Republican gubernatorial candidate Ellen R. Sauerbrey said yesterday that she wants to take charge of the state budget and limit taxes, eliminate "excessive, overzealous regulations" and get tough on crime.
"The governor of Maryland has more [budgetary] power than any other governor in the country," Ms. Sauerbrey told a group of Howard County civic leaders in an informal 30-minute talk yesterday morning. "I want to take charge of the budgetary process."
Ms. Sauerbrey attended a 7:30 a.m. meeting of the Howard County Economic Forum, one of a series featuring gubernatorial candidates.
The meetings are "one of the continuing opportunities for members to both get to know the candidates and to express their parochial concerns, both as representatives of their group and as representatives of Howard County," said forum member Nellie W. Arrington.
The forum is made up of representatives of the Columbia Association, the county Association of Realtors, the county Chamber of Commerce, the county chapter of the Homebuilders Association, the county chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the county Farm Bureau, the county Housing Alliance, Howard Community College, Long & Foster Real Estate, Browning-Ferris Inc. and the National Association of Office and Industrial Parks.
Ms. Sauerbrey, who represents Baltimore County and is minority leader of the House of Delegates, said her first task as governor would be to set priorities for the way the state spends its tax dollars.
"Public safety has got to be the No. 1 function of government," she said. "If not, we will have an increase of random violence on our streets."
Maryland is going to have to build another prison in the next four years to house youthful offenders, Ms. Sauerbrey said, adding, "We need to get repeat violent offenders off the streets until burnout."
Criminals in their mid-30s are not as dangerous as those in their mid-20s, she said, and the state therefore needs to "eliminate parole on the front end" and keep younger people in jail for longer periods of time.
"We are recycling the youngest, most violent criminals back on the street," and that must stop, she said.
Rampant crime, along with high taxes and "excessive, overzealous regulations," are causing many businesses to flee the state for safer, more accommodating venues, she said.
Despite what she called "a clear structural deficit of $1.3 billion to $1.5 billion" facing the next governor, Maryland should not raise taxes, she said.
"We have the second- or third-highest individual income tax [in the nation] and cannot afford a tax increase. It is my strong belief that you don't raise taxes when the economy is already in bad shape."
She said she would like to make the entire state an enterprise zone and that, as governor, she would appoint a "private sector jobs team" to look into business in Maryland and make recommendations.
The only way to revitalize Baltimore is to provide tax incentives and regulation incentives attractive enough to lure businesses to the city, Ms. Sauerbrey said.
"It is not football stadiums, friends," that revitalize the economy, she said. "There is no indication that it improves economies. Putting money into a sports franchise rather than education and other infrastructure is not a good investment."
Ms. Sauerbrey said she would appoint a task force to look at barriers to affordable housing.
She said she also wants to bring about change in education. A former high school biology teacher, Ms. Sauerbrey railed against what she called a "dumbing down of curriculum" and teacher unions "that will not allow change to occur -- something so fundamental as getting rid of teachers who can't teach."
Violence in schools and a weakened curriculum have led to a "phenomenal growth in in-house schooling," she said. "We are falling below the rest of the industrial world. Our kids are not competing with those on the Asian Rim for example. Radical things are needed" to affect change, she said. Ms. Sauerbrey said Maryland would do well to imitate Minnesota, where parents, teachers and business leaders have been allowed to create small new schools exempt from many state rules.
"There is no correlation between the dollars spent and the result," she said. "The states that have the best schools are those where the schools are small -- 500 or less" and have core curriculums.
The average Maryland family spends $1,000 more for education than it did 20 years ago, but only 22 percent of that increase goes to the classroom, she said. Test scores "have not shown any improvement in terms of dollars," she said.