Fact check: Maryland candidates for governor at their first debate

The Democratic candidates for governor in Maryland met at the University of Maryland, College Park this past week for their first debate ahead of the party primary  June 24.

Here, we’re taking a deeper dive into some of their claims. Follow the links to jump to each particular one:

 Doug Gansler: “It’s curious that [Brown] says he’s fought for years because every time that a repeal-the-death-penalty bill came up while he was a delegate in Annapolis, other delegates signed up to sponsor the bill and the lieutenant governor was nowhere to be found.”

Heather Mizeur: “I’ve expanded health insurance to 50,000 more children in our state.”

Anthony Brown: “We can’t afford to give a small number of the largest corporations in Maryland [Gansler's] $1.6 billion tax giveaway.”

Doug Gansler: “The actual number that we know that was able to sign up through the [health insurance exchange] Web site was … was four people.

Anthony Brown: “Nobody was more frustrated than me, and that’s why I took the action that I did. I reorganized the leadership at the [heath care] exchange.”

 

Was Brown ‘nowhere to be found’ when fellow delegates tried to repeal the death penalty?


“It’s curious that [Brown] says he’s fought for years because every time that a repeal-the-death-penalty bill came up while he was a delegate in Annapolis, other delegates signed up to sponsor the bill and the lieutenant governor was nowhere to be found.”

— Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (at left), referring to Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (at right), who said he “fought long and hard” to repeal the death penalty

During the first debate, Brown criticized Gansler, a former Montgomery County  state’s attorney, for his previous support of capital punishment. Gansler responded by saying Brown’s advocacy for abolishing the death penalty was not as lengthy as he’s led voters to believe.

There’s no question that Brown was a visible figure last year when Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) successfully championed a repeal bill in the legislature with the backing of the national NAACP. Brown testified on the legislation and took a leading role at press conferences.

But Gansler is correct that Brown never sponsored a repeal bill during his tenure in the House of Delegates representing Prince George’s County.

During those eight years, four bills to abolish capital punishment were introduced  in the House  in 2001, 2004, 2005 and 2006. Both the 2004 and 2005 bills attracted more than 40 co-sponsors. Brown’s name does not appear on any of them, and the bills never made it to the House floor for a vote.

Brown aides point out that Brown was serving in Iraq as an Army reservist in 2005 and say that the 2004, 2005 and 2006 bills stood no chance of becoming law under a Republican governor.

They also point to several other bills related to the death penalty, none of which passed, to back up their contention that Brown has long opposed capital punishment.

The first of those, in 1999, sought a study from the University of Maryland to determine whether there was racial bias in the death penalty process.

In 2001, Brown was among 41 co-sponsors of a bill that sought a two-year moratorium on the death penalty while such a study was conducted by the University of Maryland.

And in 2003, after the study was completed, Brown was the lead sponsor of another bill that sought to set up a task force to determine whether statewide guidelines should be established for local prosecutors considering the death penalty.

 

Did Mizeur expand children’s health insurance to 50,000 kids?

“I’ve expanded health insurance to 50,000 more children in our state.”

— Del. Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery) at the May 7 debate

In 2008, Mizeur introduced legislation to use Marylanders’ income tax returns to identify and reach low-income families with children in need in health insurance. Quite often working families do not know their children qualify for Medicaid or a state-run insurance program until they are notified, experts said at the time. Eligibility cuts off at 300 percent of the federal poverty level, which today would be $47,190 for a single parent and $71,550 for a family of four.

The Maryland Kids First Act went into effect on July 1, 2008, as was refined over several years. The first year, the state tax collector sent information about insurance programs to 446,590 taxpayers who were under the income threshold and had dependent children, according to a study by researchers at Hilltop Institute at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. The next tax year, the information went to 152,565 taxpayers who checked a box indicating they have a child who does not have health-care coverage. For the 2009 tax year, information went to 145,977 people who indicated that their uninsured children were under the age of 19. And for 2010, taxpayers could select to have their information directly shared with health officials, which 135,577 people opted to do. The program has continued since then.

But it’s unknown how many of those people who received the information then signed their children up for coverage. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which sponsored the study of Maryland’ program, noted in March 2013 that Maryland was still unable to breakdown how many of those contacted then enrolled their children for coverage.

In December 2009, health officials reported to lawmakers on general efforts to make it easier for low-income residents to sign-up for government-provided health insurance. They wrote: “Over the last 18 months, Maryland has experienced tremendous growth simply due to the poor state of the economy, expanded coverage to parents, and outreach initiatives, such as the Kids First Act. Since July 2008, Maryland has covered more than 50,000 additional children.”

But it’s unknown if all 50,000 children who gained coverage in those 18 months did so because of the Kids First Act. And it’s unknown how many more gained coverage over the past three years. Steven Hershkowitz, a spokesman for the Mizeur campaign, said he is not aware of any other studies or reports that can assign a specific number to the impact of the law. But he said that he was confident that the number has only grown since 2010.

 

Is Gansler proposing a $1.6 billion corporate tax giveaway?


Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown in a debate  Wednesday night. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

“My tax plan will not include … the Gansler corporate tax giveaway. If we’re going to invest in education, if we’re going to invest in transportation, we can’t afford to give a small number of the largest corporations in Maryland a $1.6 billion tax giveaway.”

— Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D) at the first Democratic gubernatorial debate May 7

About this there is no dispute: Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, a Democratic candidate for governor, has proposed gradually reducing Maryland’s corporate income tax rate from the current 8.25 percent to 6 percent, to match the rate that Virginia levies.

At the debate at the University of Maryland at College Park, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D) accused Gansler of advocating a $1.6 billion “giveaway” to corporations. It’s a charge Brown has made many times before. Although that figure is not entirely made up, it does beg some explanation of the math behind it, which Brown did not provide during the debate on Wednesday.

Under Gansler’s proposal, the corporate tax rate would drop by a quarter percentage point annually  meaning  it would take nine years before it hit 6  percent. At that point, the state would collect at least $300 million less a year in corporate taxes than it does now, if current estimates by nonpartisan legislative analysts hold.

Brown’s figure of $1.6 billion reflects an estimate of the cumulative lost revenue over the entire nine years.

According to Gansler’s campaign, his plan would cost only $35.6 million during the first year of the phase-in. Gansler aides point out that the tax cut would be offset in part by closing a corporate tax loophole. And they say Gansler would slow down the pace of phasing in the tax cut if new revenues coming in don’t cover the cost.

Gansler also argues that by lowering the corporate tax, more businesses will come to Maryland and stay in Maryland — meaning the state will collect corporate income taxes from more companies. 

 

Did only four people sign up for health insurance through Maryland’s Web site?


Attorney General and Maryland gubernatorial candidate Doug Gansler  speaks during a Maryland Democratic primary debate at the University of Maryland in College Park on May 7. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

“The actual number that we know that was able to sign up through the Web site was through Jenna Johnson’s article and the last we’ve heard was four people.  And that is because there’s been a cover-up from the special interests that don’t want us to know what happens.”

— Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler (D) at the first Democratic gubernatorial debate May 7

The Web site that Maryland built so that residents in need of health insurance could shop for low-priced plans made possible by the Affordable Care Act has not been working well. In fact, it’s so buggy and structurally flawed that officials have decided to scrap nearly all of it and rebuild before the next enrollment period starts in November. This made it difficult for thousands of people to get insurance, and Maryland only signed up a fraction of the number of people officials had originally hoped would enroll in private plans.

But is it really possible that only four people signed up directly through the Web site?

Gansler points to a Jan. 11 article by The Washington Post’s Aaron C. Davis and Mary Pat Flaherty reporting that during the first day the site was live, “only four people had signed up.” Gansler argues that since state officials cannot say how many people signed up through the site since then and how many enrolled through other means, four is the only reliable stat.

Every new application for insurance was processed through the Web site, although sometimes with help from trained employees, said Alison E. Walker, a spokeswoman for the Maryland health exchange. That includes the 67,757 people who signed up for private health plans and the more than 160,000 people who are newly enrolled in Medicaid, she said. An additional 100,000 people were automatically enrolled in Medicaid when Maryland expanded its program.

 

Read more: 

Fact check: Anthony Brown says ‘I took action’ to fix Maryland’s health exchange

Jenna Johnson writes about Maryland politics, including the General Assembly, the administration of Gov. Martin O'Malley and the 2014 election.
John Wagner has covered Maryland government and politics for The Post since 2004.
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