RON GEORGE

RON GEORGE

CHESTERTOWN — Ron George has an unusual skill for someone in the House of Delegates; he was trained as a goldsmith and jeweler.

He later studied history and drama. Today, he’s Ron George, Republican candidate for governor.

George, 59, is a relative newcomer to State House politics. He was in the Kent County News office for an open-ended discussion on Thursday, Aug. 15.

George represents the 30th District in Anne Arundel County. “I was asked to run – people felt the General Assembly’s understanding of small business and economics is lacking,” he said.

He eked out a 53-vote victory in 2006, third of six candidates. He was returned to the House in 2010. That year he came in first in the count, leading Democratic candidate and longstanding House Speaker Michael Busch by 1,600 votes.

He has spent more than seven years on the Ways and Means Committee in the House, he said, where he has watched where the money comes from and where it goes.

He’s convinced state business-as-usual is conducted inefficiently. So inefficiently, in fact, that only third-party audits will give a meaningful picture of where the leaks are.

In an Aug. 8 opinion piece in The Baltimore Sun, George called for independent audits of all state agencies.

The regular internal state audits depend on information coming from the agencies themselves, while an independent audit is conducted by an outside third party, he said.

The only time this happens, George wrote, is when the federal government performs its annual audit on the roughly $13 billion it gives to the state.

As a result, no one detects what George termed “run-of-the-mill government waste” in state operations.

“I’m not a career politicians and I don’t like waste,” he said. “I’m solution-oriented, not an ideologue.”

He credits his background in small business for his different perspective on legislating. He said he’s “a small businessperson. I meet a weekly payroll. I’m responsible for 15 people.”

As governor, he would watch state expenditures, to “see the money goes where it’s supposed to, it gets results, and there’s no waste. It’s more about making things work.”

George has published a “Ten-Point Promise,” which revolves largely around more efficient government within existing tax rates to keep a balanced budget.

He advocates a repeal of the recent gas tax increase and the so-called “rain tax,” or stormwater management fee.

He would lower business and unemployment insurance taxes.

He was in the 2008 fight to repeal the technology services tax, and more recently he worked to cap Maryland’s boat tax.

He talks passionately about the money he believes is wasted through bad management in state agencies, and how raising taxes should be second to eliminating the waste of the revenue that’s already coming in.

“Tax increases take more discretionary income. It doesn’t matter if Maryland is the wealthiest state if people have less discretionary income,” said George.

“The measure is the percentage of income which remains discretionary,” he said.

Maryland also faces a reputation as a place that’s unfriendly to businesses, according to George.

The state corporate tax brings in about $350 million a year, he said. It is not one of the state’s major revenue streams. He believes in lowering the tax rate and keeping it there. That will give businesses “predictability and the perception of a business-friendly state.”

But his main emphasis is on growing the tax base statewide.

“Buying and selling goods creates the new money in the economy. It’s how we increase the tax base,” said George. More economic activity means taxes bring in more money while the tax rate can stay unchanged.

He identifies Baltimore as the key element to fixing the state economy, along with independent audits of state expenditures.

“Why Baltimore? All counties are sending a large amount of money to Baltimore,” he said, because its tax base has withered away for decades. At the same time, the city government kept raising taxes to cover its expenses.

If Baltimore’s economy recovers, George said, its local taxes will bring in more revenue. The state sends less to keep the city afloat, and more money stays in local hands in the rest of the state.

Other points cover increased government transparency; a state effort for energy independence “so we will not rely on unstable governments halfway around the world;” and a proactive transportation plan he will unveil in the fall.

His good-government pledge focuses on “demanding the highest standards of ethics;” forfeiting retirement benefits if an elected official is convicted of abusing their office; and removing the current emphasis on what he calls “one-size fits all state mandates.”

For example, he said, most crossroads towns on the Eastern Shore once had manufacturing companies of some sort. Those have left. But, an economic development program for Howard County isn’t what the Shore needs.

“Maryland needs regional plans, for business, for economic development and for education,” said George.

He identified relicensing the Conowingo Dam as an issue where the state should make certain the interests of all Marylanders are taken into account. The cost of clean water in the Chesapeake Bay affects everyone.

But not every place in the state has the same economic advantages. Places like Chestertown and counties like Kent face an obstacle when companies find out they’re limited in their high-speed, broadband Internet service options.

“People like towns like this,” he said. “The investment [in broadband service to homes and businesses] would attract information technology firms.”

He said a state grant with a payback provision makes sense, because if it spurs a local economy, it increases the tax base. If private firms aren’t stepping up, “you need a grant to close that hole,” he said. The state “awards a lot of grants we never see a payback on. The money is gone.”

At the Port of Baltimore, the city has a chance to attract import-export businesses because of improvements there. A new generation of larger cargo ships will be able to call. “They could attract import-export businesses, but they’re not doing that now,” he said.

At the same time, there must be “a different approach for the Eastern Shore, for Kent County.”

George owns an Annapolis business, Ron George Jewelers, with two locations. He was an undergraduate at Syracuse University, went into acting in New York, and eventually relocated to Annapolis in 1991.

Since 1979, he has been active as a volunteer. He started his involvement with Covenant House, an emergency youth shelter in New York. That led him to study clinical psychology. “It helps with volunteer work,” he said. In 2005, he earned a master’s from the Institute for Psychological Sciences in Arlington, Va.

“I’ve always been involved in the community,” he said. That continued through his years with the Conquest Boys Club, as a volunteer executive director for the Springhill Center for Family Development and as a board member of Traditions of Roman Catholic Homes, a home-schooling support organization.

He said community service leads him to question why Gov. Martin O’Malley has put through “cuts in mental health funding every year for six years.”

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