Republican gubernatorial candidate Larry Hogan said Tuesday night that he would focus on controlling Maryland's spending before moving to roll back what he called the "40 consecutive tax increases" adopted under Gov. Martin O'Malley.
Appearing at a Baltimore Sun Newsmaker Forum, Hogan told more than two dozen attendees reigning in the growth of government has to come before some of the ambitious tax-cutting plans advanced by his Republican opponents.
"What we will first do is get spending under control," Hogan said, adding that spending has grown by $10 billion during O'Malley's two terms as governor. "You can't do away with the revenues and have spending at that level."
Hogan, who founded the conservative advocacy group Change Maryland three years ago, said his campaign has identified $1.75 billion in "waste, fraud and abuse" found by federal and state audits of Maryland's $39 billion budget.
"I don't think we're going to have to eliminate any major programs or cut back on anything important," he said.
Hogan, a real estate business owner who served as appointments secretary in the one-term administration of Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., predicted he would have greater success in working with the General Assembly because of his long experience in working with Democrats.
While Hogan said he believes Ehrlich was a great governor, he added that he and his former boss are "very different people."
"Governor Ehrlich was a very competitive guy and sometimes they butted heads," Hogan said of Ehrlich and Democrats.
Hogan, who became the last GOP hopeful to enter the race when he declared his candidacy in January, faces Harford County Executive David R. Craig, Del. Ron George of Anne Arundel County and Charles County business executive Charles Lollar in the June 24 primary.
Craig and Lollar have both released plans to gradually eliminate Maryland's personal income tax – the state's single largest revenue source. George has not matched that promise but has vowed to cut income taxes by 10 percent and roll back the corporate income tax
Answering questions submitted by audience members, Hogan refused to be pinned down on specifics though he mentioned a desire to roll back the state income tax to 2007 levels. He also said he would eliminate a stormwater cleanup fee imposed on 10 counties as a result of a federal mandate to reduce pollution of the Chesapeake Bay.
"The 'rain tax' is a regressive and unfair tax," he said. Hogan added that Maryland needs to "push back" against the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
Hogan laid out a series of specific policy positions in response to questions. He said he supports a natural gas export facility at Cove Point in Southern Maryland. And he expressed a reluctance to spend the $500 million estimated cost of building a new jail to replace the troubled and largely obsolete Baltimore City Detention Center.
Criticizing what he called the "unmitigated disaster" of the state's rollout of a health care exchange to implement the federal Affordable Care Act, Hogan promised to end any spending on Maryland's original website or the new system the administration has decided to borrow from Connecticut's more successful launch. Hogan said Virginia did the right thing in using the federally developed website.
Since entering the race, Hogan has been raising money at a faster pace than any of his Republican contributors. His April 15 report to the Board of Elections shows that he had raised $382,000 and lent his campaign $100,000 of his own money. The Hogan campaign, which has decided to accept public financing in return for observing limits on its acceptance of large donations, expects to qualify for state matching funds by the time it files its next report May 8.
Hogan said he's optimistic about Republican prospects this November in Democratic-dominated Maryland.
"We have eight years, I think, of O'Malley fatigue," he said.