Debate transcript – O'Malley-Ehrlich

Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.: It's a consequential race, obviously, because when you elect an executive, executives count. Executives impact lives. They impact business cycles, they impact the ability to create jobs in a particular state. They impact taxpayers. They impact our vision and our future. So that's the reason we have so much interest in this debate, that's why there are all the signs and bumper stickers running around, that's why all the TV commercials are running as well. Governors count. Now, we have very different views with regards to the bottom line, which is making Maryland better ,of course. Governor O'Malley has a particular view with regard to progress in our state. I have a far different view. Obviously job creation being the No. 1 issue in this campaign.

And the fact of it is, a lot of these commercials that you're seeing attempt to litigate the past, they attempt to litigate things about me. This is not a personality contest, folks. It's not Martin O'Malley, Bob Ehrlich. It's about you. It's not about in fact whatever 30-second attack ad happens to say this particular night, and you can see them on your airways as well. It's about us, our future, taxpayers, it's about business creation, it's about you, you count, you get to vote. We're just two guys who want to lead. It's a great honor to lead this state.

Obviously, for four years. I've loved my time in public service, in the state legislature, in the Congress of the United States, representing you as your governor. Obviously, thought I was retired, we're back. Four years ago, back again, here we go. In any event folks, we thank you, very much for watching tonight. We thank you for your interest, we thank you for your enthusiasm, we thank you for the fact that you care about this consequential race. And folks, governors count. Thank you very much for watching, I look forward to talking about the issues.

Moderator Denise Koch: Thank you Governor Ehrlich. Governor O'Malley?

Martin O'Malley: Thank you Denise, and thank you Governor Ehrlich. I want to begin by thanking the people of our state, and I want to thank the people of our state for giving me the honor of serving you in these very challenging difficult times for every family and every business in our state. But as this national recession comes to a close, our state is moving forward. We are starting to create jobs again in Maryland and we are transforming our economy through innovation and through education and we're doing it better than most states but we have a lot of important and urgent work to do.

You have a clear choice to make in this contest. It is whether we move forward to better days or whether we slip back. And I humbly ask for your support to move Maryland forward. Every decision I've made over these last difficult years has been made with one consideration only. And that is, what is best for the people of Maryland? What is best for families as they plan to protect their own futures around their kitchen table throughout our state? I have fought every battle on your side. Standing up to big mortgage companies as homeowners try to protect their homes. I've stood up to big utilities for Maryland consumers. With fiscal discipline and with decisiveness, I have cut our state spending by more than any governor in Maryland history, and more importantly, together, we have found ways to protect the priorities that allow us to make this transformation to a better, new economy. Improving schools. Investing in education. Making college more affordable for more families, making neighborhoods safer and yes, taking the strong actions that are working to improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay. I'm optimistic about the future, that better future that you and I have the ability to achieve for our children by moving forward. Thanks a lot.

Moderator: Thank you, governor. All right, the first topic today, and both of you have touched on it already, the most numbers of viewers' questions we got were always surrounding the topic of the economy. The economy. Budgets have been slashed and programs have been cut so many of our viewers want to know, what do you say to Marylanders who say, how are you going to stop this trend, how instead are you going to help Maryland's economy grow?

Ehrlich: This has been a big issue, Denise. We've gone around the state in small business round tables, and you know, the governor really has a big impact on the regulatory environment in your state. And the fact of it is we have some really broken state agencies that have been increasingly hostile to business and business creation in the state. We've seen the latest scandal in DLLR, for example, our so-called business regulation agency. We have the Department of the Environment, which has been increasingly hostile to job creators in the state. We have not created one net new job in the state over the past four years, Denise. And that's a real problem.

We've doubled our unemployment rate, in fact. And that is a huge problem. We seem to have job growth in the public sector, because of BRAC and base closing and because of stimulus and all this, but the fact of it is, you have to have a healthy private sector, you have to — particularly what we control though, you know we control to some extent tax policy, we control some tort policy, legal policy, we don't really control the private sector concerning liquidity. But you and I both know we control the regulatory environment in this state. To the extent you have a hostile environment created, to the extent you have business people just hurting around the state of Maryland as a result of actions by state regulators, you have a loss of jobs. And Denise, that's what I hear time and time again around the state from the small business community, the people that really are the backbone of our economy and our state. It's a cliché folks, but it's the truth. Small business is the backbone of our economy. We talked about it, it's even a cliché.

But to the extent you're governor, and you have this direct responsibility for job creation, you really need to think about the people you put in charge, and the fact that business people need answers, they need consistency, they need a welcoming environment, they need not hostility. This election's really about how we view small business and the small business sector. Is it a source of revenue? Is it simply a source of more dollars to the state that we can tax and tax and tax and spend, spend, spend? Or is it a source of job creation? I believe in job creation. That's why the National Federation of American Business, the No. 1 job creation group in this country, the small business people, the people that are the backbone of this country, they support me. They've always supported me and they certainly support me in this election. We can't have an economy in Maryland simply dependent on the fortuitous nature of federal spending or the latest base closings or whatever it happens to be. We need a healthy private sector. Under Gov. O'Malley, our private sector has suffered. The facts speak for themselves.

Moderator: Thank you. Governor?

O'Malley: Well Denise, our country's gone through a tough recession over the course of these last three years. And I don't think there's a single family or business that's been spared this national, this global recession. But our economy is an innovation economy. And it's an innovation economy that is fueled by small business. Two-thirds out of all jobs created in our state are created by small business. But nonetheless as a state we need to take stock of our competitive strengths in this environment. I'll make no apologies for standing up when necessary to environmental polluters and for protecting our quality of life and health of the Bay. I believe there's something we can only do together, and protecting our natural resources is one of those things.

And surely, we have plenty of room for improvement, greater openness, transparency, predictability on regulations. But really the key to creating jobs is making this transformation into this economy of innovation. We have some strong sectors. I have been supported by over 200 businesspeople throughout our state, many of them in some of these leading sectors of life science and biotech, where even in the face of this downturn, we've moved up from fourth place ranking to second place. Last year we had one of the highest-performing technology sectors in the country, because we're moving forward. The truth of the matter is, we have actually created over 33,000 net new jobs. That's not me saying that, that's the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And we have to continue to create jobs because we have a deep hole to climb out of. This recession has cost all of us over these last three years. But for all of our anger and frustration at this recession, that anger and frustration isn't going to move us forward. What's going to move us forward are things like increasing the biotech tax credit, creating the Invest Maryland fund, which allows us to get more venture capital into businesses and the startups that are happening in Maryland. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Denise, hardly a mouthpiece for the O'Malley-Brown administration, or the Maryland Democratic Party, has named our state one of the top two best states in America for innovation and entrepreneurship. Healing, health, discovery, we sit in the center of a corridor for innovation, provided we protect our investment in the most important quantity of all which is the talents, the skills, the education level of our people, which Forbes magazine ranks as one of the top three in the country.

Ehrlich: But this is really the issue of the campaign. This is what it is all about and Governor, you know that. We love the federal sector. We love federal spending. We love NIH. We love Pax River. We love Fort Meade. We love Aberdeen Proving Ground. These are federal facilities. They're posts. They spend a lot of money here, as we know. But fact of it is, we have dropped in our business ratings significantly. We have 16,000, I'm sorry, 216,000 Marylanders out of work. The Tax Foundation and various rating groups rate us as one of the worst business environments in the country, because we have gone from the 20s to the 40s.

When I was first elected, the Baltimore Business Journal took a survey. They said, "Is Maryland a pro-business state?' We were in the 30s. When we left office, you may be able to recall, we had unemployment around 4 percent, under four, and we had doubled that business confidence. We were in the 70s. And now we are back to the 30s. We are there because of this hostile regulatory environment, the largest tax increase in Maryland history, certain interest groups controlling the agenda of state government. Jobs creation is the issue in this campaign.

Who best to create private-sector jobs? Governor, we are not talking about public-sector jobs. Maryland always creates public-sector jobs. We are good at that. We brought BRAC, as you know. And Lt. Gov. [Anthony G.] Brown has been in charge of your operation to that extent. We brought BRAC here. That was the great success of our administration. We need to create private sector jobs, the jobs that really count to help with our underpinnings with regard to the public sector.

Moderator: Well, jobs are important, but first, governor, there was another thing you mentioned in there which I think is very important. A lot of people have written in. Someone named Sean said he wants to know whether you will forget jobs. Let's talk about his wallet. He wants to know whether you will pledge not to raise taxes or significant fees in the coming years .

O'Malley: I'll tell you what I will pledge. I have never done that sort of irresponsible blanket pledge. But I will pledge not to raise property taxes like you raised property taxes, Governor, when you were governor in easier times. I will pledge not to jack up college tuition by 40 percent. I will pledge not to increase by 300 percent the annual filing fees for every small businesses incorporated by Maryland. And I will pledge not to pretend that fees are not taxes.

Denise, in the toughest of times, we have cut state spending more than any governor in Maryland history. In fact, state spending is 3 percent less now that it was four years ago. When the former governor was governor in easier times, he actually increased spending, state spending, by 33 percent. More than [Gov. Parris N.] Glendening ever did in a four-year period of time. More than [Gov. William Donald] Schaefer in a four year period of time.

And yet, we have protected the priorities that have allowed our economy to outperform virtually every other state. We have held on to our private job base better than all but four other states in the Union. We are now creating jobs at twice the rate of the rest of the nation and at a faster rate than our neighbors in Virginia. And the jobs that I am talking about are the small innovative companies that are popping up and starting all over Maryland even in the face of this recession an

All of those things that the former governor cited, the charges for dorms and food and those things, they went up when he was governor as well. What he had the discretion to do or not to do was to make investments in higher education so that kids did not get hit with a 40 percent increase for in-state college. Now, I watched those numbers very closely about how many students are coming out of state and how many are coming in state. The fact of the matter is, they have remained very constant over the last five, six years.

But you had the ability, Governor, to do as I did, which was to freeze college tuition. For your first three years in office, you never did it. In fact, one of your biggest accomplishments was to force a 40 percent increase in college tuition. Right up on an election year, yes, you did something different and you froze it for one year. But we are the only state in the country to go four years in a row without a penny's increase to college tuition. And I'm proud of that.

Furthermore, the property tax, governor, you actually did vote to increase the property tax. And you know you did it. And you did it at the Board of Public Works. And, perhaps, you thought no one would notice that. But, when an election year came around, you tried to cover your tracks by cutting a penny or two off the increase that you had made three years before.

Ehrlich: I really get to respond here. This is important. The ads have been running. I didn't even bring up the fact that property tax went down. You're right. Thank you for reminding me of that. Fact of it is, governors do not set tuitions and, everybody listening, it may be a news item for some folks. Governors do not set tuition. The Board of Regents sets tuition. Obviously, and with regard to state property tax, the same thing.

So, what you see from these ads is the half truth. It's the get-over to the next election and that's what this election is all about. That's gonna stop on Nov. 2.

Moderator: That's our goal here in this hour is to try and get on certain points. Let's go back to education, not on college tuition. Let's go to something that affects many, many families in this state and that is public education. We have had a lot of viewers' questions on this issue. Marie in Baltimore asks what will you do to improve public education in low performing schools?

O'Malley: We were very fortunate because of the investments we protected, record investments in public education, even as I have had to cut our state budget by $5.6 billion in state spending, we have, nonetheless, and, thanks in part to presidential leadership, been able to provide record funding for our schools and they have been recognized by experts around the country as the best or among the best certainly in the nation.

But, there's still too many schools that are underperforming. So that's why we joined forces. We were one of only 10 states to win the Race to the Top grants. And, part of that involves a much more robust and effective approach to turning around underperforming schools. How do you do that? You do that in a number of ways.

We have doubled the number of charters in our state over the last four years. In fact, when I was mayor of Baltimore, we had more charters in Baltimore than in the rest of the state combined. We are also going to be investing in a system that tracks a student's education all the way through school. Many of our students in poor areas move a lot from school to school. We also have incentives to attract great leaders and great teachers to what have been hard to recruit to schools in some tough areas. That's all part of our Race to the Top effort, building on the tremendous accomplishments of parents, administrators, teachers, and really the people of Maryland, who understand that the most important thing to making this change to a new economy is protecting the education of our children.

So, those are some of the things that we are going to be able to do in the immediate future.

Ehrlich: We will always have pretty good schools because we are a pretty wealthy state. We supported Thornton. I campaigned on it. Thornton being a major boost in public education, despite the fact that the legislature did not give me a funding source, which was the slots bill, as you know. We funded it to the tune of $1.4 billion.

So, Governor, I think we can actually agree Maryland schools are pretty good generally. We have some terrific schools and we know the subdivisions we are talking about — Howard County, Montgomery County and others. We tend to focus, in our administration, on the dysfunctional schools. Now, I don't want to re-litigate the issue of those 11 schools in Baltimore City that the Maryland legislature and Maryland General Assembly had to protect the system.

When those 11 schools were failing, we had kids with pass rates of 4 and 6 and 8 percent, folks. And, you and your leadership, in an election year, just had to protect those numbers. You couldn't allow those schools to go charter or private vendor, because it would have been an embarrassment in an election year.

That was the most disgraceful episode and I'm not blaming all of you, trust me, there were a lot of folks involved here. But I have never seen political leaders protect a monopoly as I did that year. We had 11 schools with kids being denied their constitutional rights, mostly African-American kids in Baltimore City and nobody cared enough, other than us and some members of the General Assembly, a lot of Republicans and a couple Democrats. It was one of the worst episodes I have ever seen of protecting a monopoly as opposed to kids. We passed the first charter school legislation in the history of the state over the objections of Maryland State Teachers Association.

And, thank God for [Senate President Thomas V.] Mike Miller, quite frankly, who allowed us to pass that bill. We now have one residential charter in our city. We have 44 charter schools, in fact, 34 in Baltimore City. We need to focus innovative approaches to education, where we are hurting, where the kids are being denied their Constitutional rights. The fact that you are born poor should not be a predictor of the quality of public education you receive. That's why we funded Thornton, when the legislature stopped my funding source. So, we can go residential charter. Next, by the way, I want to quadruple. We have one in the city of Baltimore. This allows kids to not only learn but learn in a safe environment. We can bring some mentor programs into all Title One schools in Baltimore City

We generally have pretty good schools and we always will. We need to focus on where the kids are being denied their rights. That episode in 2006, although it's passed, is really relevant today because those kids were denied their constitutional rights. Your color, your ethnicity, your background, your race, what you look like should not be a predictor of the quality of public education you receive.

O'Malley: I really need to respond. I promise I am going to be brief. I am going to be really, really brief. The residential charter school, of which the former governor referenced, the SEED school was the charter school that I recruited to Baltimore. I was there at groundbreaking and have been there every step of the way and it's a good thing. But that incident, so described by you in 2006, Governor, that was not about protecting a monopoly. That was about protecting the progress of kids, especially in the city of Baltimore, where 10 years ago, not one grade scored majority proficient in reading or math. Today, one through eight are scoring majority proficient in reading and math.

And, furthermore, as a state, we have cut the achievement gap between black and white students in half in recent years. And, I am tired of people putting down the achievements of poor children and children of color. We move forward as a state and we move forward together and we move forward as one people.

Ehrlich: This is really emotional, Gov. When you have schools that are graduating or not graduating 85 percent of their kids and you have kids achieving 6 and 8 and 12 percent pass rates, those kids of color are being denied their constitutional rights. That's intolerable and unacceptable in the state of Maryland, the United States of America in 2010, 2006, whatever.

O'Malley: Why don't you come with me to Patterson Park Charter School?

Ehrlich: I have been to those charter schools.

O'Malley: Why don't you ever mention the places where kids are making progress? You always talk, Bob, in very coded language about kids who aren't succeeding. Frankly, I will put our progress up in the city of Baltimore and our rate of improvement up against any kids in any major city in America .

Ehrlich: I will always talk about the kids who are being denied their constitutional rights.

O'Malley: You never talk about the things they are doing well, do you? You never talk about the progress.

Ehrlich: We love progress. When the kids denied constitutional rights and they are passing functional tests at 5, 10, 15 percent rates, those kids are being denied their constitutional rights.

O'Malley: You want to cut their funding for education, if you're elected. And you cut school construction funding in easier times.

Ehrlich: You cut $150 million out of school construction funding.

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