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Staff writer

Three of the four Republican candidates for governor running in Maryland’s primary election next month took part in a forum Friday at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, to share their concerns about the state’s current direction and its future.

Del. Ron George (Anne Arundel) and former congressional candidate Charles Lollar eventually were joined by David Craig, Harford County’s county executive, for the sparsely attended gathering hosted by the Maryland Public Policy Institute with the college’s Center for the Study of Democracy. Candidate Larry Hogan did not attend; a family member earlier said he already was committed to take part in another event that evening.

The three candidates who were there responded to questions about the state’s troubled development of a health care program in conjunction with the federal government’s Affordable Care Act, the state’s issues in attracting and retaining businesses, and environmental concerns including the implementation in some counties of a stormwater management fee, also referred to as a “rain tax.”

Craig said that businesses are leaving the state because of its tax structure, leaving his county to develop incentive programs to retain the ones in his area. “You do have to deal with a legislative body [as governor]. I know how to do that,” Craig said. “If you lower a tax, more money will come in, ultimately.”

Lollar said that Maryland has lost $5 billion in revenue because of businesses fleeing the state, and noted a recent poll that Maryland has the third-highest percentage of residents who would like to leave their state. He said a “taxpayers’ bill of rights” would cap state spending increases and eventually eliminate the state’s personal income tax.

George said a 10 percent cut in taxes would reduce revenue by $740 million, but that cutting waste in government would offset that reduction. He said he has taken a bipartisan approach in the General Assembly to help address education and crime issues.

Lollar said the state’s loss of more than $200 million trying to start a health care program underscores the need to let more health care companies take part in starting private health care exchanges, and that people should know the costs of specific health care services and how to compare them.

“The costs are somewhat hidden from the consumer,” he said. “We believe our private health care plan and exchange can work, ... [but] whichever path you go down, it’s going to take time to implement it.”

George said he sponsored a free-market health exchange proposal, and that Maryland “must scrap” the state plan that has pushed more people to seek help through Medicaid. Craig said the state doesn’t need an additional bureaucracy to handle health care, and that government should have asked companies how to approach the task.

George said the stormwater management fees are another example of government programs that can be better addressed through free-market solutions. “I’m tired of environmental ideas that end up punishing people,” he said, and that a multi-state approach is needed to address storm-runoff pollution in the upper Chesapeake Bay. “We need to clean up the bay first,” he said, “with what we know is going to work.”

Craig said that the state’s rules and regulations often change before the success of the proceeding ones can be assessed, and that farmers’ shared ideas and collective approach have accomplished more to address environmental problems. Lollar said a better “conversation” with neighboring states would help resolve regional issues.

The Democratic candidates for governor include current Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, Attorney General Doug Gansler, Del. Heather Mizeur (Montgomery), Ralph Jaffe of Baltimore County, Charles U. Smith of Baltimore and Cindy Walsh of Baltimore.

jwharton@somdnews.com