Several candidates for governor — a Democrat and three Republicans — said Friday that they would cut taxes to improve Maryland's business image and revive its ailing manufacturing sector.
The three Republican candidates and Democratic Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler each promised tax relief in different forms as they appeared at a forum sponsored by the Regional Manufacturing Institute of Maryland.
The candidates emphasized the importance of bringing more manufacturing jobs to Maryland, which has seen employment in that sector shrink by roughly one-third since the start of the recession.
Maryland's business climate has long been the subject of partisan debate, with Republicans pointing to a survey that ranked the state among the least friendly and Gov. Martin O'Malley citing another that ranked Maryland No. 1 in entrepreneurship. O'Malley recently tangled with Republican Gov. Rick Perry as he sought to lure Maryland businesses to Texas.
Friday's forum brought at least some bipartisanship.
"We're losing jobs exponentially," said Gansler, noting that the state ranks 43rd in manufacturing jobs. "It's absolutely unsustainable. We can't last forever … depending on federal jobs."
Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, a Democrat who hopes to succeed O'Malley, did not appear, citing a scheduling conflict.
Of those who attended, only Democratic Del. Heather R. Mizeur of Montgomery County did not promise a tax cut while presenting a plan to revive Maryland's once-mighty manufacturing sector. She said she would unveil a tax proposal later this fall.
All three Republicans — Harford County Executive David R. Craig, Anne Arundel County Del. Ron George and Charles County business executive Charles Lollar — promised aggressive steps to lighten the regulatory burden on Maryland businesses.
"First of all, we need to retain," said George. "We need to stop the bleeding."
Craig said he would make the state Department of Business and Economic Development, which is charged with attracting companies, the lead agency in regulatory decision-making.
A spokesman later said Craig would give the business agency a clearinghouse role, performing a "cost-benefit analysis" of rules proposed by regulatory departments in such areas as the environment, health and labor.
"The agency would have the power to veto regulations under certain criteria when it could be concluded there is jobs impact," spokesman Jim Pettit said.
Gansler and Mizeur also promised a review of state regulations, though both emphasized the need to keep environmental protections.
Gansler criticized the performance of the state's economic development agency. He said the department's response to inquiries from out-of-state companies looking to relocate here is: "We're open for business, and that's the end of the conversation."
The attorney general repeated his call to trim the state's corporate business tax from 8.25 percent to 6 percent. He said he would raise the threshold for inheritance taxes from $1 million to $5 million to encourage wealthy retirees to remain in Maryland.
Gansler reminded the manufacturers group that Maryland is a heavily Democratic state. "You have the choice of a pro-business Democrat or what we have now," he said.
Justin Schall, Brown's campaign manager, issued a statement after the forum saying that Maryland Democrats would be shocked at Gansler's position.
"Doug Gansler is siding with the Republicans on a $1.6 billion dollar corporate tax giveaway that can only be paid for by slashing important investments we've made in education or raising taxes on working families and small businesses," Schall said. "That's just irresponsible."
The $1.6 billion figure is the Brown campaign's five-year estimate of the revenue Maryland would give up by lowering the corporate income tax.