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For Republican Governor Hopeful David Craig, It's A Balancing Act

Mary Rose Madden

This is not the first rodeo for David Craig. In fact, it’s his 21st run for public office; a lot of campaigning for a man who considers himself less flashy than his opponents in the race for the Republican nomination for governor.

But making this race is something he’s been working toward for a long time. He’s been a state delegate, a state senator, Mayor of Havre de Grace and now, the Harford County Executive. And he’s developed a long record of balancing budgets, something he points to in his campaign.

“I’ve done it – I learned that from William Donald Schaeffer a long time ago.  You  gotta get it done, you have to do it.”

But wasn’t the former governor and Baltimore mayor a Democrat?   No difference to Craig.  He’s worked in a General Assembly dominated by Democrats.

“When I’m working with someone--whether they’re a Democrat or Republican or Independent – that doesn’t matter to me,” he says.

So is he a moderate Republican?  Craig says the way they deliver their message is moderate, but “we stand very strongly on budget issues and tax issues and conservative issues and the way we spend money and stuff like that. I’m a staunch conservative fiscally”.

At a recent GOP forum at Johns Hopkins University, Craig said the work he’s done in Harford County is an example of what he can do statewide.

“I lowered taxes there and we ended up with over 100 manufacturing companies there,” he told the crowd of approximately 200. “We have over 130 defense contractors there.  We’ve seen over 8,000 new jobs come there since the economy tanked”.

Of course, he got a big boost from BRAC, the Base Realignment and Closure program that pumped six new military units into Aberdeen Proving Ground, 8,200 jobs and thousands of related jobs nearby by February 2012.

Helen Delich Bentley, the Republican Congresswoman who represented parts of Harford County for five terms, says Craig was critically important to managing BRAC.  She says she can’t think of a single problem that developed because of the way Craig and his team handled the situation.

“You had highways, roadways, that had to be worked out, housing that had to be worked out.  All of it was worked out very smoothly.”

Bentley worries that too many political leaders rely on gambling money for revenue. Maryland needs to create all kinds of jobs.

“I regret that Maryland has become a gambling state,” she says. “We should be the leader of manufacturing and innovation.  Our people need those kinds of jobs.”

Craig says he has a plan for that. “On manufacturing, we need to eliminate the sales tax on any product made in the state of Maryland and sold in the state of Maryland,” he says. It would encourage people to buy products made in Maryland.

But his big plan is to eliminate Maryland’s income tax. Of course, that’s not pocket change. It’s about 22 percent of the state’s revenues - $7.5 billion for fiscal year 2014. 

American University professor Don Williamson says promising to cut taxes – and save voters gobs of money – may be a popular platform, but it’s not very realistic.

“I can understand why someone would want to repeal the income tax because at first blush it sounds good to put more money in people’s pockets,” Williamson says. “But the government has to run. It has to pay its own people, the roads have to be plowed, the schools have to keep running.   If you repeal the income tax what do you have to replace it?”

Williamson says most states that have eliminated the income tax have high property and sales taxes.  They need the revenue to make the government work. 

Craig says he would start phasing out the income tax in 2016.  He reasons that the more money Marylanders have in their pockets, the more they’ll spend.  And that will lead to greater sales tax revenues.  Other than that, Craig says he’ll trim the fat in government.

But Ryan Burbey – the president of Harford County’s teacher union – warns that “trimming the fat” will come at the expense of public employees. “Our teachers haven’t had their salary increments or contracts honored in four out of the past five years, the sheriffs haven’t had their contract honored” Burbey says.

“The budgets in Harford County have been balanced on the backs of the public servants”. 

Williamson says that doesn’t surprise him, “If you’re going to lower taxes and run the government on less money, then people have to accept less, like public employees.   I don’t condemn it or applaud it but people of Maryland have to decide how they want their government run and by whom and what levels of efficiency.  It’s a choice”.  And elections are all about choice, he adds.

Republican voters get to choose among Craig; Larry Hogan, former Governor Bob Ehrlich’s appointments secretary; Charles County businessman Charles Lollar, and Annapolis Delegate Ron George on June 24.