Republican gubernatorial candidate Larry Hogan told residents of a retirement community Tuesday night that he wants to eliminate all state income taxes on pensions before the end of his administration.
Hogan unveiled the proposal in response to a question from a resident, one of about 500 people who attended a gubernatorial forum at Charlestown in Baltimore County, where the GOP nominee and Democratic rival Anthony G. Brown spoke.
Both men struck familiar themes for most of the evening until Hogan told the seniors that after he cut spending and got the economy under control, his priority would be to slash the taxes they pay. His promise earned him the loudest applause of the night for either candidate.
Asked about the proposal after the event, Hogan acknowledged that he did not know how much it would cost the state treasury but insisted it could be done.
"We don't have a revenue problem in Annapolis. We have a spending problem we need to control," he said. Hogan said the elimination of taxes on pensions and other retirement income — even for affluent seniors — should probably be a higher priority than cutting taxes for middle-class working families because of a need to stop what he called an "exodus" of seniors from Maryland.
Brown, asked about Hogan's promise after the forum, noted that the Republican had expanded on a proposal he made to the Fraternal Order of Police convention to eliminate taxes on pensions of law enforcement officers.
"It is not the responsible way to campaign, and it is not the responsible way to govern," the lieutenant governor said. "What you're not hearing from him is how do you do that while protecting your priorities of quality education, affordable college and safe neighborhoods."
The Brown campaign pointed to an estimate by the nonpartisan Department of Legislative Services that a similar proposal by a Republican legislator this year would have cost the state roughly $5.5 billion in revenue over five years.
Tuesday night's format was more a forum than a debate, but unlike at a similar event Saturday in Ocean City, the two men were in the same room at the same time and sat through each other's presentation. They got up on stage after the forum to shake hands and pose for pictures.
Brown said afterward that voters expect civility between candidates, who are competing for the public's vote in the Nov. 4 general election.
After making opening statements, the two candidates faced a round of questioning that showed that Charlestown residents have a wide range of concerns beyond the taxes they pay. Hogan and Brown were quizzed on such topics as renewable energy, marijuana policies and how to treat the unaccompanied children from Central America who have been streaming across the U.S. border in recent months.
The two candidates differed sharply on the immigration issue. Brown largely lined up behind Gov. Martin O'Malley's position of welcoming the children as refugees and assisting in reuniting them with parents or other family members in Maryland.
"We have a responsibility to protect children wherever you find them," Brown said.
But Hogan, while expressing concern for the children's health and welfare, took a hard-line stance.
"We need to return them as quickly as possible to their parents in their country of origin," he said. "There's no reason for these kids to be here in Maryland."
On wind energy, Brown conceded that infant industries sometimes need government subsidies to get off the ground — pointing to such technologies as the telephone and telegraph. But Hogan said Maryland's utility ratepayers were footing the bill when they already face a crushing tax burden.
Neither man unleashed a particularly harsh attack against the other, compared with the volleys they have been firing in news releases and videos.
The forum was not sponsored by Charlestown management but by the residents themselves through the Legislative and Political Committee of their nonpartisan Resident Council.
Charlestown, located on 110 acres off Maiden Choice Lane in Catonsville, is one of Maryland's largest retirement communities. Its population of just over 2,300 is large enough that the community has a polling place on its grounds where 90 percent of the voters are residents, said Charlestown spokesman Mel Tansill.
"It's one of the largest [voter] turnouts in the county," Tansill said.