The Washington Post

GOP hopefuls divide during forum over whether to eliminate Maryland’s income tax

Republican gubernatorial candidates David Craig, from left, Ron George, Larry Hogan and Charles Lollar. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

The four Republicans seeking to be the next governor of Maryland split Thursday over the wisdom of eliminating Maryland’s personal income tax during their final televised appearance together before the June 24 primary.

Harford County Executive David R. Craig and Charles County businessman Charles Lollar both touted plans to phase out the tax over five years during a 45-minute forum taped at the studios of NBC4 in Washington for broadcast Sunday at 7 a.m.

But Del. Ronald A. George (Anne Arundel) cautioned that state revenues remain too fragile to make such a promise. He instead pledged a 10 percent tax cut that would be retroactive to this year.

Anne Arundel County businessman Larry Hogan said that while he wants to roll back as many taxes as possible, he is unwilling to commit to getting rid of the personal income tax altogether.

“You can’t talk about eliminating taxes without identifying the cuts,” Hogan said, citing Maryland’s requirement for the governor to submit balanced budgets.

The four hopefuls otherwise agreed on far more than they disagreed.

All four said they are opposed to the legalization of marijuana, for example, and took aim at a proposal by Del. Heather R. Mizeur (Montgomery), a Democratic candidate for governor. Her plans would use tax revenue from legal marijuana sales to fund an expansion of pre-kindergarten programs.

George mocked that as a “pot for tots” program. Hogan called it “kind of a crazy idea.”

All four candidates were also highly critical of Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown’s oversight of the state’s online health insurance exchange, which Hogan said was probably “the biggest boondoggle in state government history.”

Brown is the front-runner in the Democratic primary against Mizeur and Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler.

In response to a question from moderator Chris Gordon of NBC4, each of the Republicans said they could take heart from the stunning upset of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R) in Virginia on Tuesday night by little-known candidate Dave Brat.

Lollar said Brat’s victory was evidence that candidates who raise the most money don’t always win.

Craig said it shows “the polls aren’t always accurate.”

“I think they always underestimate the conservative candidate,” George said. “I think we’ve had that happen many times in this state.”

Hogan suggested a bigger lesson.

“It is tough to be an incumbent these days, because people feel as if our elected leaders are not only not solving the serious problems that face us, but that they’re actually causing the problems and making things worse,” Hogan said. “I think it’s going to help us defeat Anthony Brown.”

John Wagner is a political reporter covering the race for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.

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