District 12 candidates talk taxes at Thursday night forum

Nine of the 10 Democratic candidates for three open seats in District 12 addressed issues facing southwest Baltimore County during an open candidate forum Thursday night at Lansdowne High School.

Ten Democrats and three Republicans are vying for seats in the newly configured District 12, which incorporates parts of Baltimore and Howard counties, including Catonsville, Arbutus and Lansdowne.

With a number of questions on topics from fracking to the minimum wage, the nine Democrats were able to differentiate themselves on tax policy.

Mark Weaver, president of the Southwest Baltimore County Democratic Club that hosted the forum, asked candidates what type of tax they would raise, if faced with a situation where they had to increase revenue and couldn't make spending cuts.

"It turned out to be a good question that showed small but significant differences between them," Weaver said after the forum.

Terri Hill, a Howard County plastic surgeon, said she would favor raising the sales tax because, "It affects everybody equally. You buy a small amount, you pay a small amount…it's proportionate to what you bought."

Hill, the only candidate in the race endorsed by all three incumbents, said she'd also look at closing corporate tax loopholes.

Renee McGuirk-Spence, a former special education teacher and lobbyist for the Maryland Department of Education, agreed with Hill on a sales tax increase.

McGuirk-Spence, a longtime Catonsville resident and daughter of late state Sen. Harry J. McGuirk, said she'd be reluctant to raise taxes at all. But in a situation where a tax increase is necessary, she'd raise the sales tax because it would be "equal."

Eric Ebersole, a teacher who has taught in Howard County schools for 33 years, disagreed with raising the sales tax.

"To me, that becomes regressive," Ebersole said.

Ebersole said he'd support a progressive income tax where those who earn more pay more in taxes.

Clarence Lam, a Howard County physician, echoed Ebersole.

"I'd make sure any tax increase that we make be progressive. Increasing the sales tax isn't progressive. It's actually regressive because the people that are low income are paying more of a percentage of their income toward taxes," Lam said.

Brian Bailey, former chairman of the Baltimore County Democratic Party and former chairman of the Southwest Area Educational Advisory Council of Baltimore County, said he'd also support a progressive income tax.

"I feel the folks that make the most should pay a little more. We should have a progressive income tax," Bailey said.

Bailey doesn't believe increasing taxes on the wealthy will cause them to leave the state, he said.

"The argument that millionaires are rushing for the border is false. We really need to make folks pay their fair share," Bailey said.

Adam Sachs, a public relations specialist who resides in Columbia, said he'd create a progressive income tax because, "people who earn more money can afford to provide a little more to the government for the public good.

"I'd like to see a society where we're all in it together a little more," Sachs said.

Nick Stewart, a lawyer and former speechwriter for Gov. Martin O'Malley, said he'd support a progressive income tax.

"Rather than relying on fees and fines that nickel and dime folks, we need to be more straightforward and up front about how we're asking them to contribute more," Stewart said.

Mike Gisriel, a former state delegate who represented Towson and veteran lobbyist, said he's not a fan of increasing taxes.

However, he'd favor targeted taxes such as a luxury sales taxes or a snack tax.

Rebecca Dongarra, a small business owner in Catonsville, said she's not in favoring of raising taxes, but would consider raising the estate tax.

Dongarra said she believes there needs to be more transparency in taxation and corporations need to pay their fair share of taxes.

"Transparency is very important when it comes to those issues," she said.

Democratic candidate Jay Fred Cohen, a lawyer who served as an Orphans' Court Judge from 2006-2010, wasn't present at the forum.

Republicans Gordon Bull, Rick Martel, and Joseph "Joe" Hooe are also contending for District 12 seats.

Primary elections will be held June 24.

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