Five years ago, I sat in a small conference room with a local real estate entrepreneur discussing his new organization with the unlikely mission to “Change Maryland” from its tax-and-spend ways. Late Friday afternoon, I sat down with Larry Hogan again, this time in his more spacious digs in the 240-year-old State House discussing how far Maryland has come in that time. “I’m very pleased with where we are at this point,” Gov. Hogan told me, summing his view of the legislative session.
Maryland voters of all parties favor cutting the state income tax rate by 10% and raising the cigarette tax by $1 a pack, a new Gonzales Research poll found. Gov. Larry Hogan continues to gain high job approval ratings of almost 70%, with even a majority of Democrats approving his performance. The Democratic race to succeed Barbara Mikulski in the U.S. Senate continues to be neck and neck between Reps. Donna Edwards at 41% and Chris Van Hollen at 42%.
Believing senior citizens are fleeing Maryland due to high taxes on retirement income, Del. Karen Young, D-Frederick, is proposing to exempt as much as $75,000 on pension income. The bill, HB 311, which mirrors a proposal she introduced last year, would expand existing pension exemptions for eligible seniors and disabled Marylanders and would be phased in over seven years. The House Ways & Means Committee considered the bill on Tuesday.
Instead of conducting a physical property inspection, the state would use satellite imagery and other technologies to assess home values, under a bill presented to the Maryland Senate’s Budget and Tax committee on Wednesday. Senate President Mike Miller also testified in favor of a bill that would allocate state and county funding for a new local hospital in Prince George’s County.
Gov. Larry Hogan will submit his fiscal 2017 budget to the legislature Wednesday, but he won’t be briefing reporters about it. Skipping a budget routine that goes back a dozen years or more, Hogan will not unveil his overall budget and the thick five-volume set of budget books that go with it in the governor’s formal reception room. That duty will be handled by Budget Secretary David Brinkley in his offices two blocks from the State House.
Among the most controversial bills the legislature will consider next week is a vetoed bill concerning a dispute between large hotel operators, like Bethesda-based Marriott and Rockville-based Choice Hotels, and Internet travel companies. The fight is over tax payments to the state by those Internet companies when they book in-state hotel rooms. Gov. Larry Hogan, Jr. vetoed this bill for the most sensible of reasons: Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot already is suing an Internet company, Travelocity, over what he claims is $6 million in unpaid taxes on those service fees between 2003 and 2011.
Tax cuts plans Gov. Larry Hogan offered Tuesday were so modest and mainstream that the worst a Democratic Party spokesman could say about them was that two copied proposals by Democrats and Hogan didn’t say how he would pay for them. The $480 million in tax relief spread out over five years targets tax breaks for new manufacturing, businesses, retirees, and families making less than $53,000.
In an unusual preview of next year’s budget not due for weeks, Gov. Larry Hogan drew the line for legislators already planning to spend more money than he wants. Hogan said he will spend every dollar the law forces him to do through legislative mandates and formulas, but he won’t spend any more even if the legislature tries to force him by “fencing off” extra spending, much as they did on $68 million in school aid last year.
There is a rising number of victims of tax-fraud identity theft, a list that includes Maryland’s attorney general, Brian Frosh. Comptroller Peter Franchot is proposing legislation to give his agency more enforcement tools.
Larry Hogan Jr. is the ideal governor to take on the difficult task of balancing the need for stronger economic growth in Maryland while at the same time slowing government spending.
What to do about Baltimore’s high taxes? It is an old question perplexing Maryland political leaders, but with new urgency. And there have been precious few new answers. Some ideas were floated at a recent policy debate.