Gov. Larry Hogan pledged Thursday to make Maryland more welcoming to veterans, though he acknowledged it might prove tough to pass some of his proposals to help them.
Hogan urged military retirees to help him persuade lawmakers to approve his bill to eventually exempt their pensions from state income tax.
"It's probably not going to pass unless we get some of our retired military to get involved in the lobbying effort," Hogan said to a friendly crowd at American Legion Post 136 in Greenbelt. "Help us help you."
The new Republican governor said his long-term goal is to eliminate income taxes for all retirees but said military veterans deserve the first break as "a token of our appreciation and respect."
"People who put their lives on the line every day kind of earned a tax break," Hogan told reporters after the event, where he spent nearly an hour chatting with retirees and touring the post.
"I think everyone deserves one at some point, but we're starting with them."
Hogan has already met resistance to his array of tax breaks from Democrats, who contend that in tight budget times, the money is needed to fully fund the K-12 education system.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said flatly Thursday that although it was an honorable endeavor, he didn't expect Hogan's tax break for veterans to pass this session.
"Before we give away the state revenue, we've first got to solve our budgetary problem of the $750 million deficit," Miller said.
Hogan previewed his plan during his State of the State speech last week. He traveled to Greenbelt to rouse support for his bill, which would eliminate all state income tax on military pensions over four years.
About 53,000 retirees in Maryland receive military pensions, which average $28,000 a year, according to a 2013 analysis by the Department of Legislative Services. Under state law, the first $5,000 of that income is already exempt from taxation.
Veterans in the room cheered Hogan heartily, but some were skeptical he could deliver.
"We'll see," said Bernie Zempolich, 80. "The problem is not with the governor. We go down there to Annapolis every year. We wear our caps. We testify. Nothing happens."
Zempolich, a retired Marine Corps sergeant and the legion post's historian, said he appreciated Hogan's comments that he would be an advocate for veterans. "This was the first time we've hear the public sentiment: 'We will support you,' " Zempolich said.
Retired Col. Mike Duggan, 78, said he was a registered Democrat who voted for Hogan in November, and the tax break "would make an awful lot of difference."
Duggan said he had two friends who left the state for Pennsylvania and West Virginia, where more generous tax laws let military retirees keep more of their pensions.
"There's a temptation to want to leave the state," he said.
Baltimore Sun reporter Michael Dresser contributed to this article.