Comptroller Peter Franchot said Monday that he supports giving small tax breaks to both individuals and businesses that can provide proof of vaccination against the coronavirus.
Franchot’s endorsement of “small economic incentives” comes as states and jurisdictions throughout the country-including some places in Maryland-have offered everything from doughnuts to pizza to beer to baseball game and lottery tickets to encourage their residents to get vaccinated.
To date, about 67% of Marylanders have received at least one dose of the vaccine and more than 40% of the state’s residents are fully vaccinated.
Below is an edited excerpt of an interview with Franchot. The comptroller also discussed tax deadlines, the lifting of the state’s mask mandate, and his campaign for the Democratic nomination for governor.
Today federal income taxes are due but state incomes taxes are not due until July 15. Is there anything that Marylanders do not know that they should know about the respective deadlines?
Franchot: We tried to get the federal government to link up with us because our tax day for the state of Maryland is July 15-two months from now. Why are we doing it differently than the feds? We are doing it differently because I am an elected official and I am aware that a third of the state is in a deep recession that is similar to the 1930s-regardless of all the jubilation that is going on. And people need relief.
And so we have stated that everybody in Maryland: All business-all individuals-that want to keep their state money in their pocket-can do that until July 15. And that is the situation that I think is appropriate given the economic damage. The federal government chose not to do that. So today people should file their federal taxes.
How concerned are you about the specter of inflation?
Franchot: I am very concerned. However, my experts tell me that the inflation of one sector may be offset by the deflation in another sector of the economy. So even though there is inflation in certain things like gas prices and other areas we are not seeing the kind of widespread creep of it. Normally in a normal recession, like in 2008-2009-that spread throughout the entire economy. It did not do that this time.
And I think that is because even though the hospitality sector got hammered, the retail and automobile sectors did not get hammered as much. So, in other words, one sector offsets the other. And I think that that is going to protect us from short-term inflation. I hope that I am right. I hope that my experts are right-that that may not be a big problem.
Since the cyberattack on the Colonial Pipeline last week there has been a shortage of gasoline both in Maryland and throughout the nation and prices have gone through the roof. Has your office noticed any incidents of price gouging and if so what is being done about that?
Franchot: We are on a red alert for any kind of price gouging during the gas emergency that occurred with the ransomware. And it is going to take a few days for the pipeline to get back up to normal capacity. And our field enforcement people are very very alert to what we call ‘pandemic profiteering.’
Maryland did not seem to have the extent of shortages that the southeastern part of the country seemed to have. And that is partly because we had a number of barges and petroleum products come into the port. The situation I think is more or less resolved right now. And it sounds to me like the federal government has pretty much demolished this ransomware group of bandits.
Do you favor tax incentives for individuals and businesses that can provide proof of vaccination against COVID-19?
Franchot: I believe in economic incentives. I know that a lot of people say they are unnecessary. I happen to believe that they work. It has to be affordable. It cannot be too generous. I am in favor of small economic incentives to coach people into doing the right thing. I think that there is a point to providing people with something other than a mandate.
A small economic incentive could possibly be something that is considered. I am hoping that it is for people in the private sector. The governor has already done that with public employees at the state level.
So, just to be a clear, that small economic incentive could include a tax break?
Franchot: Sure it could. It is not the amount. It is the opportunity to get a small benefit that I think generally has people doing the right thing. Out in Ohio they are offering a million-dollar lottery prize to somebody who gets vaccinated. I guess that would induce some people to go and get vaccinated. I would prefer a $10 payment to everybody to get vaccinated if they have not yet been vaccinated. Because I think that that helps steer people in the right direction.
Gov. Larry Hogan’s order to lift the statewide mask mandate went into effect on Saturday and came after updated CDC guidance recommended that that action could be taken. What are your thoughts on the lifting of the mask mandate?
Franchot: I am very interested in a robust economic recovery. And if you ask in the abstract: Would I open everything up necessarily immediately and have all sorts of jubilation? Out of caution, I would probably wait until September when the kids go back to school and everyone has been vaccinated that possibly could be vaccinated. I am not the governor. And I am not in charge of all of the data. But I do believe that it is important to keep our elbows up as we move forward.
Could you provide a brief update on how your campaign for governor is going?
Franchot: It is going very well. We have had a very high-energy group of meetings. I continue to think that as a Democrat that I am very proud of my party’s principles and values. But we lost three of the last five gubernatorial elections. And I believe that I am someone that has a lot of appeal to all Marylanders regardless of their political affiliation. I have a lot of support all over the state. And that is very encouraging to me.