Ehrlich details small-business strategy, UPDATED
In the first major policy unveiling of his campaign, former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. this morning announced a "small-business initiative to help revitalize Maryland's economy."
The Republican said he would move immediately to change the "attitude about entrepreneurship," which he said has suffered under the administration of Gov. Martin O'Malley, the Democrat who unseated him four years ago.
Nearly all of Ehrlich's proposals involved the formation of commissions. Ehrlich made his first announcement of the day at a pizza restaurant in Gaithersburg. He'll hold a similar talk this afternoon at a crab house in Reisterstown.
Details from this morning:
* One commission would study the state's unemployment benefits system, with an eye toward reducing rates. Ehrlich said he'd also consider returning to a benefits system that did not include part-time workers, a shift the occurred under O'Malley.
* Another would study corporate income tax, again focused on reducing rates. Ehrlich said this is necessary to stay competitive with neighboring Virginia, which already has a lower rate and is considering further reductions.
* A third group, called the "red tape task force," would study the state's business regulations. Some might be outdated or duplicative, Ehrlich said.
* Ehrlich said he'd also hold quarterly round table discussions with agency heads, legislators and business people, with the goal of fostering better understanding among those groups.
* The former governor again hammered on his desire to repeal a penny-per-dollar sales tax increase under O'Malley, which would require the cooperation of the Democratic-controlled legislature to accomplish.
* He also said the state should examine the health care mandates placed upon businesses, though he said "many make a great deal of sense."
* Adding an exclamation point to his desire to bring corporate headquarters to Maryland, Ehrlich said he would install a commission-based system in the state Department of Business and Economic Development. That is, senior DBED officials who secure deals to bring companies to Maryland would be rewarded with extra pay.
Aides to Ehrlich say he has spoken with more than 100 entrepreneurs at events across the state, as he builds a campaign theme that Maryland has been unhealthy for business under O'Malley. He frequently cites the closure of 3,000 small businesses and the loss of several corporate headquarters as evidence of a problem that he says he will fix.
Ehrlich said at a campaign stop last week at a restaurant in Hampstead that he's heard many employers complain that unemployment benefits are going to some undeserving people -- ones who have been fired for theft, for example. Worse, Ehrlich said, employers get tangled in bureaucracy and never win when the try to contest benefit awards.
O'Malley campaign spokesman Rick Abbruzzese predicted "nothing new."
"Bob Ehrlich just wants us to go back to the days when the special interests ran our state, which would be bad for both small businesses and working families throughout Maryland," he said.
O'Malley has been on a "jobs" tour over the past few months to highlight job creation that he says positions the state to come out of the national recession swiftly.
This morning, Ehrlich released a 44-second YouTube video (above) promoting the plan, which he says will restore Maryland's "varsity status" in the business world.