Democratic gubernatorial nominee Anthony G. Brown emphatically pledged at a debate Tuesday that he would not raise taxes in Maryland if elected, an apparent attempt to blunt attacks from his Republican opponent, Larry Hogan, who has made tax cuts the rallying cry of his campaign.
“There will be no new taxes,” Brown said during the debate, which was taped in Baltimore and aired Tuesday evening on WJZ (Channel 13) and Maryland Public Television.
Hogan said Brown’s pledge “sounded good” but was hard to believe, given that the Democrat has served as lieutenant governor in an administration with “40 consecutive tax hikes that have just crushed Maryland families.”
“Unfortunately, it’s the complete opposite of his eight-year record of failure,” said Hogan, who owns a real estate business in Anne Arundel County, served as appointments secretary in the administration of former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) and has run unsuccessfully for Congress three times.
During the debate — the first of three scheduled in a two-week period — the gubernatorial candidates also clashed over their plans and records on pre-kindergarten education, gun control and the environment. And they found areas of agreement. Both, for example, said they favor empowering an independent group, rather than partisan lawmakers, to redraw congressional district boundaries.
Brown, a Harvard-trained lawyer who is a former Army helicopter pilot and former state delegate from Prince George’s County, said that while he and Hogan both want to cut taxes, his priority is providing relief to middle-class families and small businesses.
Hogan, Brown charged, favors “giveaways” to “a small group of the largest, wealthiest corporations who need the help the least.” He was referring to Hogan’s support for a reduction in the state’s corporate income tax rate to 6 percent from 8.25 percent.
The Republican nominee, who has pledged to roll back as many tax hikes passed under Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) as possible, said the vast majority of increases — including the sales tax — hit people on the lower end of the income scale.
“People have had enough,” Hogan said.
In a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll published Monday, taxes emerged as the issue that voters are most concerned about this year.
The poll shows Brown leading Hogan, 47 percent to 38 percent, among likely voters. Eleven percent are undecided, and Libertarian candidate Shawn Quinn draws the support of 4 percent.
As they stood behind lecterns separated by a pair of moderators Tuesday morning, Brown and Hogan hewed close to their campaign talking points. Hogan wore a large pink-and-purple ribbon on his suit lapel, commemorating Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Domestic Violence Awareness Month, both of which are observed in October.
The tone of the debate was serious, and the back-and-forth at times turned testy, with each candidate accusing the other of misrepresentations.
After Hogan talked about the degree to which states north of Maryland are responsible for polluting the Chesapeake Bay, for example, Brown said, “There you go again, painting a distorted picture.”
Hogan, meanwhile, took Brown to task for television ads that say Hogan is against abortion even in the cases of rape and incest, and that he opposes some common forms of birth control. Hogan said that those have never been his positions, adding: “I think you should apologize to the women of Maryland for trying to scare them.”
Nothing about women’s reproductive health policy would change in Maryland if he is elected governor, Hogan said.
Just as Brown argued that he and Hogan share common ground on cutting taxes and improving the state’s business climate, Hogan also sought to minimize differences on a few issues.
In television ads, Brown has criticized Hogan for favoring a corporate income tax cut while saying the state can’t afford to expand pre-K programs as much as Brown wants.
During the debate, Hogan said he is actually “a big proponent of pre-K.”
He said his concern is that Brown has not put forward a viable way to pay for his proposed expansion, which would gradually make pre-K programs available to every 4-year-old in the state.
“Politicians make phony promises all the time that they can’t deliver,” Hogan said.
Hogan also said that he was opposed to tuition increases of more than 40 percent that took place on some University of Maryland campuses during Ehrlich’s tenure. Brown argued that as Ehrlich’s appointments secretary, Hogan appointed 10 of the 14 university regents who approved the tuition hikes.
Brown also pressed another familiar line of attack against Hogan, saying the Republican was opposed to a sweeping gun-control measure passed by the legislature last year.
Hogan has previously cited his support for the Second Amendment in explaining his opposition. On Tuesday, he said he opposed the legislation because it did not do enough to keep guns out of the hands of mentally ill people.
Jenna Johnson contributed to this report.