Shawn J. Soper
(Editor’s Note: The Coastal Association of Realtors and the Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce this week hosted a forum for the District 38B House of Delegates candidates during which a wide variety of questions were asked about taxes, improving Maryland’s business climate and what they hoped to accomplish or change if elected. The following is the first installment in an ongoing series about the forum.)
BERLIN – The District 38B House of Delegates this week participated in a candidate forum at Wor-Wic Community College featuring candid responses to several difficult questions along with a little levity at times and some good old-fashioned stumping.
After the primary in September, a diverse field of candidates for two District 38B House of Delegates seats emerged to move on to the General Election next month. There are two Democrats and two Republicans vying for the two seats, and the top two vote getters regardless of party affiliation will move on. There are three Worcester candidates and one from Wicomico, three men and one woman, one long-time incumbent, two current mayors and one long-time public servant.
Each appeared at the candidate forum at Wor-Wic on Wednesday and each took part in a robust question and answer period, but not before each had a chance to make opening remarks. Republican Marty Pusey said she is running because she believes the time is now for change.
“We’re at a critical point in time for this country and the state of Maryland,” she said. “Do we want to see limited government or do we want to more intrusion?”
Pusey drew from her long background in public health in Worcester County for an analogy of the perceived status quo in Maryland.
“Our state has an addiction and they feed that addiction with more spending and taxes,” she said. “We need to treat that addiction. We need to send some of our state legislators to rehab.”
Pocomoke Mayor and long-time law enforcement officer Mike McDermott said he came to the Eastern Shore to help run a family poultry farm, but quickly went back to his law enforcement roots.
“As it turned out, I’m a really good police officer, but a really bad chicken farmer, but I learned a lot about patience and hard work and prayer,” he said.
McDermott said he decided to run for state office after becoming frustrated with the district’s current representation in Annapolis.
“I got involved because I saw a need,” he said. “I went to a meeting as a concerned citizen and came out as a candidate.”
Berlin Mayor Gee Williams is seeking the District 38B House seat as a logical progression in his public service career. While some of the candidates were decidedly extreme, Williams’ ideas were clearly closer to the center.
“I believe we’re living in extraordinarily challenging times right now and we need elected officials who look for solutions across an entire spectrum,” he said. “I reject extremism. If we’re going to make Maryland truly successful again, we need partnership, not partisanship.”
The first question focused on the potential for enabling legislation to allow the towns on the Eastern Shore to create and levy their own taxes to make up for the drastic budget cuts handed down by the state. Delegate Norm Conway said he understands the hardships the towns have felt during the recession and could support allowing them to create taxes with certain safeguards in place.
“I understand the limited revenue sources the municipalities have,” he said. “The economy has taken a nose dive and the municipal governments should have alternatives. They should have enabling legislation, but it puts the onus on local government.”
Pusey, however, said she could not support any new taxes under any circumstances.
“A tax is a tax is a tax, and I’ve taken a no new tax pledge, so my vote would be no,” she said. “I do believe there are creative ways to increase revenue for the towns and it starts with creating a positive business environment. We need to look at creative ways to increase revenue without increasing taxes.”
As mayor of Berlin, Williams said there are creative alternatives to taxes for the municipalities to survive in the current economy.
“I would definitely not support creating any new revenue streams with municipal taxes,” he said. “The government at every level needs to live within its means and learn the difference between spending and creating business.”
He pointed to Berlin’s own success stories during trying times as an example.
“Increasing our tax base is the way to go,” he said. “We did it in Berlin. We’ve become a magnet for new business in these challenging times. We’ve attracted 25 new businesses in two years.”
As mayor of Pocomoke, McDermott said the towns do not have the luxury of creating new taxes or moving funds from one budget department to another.
“In Maryland, only counties are allowed to do that,” he said. “Only counties are allowed to create new revenues sources. The power to tax carries with it the power to destroy. We’re not allowed to transfer funds from enterprise funds to our general fund. That’s not so in Maryland. These are the kind of robberies that go on in the General Assembly.”