Ehrlich talks taxes, seeks change in creamery visit
As he sipped a blueberry banana smoothie Tuesday, former Maryland governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) heard mostly what he expected -- as well as something he didn't -- from the owners of three Cold Stone Creamery franchises for whom business isn't what it used to be.
As they sat at a back table in their Cockeysville location with a sole reporter looking on, brother-and-sister team Whitney and Ryan Berger told Ehrlich that their bottom line had been hurt in recent years by state and federal increases in the minimum wage, an increase in the state sales tax and higher unemployment insurance rates.
The stop was Ehrlich's latest designed to question whether Maryland has seen as much "progress" under the current governor as Martin O'Malley (D) claims.
"We thought the business was going to be a home run, but each year it's gotten more difficult," Whitney Berger told the former governor.
Ehrlich nodded as the franchise owners told him that increases in the minimum wage had made it more difficult to hire and promote as many employees, many of whom work part-time and are in high school.
In 2005, while still governor, Ehrlich vetoed a bill that raised Maryland's minimum wage from $5.15 to $6.15 an hour. The Democrat-led legislature overrode his veto in the opening days of the 2006 session. Since then, the minimum wage has gone up in Maryland a couple of more times due to action by Congress.
Ehrlich hesitated when asked what he thought the minimum wage should be in Maryland in 2010. "I'd have to look at the numbers," he said.
The creamery owners said business was also hurt by an increase in the state sales tax -- from 5 percent to 6 percent -- passsed in 2007, O'Malley's first year in office. Ehrlich has made repeal of the increase a central theme of his campaign.
Whitney Berger said their customers are extremely sensitive to any price increases. When the tax went up, she said, "we had a sign up for awhile. People were flipping out."
Ehrlich and the creamery owners also lamented a recent increase in unemployment insurance taxes. The rate paid by the business was determined by a scheduled included in legislation signed by Ehrlich in 2005 -- a situation Ehrlich said was exacerbated by an O'Malley initiative to make part-time workers eligible for unemployment payments. Legislative analysts have said that change had little impact, and in this year's legislative session, lawmakers overhauled the system, providing some relief.
The unexpected moment came as Whitney and Ryan Berger relayed some experiences hiring high school students to make ice cream and work the registers. They said they were stunned to discover that some of the students who went to Baltimore schools could not count change.
Ehrlich was quick to tie the revelation to another dispute with O'Malley.
In 2006, when O'Malley was mayor of Baltimore and campaigning for governor against Ehrlich, the Democrat-led legislature blocked the state's seizure of 11 low-performing Baltimore schools.
Ehrlich has decried the move ever since and said what he learned Tuesday at the creamery was more evidence that students at these schools "are having their constitutional rights to learn deprived."
May 4, 2010; 2:34 PM ET
Categories: 2010 Elections , John Wagner | Tags: Martin O'Malley, Robert Ehrlich
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