- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley yesterday accused Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. of “utter hypocrisy” in telling voters that Democrats raise taxes, but he declined to say whether he would raise taxes if elected governor.

“I have never and I will never be one of those double-speaking people, like Governor Ehrlich, who will tell you that he won’t raise taxes and then raises your taxes by $3 billion,” Mr. O’Malley said at a campaign stop in New Carrollton.

However, the Democratic nominee for governor declined to promise that he would not raise taxes if elected.

“I cannot honestly say, given the threats that we see present every day in this new war on terror … that there is never a time when we will not have to look at revenues, especially for big-ticket items like transportation,” Mr. O’Malley said.

Mr. Ehrlich struck back by criticizing Mr. O’Malley for raising Baltimore income taxes by 20 percent, increasing city water and sewer rates by 27 percent, imposing new energy and telephone taxes, losing 40,000 jobs in the city and opposing a state income tax cut under Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat.

“This is the record of someone who wants to represent working families?” Mr. Ehrlich said a campaign event at Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World at Arundel Mills mall in Hanover. “Forget it. People are not going to buy it.”

Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, said that Mr. O’Malley’s record has been “taxes, taxes and regulation, and blaming President Bush for everything.”

The governor stressed that he blocked the Democrat-controlled legislature’s push for $7.5 billion in new taxes, including a proposed 20 percent increase in the state sales tax in 2004 that Mr. O’Malley endorsed.

Mr. Ehrlich did not raise state sales or income taxes but turned a $4 billion budget deficit he inherited from Mr. Glendening into a $2 billion surplus during his term.

However, the governor did support an increase in the state property tax and increases to some fees, including the “flush tax” on sewer service to pay for upgrades to wastewater treatment plants to improve Chesapeake Bay water quality.

Mr. O’Malley said those charges add up to an extra $3 billion for taxpayers.

He called the governor “the biggest tax and spender in Maryland history” for raising property taxes by 58 percent and car registration fees by 58 percent, and instituting 29 other fees and tolls.

Ehrlich communications director Paul E. Schurick said the mayor’s charges were “nonsense.”

“People are accustomed to user fees. These are specific fees for specific purposes,” he said. “The $7.5 billion in would-be taxes is very real.”

Mr. Ehrlich said Democrats turn to tax increases for quick fixes, and pledged to keep blocking such moves. He noted that the legislature passed a new tax on health maintenance organizations over the governor’s veto to defer malpractice insurance rates for doctors.

“That’s the [modus operandi] in Annapolis, Maryland, that has got to stop,” Mr. Ehrlich said. “The days of tax and spend and worry about it later and just getting over are gone. And that’s the big deal.”

Mr. O’Malley did promise that he will “never raise the property tax.”

With the support of Democratic legislative leaders, Mr. Ehrlich raised the property tax rate in 2003 by less than 5 cents, to 13.2 cents per $100 of assessed value. This year, he reduced the property tax rate by 2 cents, to 11.2 cents.

Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell said that the governor, along with the other two members of the Board of Public Works, was forced to raise property taxes in 2003 after the legislature removed a subsidy that covered Maryland’s debt service.

Mr. Fawell said that when Mr. Ehrlich approved the property tax increase, he “pledged that day he would reduce that tax, and he did so this year.”

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