FREDERICK — Six candidates seeking to replace Governor Larry Hogan this fall came to make their cases at a candidate forum Friday night at the Hilton Garden Inn in Frederick. The forum was hosted by the Maryland chapters of the Federation of National Active and Retired Federal Employees and the Federation of Business and Professional Women (BPW).
Present were Democratic candidates Jim Shea, a former attorney and chairman of the University of Maryland’s Board of Regents; Krish Vignarajah, former policy director for First Lady Michele Obama; and James Jones II,. Former NAACP director Ben Jealous was represented by his running mate, Susan Turnbull, and Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III was represented by his running mate, Elizabeth Embry. Libertarian Party Candidate Shawn Quinn, a retired Navy veteran and Newport News, Va., law enforcement officer, also attended. Declared candidates who were invited but did not attend included Hogan, Green Party candidate Ian Schlakman, and Democrats Rich Madeleno, Ralph Jaffe, Kevin Kamenetz, and Alec Ross.
Paul Schwartz, chair of NARFE’s State Legislation Committee and political columnist for the Montgomery County Sentinel, and Diane Polangin, a past national and state president of BPW and a former member of the Bowie City Council, served as the event’s moderators.
“The recently enacted federal tax bill resulted in Marylanders being hit with an additional $500 million tax bill at the state level, according to the office of Comptroller Peter Franchot,” Schwartz said in his first question of the evening. “Governor Hogan, your potential opponent in November, attempted to minimize the impact on those who itemize by submitting bills that would have allowed itemizing at the state level, even if taking the newly-raised standard deduction at the federal level, and more importantly, they added back many of the deductions at the state level and many of the deductions that had been eliminated at the federal level, such as real estate taxes and mortgage interest. Neither bill made it out of committee. Since the simple tax math is, the less you deduct, the more you pay, it is, in effect, a tax hike for those who ordinarily itemize. My question is, where do you stand on this specific tax issue, and, if you become governor, what will you do to address this increased burden on Maryland taxpayers in future tax years?”
“This is a good example of why it’s so important who is elected governor,” Vignarajah said. “We are going to continue to see this insanity at the federal level. We have a president who is a reverse Robin Hood; he steals from the poor to give to the rich, and the tax bill is a perfect example of this. So, as governor, I absolutely would resurrect those bills.”
“I completely agree that you should be allowed to itemize your deductions,” Shea said. “That’s the fair way to do it and, in effect, that’s the way it was before the tax bill was passed. My ultimate goal is to reduce taxes, but I say that if your first reaction is to just cut taxes, eventually you’re cutting into bone. Education is a perfect example. We need to invest in public education. We need a public transportation system to get people to their jobs. If we do this, then we’ll have a robust economy, and we’ll be able to look at reducing taxes.”
“Ben and I actually sent out an email this week talking about how the tax bill hurt small businesses, because it did nothing for them,” Turnbull said. “The people who benefited from this were primarily real estate developers and people in land sales. Well, guess what our governor does? He was a real estate developer who specialized in land sales. And so, while he is saying he wants to work on this to help small business, what he is doing is nothing. In Maryland, we don’t have a resources problem; we have a priorities problem, and that’s why we want to make education and ending mass arrests a priority. By ending mass arrests, we would have more dollars available for things like public education.”
Jones declined to offer a specific plan. “I think, if I’m elected governor, I would sit down and look at what can be done,” Jones said. “I think we spend too much as it is, unnecessarily. But, as far as taxes are concerned, I think it’s something that should be looked to by the person who is elected governor.”
“I was disappointed that Maryland did not act to protect primarily middle-class taxpayers,” Embry said. “I thought that was good, sensible legislation. I want to echo one of the themes that’s come through tonight, which is that, to offset what the federal government is doing to undercut states like Maryland, which did not vote for our current president, Maryland is going to have to step up. We’re going to have to make up the difference, whether it’s in education, environmental protection, or protections for federal workers; we’re going to have to look at how we prioritize and protect Marylanders in this time when we are so clearly under attack by the federal government.”
“The only thing Donald Trump did by raising the minimum, or the standard deduction, was that he caused people who were doing the deductions federally not to have to,” Quinn said. “But the way the tax code’s set up, if you do the short form federally, you have to do the short form for the state. This is why this bill was put in, and it addressed the next problem that we have in Maryland – our legislators sliding bills into their desk drawers because they can’t make a profit off them at the time. Hogan’s been doing it this whole year. He’s been spending like crazy. Couldn’t get school money out of him for three years, but all of a sudden there’s $3 million for schools. Where did the money come from? We’re constantly having legislators tell us what we should have instead of us telling them what they should have. There was recently a bill on marijuana that they were supposed to vote on. I went to some of these legislators and asked them, and I was literally told ‘People aren’t smart enough to have marijuana.’”
Quinn said he would introduce a 5-percent income tax for Marylanders with no deductions.
Polangin asked the candidates what their top three priorities would be if elected.
“My top three priorities start with education,” Shea said. “Public education is the key to so much. If you have great public education, your economy grows, income equality goes down. Education needs to be reformed, and I have a full and complete reform package, and it must be funded. Public transportation must be funded, and it must serve the entire state.”
“Ben Jealous and I have been endorsed by the Maryland State Educators Association,” Turnbull said. “What we heard across the state from those teachers was that they are worried about their kids, about having supplies in their classrooms, heat in their classrooms. That’s our number one issue. Another issue that we’re running on very strongly is the notion of having Medicare for all, because bankruptcy caused by health care is one of the number one issues in our state and across this country.”
“Education is very important,” Jones said. “We have high school seniors that don’t know what’s going to happen next; we have teachers leaving Maryland because they’re not paid well. I think we’ve spent a lot of money on stuff that doesn’t apply to our kids and our future. The money coming from the casino, I don’t know where it went, but it didn’t go where it was supposed to be. School safety is number one for me.”
“I think every candidate in this race will say that education is their top priority, and I think that’s true,” Turnbull said. “But what education being the top priority means to me and to Rushern Baker is not just fully funding, pursuant to the Kerwin Commission; it means accountability and partnership. It means not just showing up to make political statements but showing up day in and day out to meet with every jurisdiction to support their efforts and tying our community colleges and four-year colleges into our high schools. We need to have a pipeline to careers for our students that they can see and feel.”
“My top three are education, Health Safety Department reform, and the environment,” Quinn said. “The reason I picked these top three is, I’ve been running for office since 2010, and I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard politicians say, ‘Oh, we’re going to fix the problem.’ They don’t; they lob money at it, but nothing ever gets fixed. And it’s to the point where people are bringing guns to our schools and killing our kids. Nobody’s listening to the students about how to fix it. You’ve got people saying, ‘Oh, let’s give them guns, so they can shoot people coming in.’ Is that ridiculous or what? We go straight to a gun to solve a problem? We need comprehensive analysis. We need to take the funding out of the federal and state governments and put in the hands of the parents.”
“For me, education is far and away the top issue,” Vignarajah said. “It is the story of my life. I would not be standing before you running for governor but for the public school system. I am the only candidate who is a proud graduate of Maryland public schools from kindergarten through twelfth grade. I am the only candidate who is running as the daughter of two public school teachers. I am the only candidate who is running with a lifelong teacher and president of the Baltimore Teachers Union.”
The Sentinel will host a debate among Democratic candidates for governor on Monday, May 21, at 7 p.m., in the County Executive Building Auditorium in Rockville. Executive Editor Brian Karem will serve as moderator.
The Democratic primary election will be held on Tuesday, June 26.