EASTON How many Marylanders are unhappy with the current state of government in Annapolis?
If Facebook activity is an accurate indication of interest, Change Maryland's statistics point to a significant number of people who are not pleased.
The site has 13,650 "likes" and 744 people are "talking about this."
Led by former Republican gubernatorial candidate Larry Hogan, Change Maryland is an organization that describes itself as a non-partisan grassroots movement "fighting to bring fiscal responsibility and common sense to Annapolis."
During a recent interview, Hogan, who owns a commercial real estate company headquartered in Annapolis, said he has experienced many of the frustrations he believes are at the root of citizen discontent. A year ago, he decided to start Change Maryland.
"In one year we've grown into the largest grassroots organization in Maryland," he said. "We've got more Facebook fans than the Maryland Democratic Party and the Maryland Republican Party added together. It really just started with me and a few fed-up friends. We didn't have any money and we built the organization from scratch."
Hogan said Change Maryland has just as many Democratic and independent members as Republicans.
"People are engaged in discussing the issues. They find common ground. Our group is not doing partisan political things. We're not fighting against Democrats and Republicans. We are focused on primarily economic issues. We're talking mostly about government spending, taxes, jobs and small businesses. That's an area where a lot of people agree."
Hogan was a cabinet secretary under former governor Bob Ehrlich. He was the leading Republican candidate for governor in 2010 but chose to back down when Ehrlich decided to run again. Hogan said that when Ehrlich left office Maryland had "a billion dollar cash surplus in the bank and the state was in the best shape it had been in decades."
According to Hogan, Maryland has increased spending by more than $6 billion since Gov. Martin O'Malley took office. To pay for that spending, the O'Malley administration has increased tolls, car titling fees, vehicle excise taxes, the sales tax, corporate taxes, the alcohol tax, the tobacco tax, the property transfer tax, and the income tax. Hogan said the list "goes on and on."
"In the middle of the recession, as people are struggling just to survive, they loaded us up with the largest tax increases in Maryland history," he said.
In May, Maryland approved an income tax increase that will target taxpayers who make more than $100,000 and couples who earn more than $150,000 a lower bar than the $250,000 minimum endorsed by President Barack Obama.
Before the income tax increase, the National Taxpayers Union ranked Maryland as having the 4th highest overall state and local tax burden in the nation.
"They now say that anyone who makes a hundred thousand bucks are 'the rich' and they need to pay even more of their 'fair share,'" said Hogan. "This impacts nearly all small business owners who are already struggling just to survive in this economy, and who will now either have to go out of business, or lay off employees or move out of state, where they pay less in taxes. But it's not just them, it's anybody who has a really good job. In fact, if you are a firefighter that married a teacher, your taxes just got raised too."
Subchapter S Corporations and Limited Liability Companies report their income through a personal tax return.
A report by Change Maryland, which includes fiscal changes made during the special session, says that O'Malley and the Democratic majority in the General Assembly have increased taxes and fees 24 times in the past six years.
"We calculated that these O'Malley tax increases take more than 2.4 billion additional dollars, every single year, out of the pockets of struggling Marylanders."
Hogan says Maryland's millionaire tax is an example of failed fiscal policy. "Last year they passed the millionaire's tax and we lost one-third of the millionaires in Maryland. It cost us $840 million. Instead of the tax revenues going up, they went down."
The latest jobs report from the U.S. Department of Labor showed that Maryland lost 6,000 jobs in April, more than any other state.
In a speech on Kent Island, Hogan said: "This is not a fight between the right and the left. This fight is between right and wrong. It isn't just another fight between Republicans and Democrats. It's more important than that. This is a fight for Maryland's future and it's a fight worth fighting."
Hogan said he is working to promote Change Maryland now and there is plenty of time before the next gubernatorial election to consider another run for the state's highest office.
"We're going to be very involved in trying to elect a good governor and some better members of the legislature. That's the only way we're going to change things in Annapolis."