Tax Policy and the Race for the Governor's Mansion: Maryland Edition


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Voters in 36 states will be choosing governors this November. Over the next several months, the Tax Justice Digest will be highlighting 2014 gubernatorial races where taxes are proving to be a key issue. Today’s post is about the race for Governor in Maryland.

Brown---Hogan.jpgMaryland’s gubernatorial election pits current Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown (D) against former state official and businessman Larry Hogan (R). Current governor (and possible presidential candidate) Martin O’Malley (D) is not on the ballot, but the election is widely seen as a referendum on his stewardship, most notably the tax increases passed during his tenure.

Like Brown’s primary challenger Doug Gansler, Hogan has sought to make tax increases a campaign issue. Change Maryland, an organization founded by Hogan in 2011, claims that the O’Malley-Brown administration passed 40 separate tax and fee increases that will cost Marylanders an additional $20 billion by 2018. Hogan further argues that the tax increases have made Maryland’s business climate less competitive, and forced wealthier residents to flee the state. To back up his claims, Hogan cites a recent Gallup poll that that found 47 percent of Marylanders would move to another state if they could, and the loss of 10 out of 13 of the state’s Fortune 500 companies. Hogan has pledged to reverse as many of O’Malley’s tax increases as possible, particularly personal and corporate income taxes, as well as cut more than a billion dollars in wasteful spending.

Polling suggests Hogan’s anti-tax message has failed to gain traction – Brown leads him 50 percent to 37 percent. Many Marylanders believe the tax increases were necessary to make or maintain investments in transportation, education and other priorities, and they credit O’Malley for his balanced approach of spending cuts and revenue increases during tough economic times.

Furthermore, many of Hogan’s claims have been called into question. The Maryland Center on Economic Policy asserts that studies showing Maryland losing billions of dollars in income due to out-migration use inflated numbers that don’t account for new income generated by other Maryland residents taking the jobs and businesses left behind. In fact, about 97 percent of households leaving Maryland between 1993 and 2011 were replaced by households moving in from other states. The organization also notes that anti-tax critics attribute out-migration to tax policy, when in reality residents have myriad reasons for moving – and taxes rank far below family, friends and even weather when making moving decisions.

Hogan’s claim that the state lost 10 out of 13 Fortune 500 companies during O’Malley’s tenure doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. In 2006, the year O’Malley was elected, Maryland had 5 Fortune 500 companies and 12 Fortune 1000 companies – not 13 Fortune 500 companies, as Hogan alleges. A cursory search of Fortune 500 lists between 2006 and 2013 shows that the number of Fortune 500 companies based in Maryland has been remarkably steady, between 4 and 6 each year; results for Fortune 1000 companies are similar, between 11 and 13. The Fortune 500 companies that left the state – Black and Decker, Constellation Energy, and Coventry Health Care – were acquired by other companies (Black and Decker maintains a headquarters in Towson.)

Brown, for his part, has kept a low profile on tax issues. He has pledged to create a new commission to study comprehensive tax reform within his first 100 days in office, and says he does not foresee the need for any new taxes in the future. His campaign has also pushed back against Hogan’s association with former Governor Bob Ehrlich’s (R) administration, claiming that Ehrlich oversaw one of the largest expansions of government, taxes and fees in state history (Hogan served at Ehrlich’s appointment secretary).

Both candidates support an exemption for veteran’s pensions from the state personal income tax, with Brown’s endorsement of the proposal coming a day after Hogan’s. Both candidates have been cautious on the recent change to Maryland’s estate tax law, which will raise the estate tax threshold from $1 million to $5.34 million. When asked about the estate earlier this year, Brown demurred, saying that any tax reform should be comprehensive, while Hogan has made no public statement on the bill. 

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