Maryland Republican gubernatorial nominee Larry Hogan told residents of a large seniors community Tuesday that he would like to eliminate taxation of all retirement income once the state gets its fiscal house in order — a potentially expensive proposal about which he offered few details.
Hogan’s comments came during a forum with the Democratic nominee, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, at the Charlestown community in Baltimore County. The two men appeared separately before an audience of about 500 people.
Hogan stressed after the forum that his proposed tax break “would not happen overnight,” saying his priorities are to cut spending, create jobs and roll back as many of the tax increases as possible that took place under Gov. Martin O’Malley (D).
“Once we get it under control, our plan — we can’t do it immediately — will be to completely eliminate state income taxes for pensions and retirement income,” Hogan told the Charlestown residents.
Nonpartisan legislative analysts projected that a Republican-sponsored bill with a similar aim introduced this year would have cost the state more than $1 billion a year in revenue. Neither Hogan nor his aides offered a cost estimate of his plan on Tuesday night.
The Brown campaign pounced on the proposal, calling it irresponsible.
“No serious candidate for governor would walk into a room and promise a $5.5 billion tax cut with no way to pay for it,” said Brown campaign manager Justin Schall, referring to the estimated cost over five years of this year’s legislation. “If Larry Hogan believes that he can slash the state budget this drastically without harming Maryland families, he clearly doesn’t understand the job and responsibilities of being governor.”
Under current law, for individuals age 65 and older, pension income of up to $27,800 was exempt from taxation last year.
During their presentations Tuesday night, both candidates said that job creation would be their priority during the next four years. A report this week said that Maryland suffered the second-most job losses in the country in July, shedding 9,000 positions.
Brown acknowledged that figure during his turn at the podium, which came ahead of Hogan’s appearance. But he also said that Maryland had positive job growth in nine of the past 12 months.
Brown said he would boost job growth by investing in infrastructure and education and taking a hard look at the state’s tax structure.
Hogan said he was heartened to hear that job creation is a Brown priority but questioned his commitment during his past eight years as lieutenant governor.
“We have an anti-business attitude, from the top to the bottom of this administration,” said Hogan, an Anne Arundel County businessman.
Differences on several other issues were aired during the forum, including on Maryland’s response to the influx of unaccompanied child migrants from Central America coming across the U.S. border in recent months.
Brown echoed sentiments that have been expressed by O’Malley, saying the nation has a responsibility to protect children wherever they find them.
Hogan said he wants to look out for children’s immediate health and safety, but he offered a harder line, saying “we need to return them as quickly as possible to their parents in their country of origin.”
The candidates also parted ways on the legislature’s decision this year to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.
Brown said he supported the legislation, in part because of the difficulties that young people convicted of possession can have in obtaining jobs, housing or a college education.
Brown said the roughly $100 million a year that the state has spent on prosecution of possession of small amounts of marijuana could be better used going after more dangerous criminals and educating children on the perils of drug use.
Hogan said he was sympathetic to some of those arguments but opposed the decriminalization bill because he thought it encouraged drug use. He said, however, that he does not plan to seek a repeal of the law if elected governor.