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Murphy, deSabla debate issues ahead of election - So Md News

Murphy, deSabla debate issues ahead of electionCandidates disagree sharply on government’s role by Jeff Newman Staff writer Independent Charles County commissioners’ president candidates Del. Peter F. Murphy and La Plata resident Tom deSabla squared off in an hour-long debate hosted Wednesday evening by the Charles County Chamber of Commerce at the Jaycees center in Waldorf. The candidates fielded 14 questions from past chamber President Craig Renner, covering topics such as taxation, education, transportation and economic development. Murphy (D-Charles), who defeated commissioners’ Vice President Reuben B. Collins II (D) in the June 24 primary, said he “cannot and will not promise” to single-handedly lower taxes, reduce traffic congestion or eliminate trailer classrooms, but did pledge to rebuild trust in the county commissioners. “What I will promise, what I do have control over, is my accountability to you, my transparency to you,” he said. “One of the things I take great pride in, in the eight years that I’ve been in office serving you, is my responsiveness to you.” DeSabla, who went unchallenged in the GOP primary, criticized Murphy for his record as a delegate, which aligns closely with that of the legislature’s most liberal members. “He has a record, a long and ignominious record of raising taxes,” deSabla said. “He voted for the rain tax. He voted for an increase in the sales tax. He’s voted for nearly every tax increase that’s come in front of him.” A former small business owner and stay-at-home dad who home-schools his children, deSabla repeatedly referred to the GOP’s anti-tax “Pledge Team” — consisting of himself and commissioner candidates Mike Bakir, Marcus Tillman and John Young — as the best choice for the county with the state’s highest property, business and utility taxes. “That’s three separate taxes [where] we’re No. 1,” deSabla said. “Charles County is a great county, but I don’t believe that that’s an honorific we should aspire to, to be number one in taxes. It’s got a lot of negative effects.” Murphy said raising taxes “should always be a last resort” in balancing budgets and stressed the need to grow the county’s commercial tax base in order to lessen the burden on homeowners. Murphy also advocated sitting down with business leaders to find out how to make it easier to do business in the county. A common complaint he cited is that it takes longer to pull a permit in Charles than in Prince George’s County or Washington, D.C. “There is no excuse for that,” Murphy said. DeSabla remained unconvinced by Murphy’s stated support for the business community. “I’m nonplussed at my opponent’s favor and fervor and passion for business when he has been chasing them out of the state with his votes for seven years,” deSabla said. “The Pledge Team is very strong on creating a pro-business climate in Charles County. We know this needs to happen, and I just think that someone who has a record of raising taxes and fees, of chasing businesses out of the state by the thousands, I just don’t think he’s qualified to speak on attracting businesses, with all due respect.” Murphy said he has “more of a positive outlook” on the role of government as a “partner” in economic development, while deSabla called the county “hostile and anti-business” and advocated a hands-off approach. “If you want to attract business, get out of their way, lower tax rates, they will come,” deSabla said. Murphy said he was opposed to developing the western side of the county to the point that it would become dependent on the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission for water service. DeSabla said he would be hesitant to spend more taxpayer money on public infrastructure to service the western side. Murphy said it is “hard to argue” that the county has been successful implementing smart growth when it also boasts has the highest property tax rate, longest commuting times and most trailer classrooms in the state. DeSabla said “educational excellence” comes from quality teachers and standards, rather than the physical school buildings. Murphy disagreed, stating that school facilities are important to preparing students for careers in science and technology. Because the new College of Southern Maryland campus in Hughesville will serve the entire region, Murphy said that all the Southern Maryland counties should share in the project’s costs, a change in the answer he gave to a similar question during a May debate with Collins, when Murphy said the county should resist proposals to co-fund the campus with Calvert and St. Mary’s counties in order to maintain local control. DeSabla called out the apparent flip-flop, and Murphy acknowledged his opinion had changed since receiving additional information from the college. In order to attract more young professionals, Murphy said the county needs to develop walkable communities resembling Shirlington in Arlington, Va., or National Harbor in Oxon Hill. DeSabla said young people are lured from the county by lower-taxed jurisdictions in Virginia and North Carolina. Murphy also expressed support for the Maryland Airport in Pomonkey, which recently received a $1.6 million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration for its ongoing expansion. He said the county needs to improve the surrounding public facilities and ensure the airport is ready to benefit should Washington, D.C., be awarded the 2024 Summer Olympics. DeSabla said he supports the proposed charter form of government on the Nov. 4 ballot, while Murphy said he thinks the newly elected local officials should get four years to fix the county’s problems and finish work on the comprehensive plan. “I absolutely oppose charter government at this time,” Murphy said. Both Murphy and deSabla voiced opposition to the creation of a county police department and the cross-county connector project. DeSabla closed the debate by repeating his call for government to stop trying to solve all problems. “I don’t think we can continue to take a hammer and hit a problem that’s a kitten,” he said. Murphy ended by stressing the important role his relationships with state officials could play in county government, and defended his progressive legislative record from deSabla’s criticism. “I’m proud of my experience. I’m proud of my record. You’re not going to find anybody that supports all people as I have in the legislature,” Murphy said. 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