Ad Watch: Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan inflates tax relief claims in campaign commercial

Erin Cox
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan has launched his first political ad of the election season, part of a $1.3 million counter-offensive to protect his popular image as the crowded field of Democrats fight for their party’s nomination.

Hogan’s ad — and his entire strategy as he runs unopposed during the primary election — focuses on his re-election theme of turning the state around.

What the ad says:

The one-minute ad paints a dismal portrait of Maryland before Hogan was elected. A narrator’s voice claims that half the state’s residents wanted to move after enduring 43 tax hikes, “even taxing the rain.” The narrator says 8,000 businesses and 100,000 jobs “were lost,” though it doesn’t specify a time frame.

The tone and color pallet turn vibrant as the ad lists what Hogan considers his top accomplishments. He claims to have provided $1.2 billion in tax, toll and fee relief, four years with “no tax increases,” record funding for schools, the “healthiest Chesapeake Bay in a generation,” repairs to the state’s infrastructure and rising employment and wages.

The ad claims: “Maryland is coming back.”

The tone then shifts again, back to gray, as the sound of explosions and broken glass evoke the 2015 Baltimore riots. The narrator says: “When we needed a leader, Larry Hogan was there.”

It then shifts again to vibrant tones and footage of Hogan receiving chemotherapy for non-Hodgkin lymphoma. “When Larry Hogan needed us, we returned the favor,” the ad says.

It concludes with footage of Hogan running a footrace and says, “Together, we’re stronger than ever. Maryland Strong. Larry Hogan. Governor.”

The facts:

While it is true Maryland saw unemployment rise and businesses close during the tenure of Hogan’s predecessor, Democrat Martin O’Malley, Hogan’s ad selectively picks statistics from the worst of the recession. His claim that 100,000 jobs were lost is based on just three years of O’Malley’s eight years, 2007-2010.

Hogan also inflates the amount of money he’s returned to taxpayers. His $1.2 billion figure includes some credible claims of tax cuts, including policies he pushed to lower taxes for military retirees and help small businesses who voluntarily provide paid sick leave.

It also takes credit for tax relief pressed by Democratic lawmakers and for existing programs such as the state’s film and cybersecurity tax credits. The film tax credit will give the film industry $45 million in subsidies over the next five years. Over the same period, the cybersecurity tax credit will give $18 million to people who invest in those companies.

Most dubious is Hogan’s counting of the $240 million that the Supreme Court ordered the state to return to taxpayers who were overcharged on their income taxes.

It also is inaccurate to say there have been no new tax increases during Hogan’s tenure.

State tax bills are expected to rise next year for 22 percent of taxpayers, by an average of $730, as a result of changes driven by federal tax reform. The governor also helped champion a new state-level tax on insurance carriers to generate $350 million to help shore up the individual health insurance market. Hogan’s staff says the tax is not “new” because it had previously been paid to the federal government, which discontinued it for 2019.

By any measure, Hogan’s broad claims about the state’s economy are true now that the recession has ended and the state is in a much better position than it was four years ago. His claim that nearly half the state wanted to leave before he was elected is based on a 2013 Gallup poll that showed 47 percent of Maryland respondents would relocate if they could. There’s been no follow-up poll to demonstrate whether this is still the case.

Hogan’s claim about the Chesapeake Bay holds up. He quotes a Baltimore Sun article from May 2017 that said scientists gave the bay its highest grade since 1992 — a “C.”

Analysis: Hogan’s ads are a solid counterpunch to Democrats trying to convince voters he needs to be defeated. It deftly reminds viewers that Hogan showed leadership during the Baltimore riots and depth of character during his battle with cancer. Although the implication that he turned around the economy and his claim of $1.2 billion in tax relief are overinflated, they effectively support the governor’s message that the state has been better off with Hogan at the helm.

ecox@baltsun.com

twitter.com/ErinatTheSun

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