By CHRIS YAKAITIS, Capital News Service
O'Malley Campaign fires back calling Ehrlich the "biggest tax and spender in Maryland history" citing an overall 31 percent increase in the state budget from 2004 to 2007
HANOVER - Painting his opponent as a "tax and spend" Democrat, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich attacked Martin O'Malley's fiscal record Tuesday, directly challenging the Baltimore mayor's "fighting for hard-working Maryland families" campaign theme.
In the first of what he promised would be a series of campaign speeches on the issues, Ehrlich savaged O'Malley for raising income taxes in the city by 20 percent in 2001, increasing water and sewer rates in 2003 and creating telephone and energy taxes in 2004.
"This is the record of someone who wants to represent working families?" Ehrlich asked in a 15-minute speech at the Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World at Arundel Mills. "Forget it. People aren't buying it. And they're never gonna buy it."
Ehrlich said the "tax and spend" policies of O'Malley and the Democratic General Assembly work against the very people they claim to support.
"That's the M.O. in Annapolis, Maryland. That has to stop," he said. "Your day has come; your day is past. The taxpayers are going to step up and take you down."
Ehrlich encouraged the crowd to look around at the massive Outdoor World store and the sales traffic at Arundel Mills, which opened in 2000 and brings shoppers from out-of-state. He then asked them to look at the fiscal records of the two candidates for governor.
"The great thing about this race is it's a race [of] executive against executive, record against record," Ehrlich said.
He said O'Malley's record is simple: "Taxes and taxes and regulation and more taxes and blaming George Bush for everything. He even worked Enron into one of the last debates."
About an hour after the brief appearance, O'Malley's campaign shot back with a statement which labeled Ehrlich the "biggest tax and spender in Maryland history."
The O'Malley statement outlined what it said was the Ehrlich administration's 31 increases in taxes and state fees, including those at the Motor Vehicle Administration, the State Department of Taxation and Assessments and district courts. It also cited increased property taxes, the new "flush" tax and an overall 31 percent increase in the state budget from 2004 to 2007.
Rick Abbruzzese, a spokesman for the O'Malley campaign, said: "Regardless of how [Ehrlich] tries to spin his record, the facts are the facts... State spending is up 31 percent under Governor Ehrlich."
The O'Malley campaign statement said by implementing CitiStat, Baltimore's statistical tracking program, on a statewide scale, O'Malley will "bring the same fiscal discipline to Annapolis."
As Ehrlich spoke about employment growth in the state and the expected influx of military jobs to Fort Meade, he drew one unsolicited cheer from the crowd.
"You've got my vote, governor," said Jim Foster, a 67-year-old retiree from Severn. "And I'm a Democrat!"
Standing before a 10-foot banner that read "A Tale of Two Records" and paired a color Ehrlich photo with a black-and-white O'Malley mug shot, the governor took credit for creating 100,000 new jobs in Maryland, boosting the state's rainy-day fund from $497 million to $1.4 billion and defeating $7.5 billion worth of taxes proposed by the General Assembly's Democratic leaders. "We are pro-business. And guess who employs all the citizens of the state of Maryland: Business," he said. "You don't have employers without employees; you don't have employees without employers."