Speaking Tuesday morning to the Pikesville Chamber of Commerce, former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. outlined policies -- many of them involving taxes -- that he said have made the state's business climate inhospitable to employers.
" Maryland is a great state, but it sure makes it difficult to make a buck," he said.
The state's only Republican governor in the past four decades said small business owners should make an effort to unseat legislators who have voted for such policies, but he dodged questions about his own potential candidacy. His spokesman, Henry Fawell, said Ehrlich could announce as soon as the end of this month whether he plans a rematch against Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat.
Since O'Malley defeated him in 2006, Ehrlich and his top advisers have worked for the law firm Womble Carlyle Sandridge and Rice, and Ehrlich and his wife, Kendel, have hosted a political Saturday radio show on WBAL.
Ehrlich told the Pikesville chamber that his favorite part about being governor was promoting the state's assets, including the Chesapeake Bay, religious diversity, professional sports and culture fixtures. But he said the state has "one big problem."
"It's Annapolis," he said.
Addressing a receptive audience of about 50, Ehrlich said he had observed during his four-year tenure as governor a General Assembly that is populated by lawmakers who don't understand or care about small businesses. As evidence, he cited the decision in 2007 to levy a tax on technology companies, which was quickly repealed, and Maryland's refusal to lower the corporate income tax even as Virginia lawmakers consider eliminating it altogether.
"There's a central theme here," he said. "Every one of these policy calls was a discretionary act. These are gratuitous discretionary acts."
He urged the audience to "hold politicians accountable for these votes," noting that he was talking about the General Assembly, not the governor's race. "Do not support politicians who do not support you."
All 188 Maryland legislators are up for re-election this fall.