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Anthony Brown, Doug Gansler, Heather Mizeur
Maryland Democratic gubernatorial candidates, Attorney General Doug Gansler, from left, Rep. Heather Mizeur, D-Montgomery, and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown take part in a Maryland Democratic primary gubernatorial debate at the University of Maryland in College Park, Md., Wednesday, May 7, 2014. (AP Photo/The Washington Post, Sarah L. Voisin, Pool)

Candidates reveal differences on tax, business issues

Maryland’s three leading Democratic candidates for governor are attempting to lay out distinctive paths to improve the state’s business and tax climate and create jobs.

The topics were part of a wide-ranging debate between Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler and Del Heather R. Mizeur, D-Montgomery, Wednesday night. The debate at the University of Maryland, College Park was the first of as many as three between the three leading Democratic candidates.

Ralph Jaffe, Charles U. Smith and Cindy A. Walsh are also running in the June 24 Democratic primary.

While laying out their ideas, Brown and Gansler each took shots at the other over increased taxes over the last eight years and plans to reduce corporate taxes at the expense of priorities such as education. Mizeur attempted to remain above the fray, choosing to discuss her ideas and not reference or criticize her opponents by name.

Poor perception

Over the past few years, a number of legislators and business groups in the state have complained about it becoming more and more difficult to do business in Maryland. Increased taxes and regulations are creating a hostile business climate and forcing companies out of the state.

Brown said he has a number of proposals “to position Maryland to be the most competitive business climate in the nation” including looking at overall tax structure and business regulations.

Gansler said the business climate in the state is more than perception.

“It’s reality,” Gansler said, adding that the state increased 40 taxes during the eight years Brown was lieutenant governor.

“People can’t take it anymore,” Gansler said.

Gansler proposed increasing the number of manufacturing jobs in the state by reducing or eliminating taxes as an incentive to relocate in Maryland. Gansler said the idea is similar to what New York is doing to attract manufacturing jobs such as those moving to the northern portion of the state.

“We cannot continue to maintain the viability of the future of the state on the backs of gambling and more tax increases,” he said.

Mizeur said her “job creation strategy includes something for us all.”

Increasing some corporate taxes would allow reductions that could increase consumer spending in the state, she said.

Differing on corporate taxes

Gansler drew criticism from both his opponents over his plan to reduce the corporate tax from 8.25 percent to match the 6 percent rate in Virginia.

“If we reduce the corporate tax rate by a quarter percent each year, more jobs will come, our tax base will be enhanced and we’ll be able to do things like fix the schools,” Gansler said.

Brown criticized the plan as one that would hurt education in Maryland, including expanding early childhood education and closing the achievement gap between white and minority students, which Gansler called “a moral stain.”

“If we were to pass the Gansler corporate tax give-away, that moral stain will become an indelible blemish as generations of students will not have access to early childhood education, which is proven to be one of the best ways to eliminate the achievement gap,” Brown said.

Instead, Brown said, he would convene a blue-ribbon task force in the first 100 days of his administration to examine how to reform the state tax structure. A similar effort was undertaken in 2002 but the commission was terminated in 2003 before completing a final report.

Brown added that he would also seek to streamline business regulations in the state.

Mizeur did not speak directly to the plans of her opponents but said she favors several measures that would increase tax revenue.

They include reinstating the so-called millionaire’s tax and requiring combined tax filings for companies that operate in Maryland and other states.

The revenue would be used to give small businesses and “90 percent of all Maryland families” a tax cut, she said.

“Just ask them to pay their fair share,” Mizeur said of her plan.