cutting corporate taxes to make Maryland more competitive in the region.
Lollar called for an across the board 5% income, corporate and sales tax. George proposed lowering the corporate income tax rate to 6.25% in 2015 and to 5.75% by 2017. Gansler proposed reducing corporate income tax to 6%, and Craig did not mention a figure, but in the past has suggested 4%.
"We are the worst state in the Mid-Atlantic," Craig said. "There's no doubt about that."
All five candidates offered presentations on how they would improve the manufacturing climate in Maryland.
Candidates offer plans
Gansler proposed having a "Buy Maryland" program, creating a governor's business council, creating industrial business zones land zoned for manufacturing, subsidizing manufacturing workforce training, manufacturing tax credits and creating a small business manufacturing initiative pilot program.
George called for utilizing the natural resources in Western Maryland such as natural gas and shale production, increasing imports and exports in Baltimore, lowering unemployment insurance and property tax rates across the state, expanding workforce training and creating a commission to study the regulatory process.
Mizeur focused on the gap between Maryland’s #1 ranking in research and development and being 37th in commercializing innovation. Mizeur would like to see higher expectations that the ideas created in the state are also built and manufactured in the state. She would like to close the gap between jobs available and the workforce available to perform them, including through long range planning and early childhood education.
Lollar said he would like to revisit all 74 tax and fee hikes that have taken place under the current administration, including lowering energy costs, to make the state more business friendly. He would take an inclusive approach to energy policy and consider coal, electricity, natural gas, wind and solar. He’d like to expand the workforce through an expansion of training, especially in high school apprenticeship programs.
Craig said he would like to develop a capable and competent team at the Department of Business and Economic Development, address the skills gap through workforce training and grants, and look at a way to lower energy costs, including producing natural gas in Maryland.
"The anti-business climate in Maryland has to start at the top if we're going to change it, "Gansler said."One of the candidates isn't here today because of that attitude."