- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 13, 2016

ANNAPOLIS | On the opening day of 2016 legislative session, Maryland Democratic lawmakers were divided on Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s tax cut proposals aimed at revitalizing economically distressed areas in the state.

Delegate Maggie McIntosh, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said she would seriously consider Mr. Hogan’s idea for suspending for 10 years state corporate income taxes on manufacturers who set up shop in struggling regions such as Cumberland in Western Maryland, the lower Eastern Shore, and Baltimore.

“I don’t know the details but [the plan] is thinking outside the box that we need,” said Ms. McIntosh, Baltimore Democrat. “There are areas of the city where there just are not jobs. Now the devil’s in the details, but that’s a proposal that, as a Baltimore city resident, I find very attractive.”

Sen. Catherine Pugh, Baltimore Democrat and a mayoral candidate, said manufacturing is “essential” to the city.

“I think anything that brings jobs to our city and certainly to the state, I applaud efforts to create incentives so we can jump start businesses and create more jobs,” Ms. Pugh said.

But other Baltimore Democrats were wary of the idea, saying the Hogan proposal does not take into account structural problems in the city.

Sen. Lisa Gladden, vice chair of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, said that while she encourages the governor to come up with ways to help struggling areas in Maryland, she does not support his proposed tax break package.

“I think it’s all clever and I think it’s very exciting on paper, I just think the devil is in the details and I really believe that there is something else in this sort of package and it’s not as altruistic as it perhaps could be,” Ms. Gladden said. “I don’t like it. I’m going to be honest, I don’t like it at all.”

She said her issue with it is that Mr. Hogan is not sincere in his desire to help the city, having killed last year a “critical” Red Line project that left many Baltimoreans without transportation to do things like go to work.

Sen. Nathaniel McFadden said Wednesday that he is looking cautiously at Mr. Hogan’s corporate tax proposal, expressing concern that manufacturing companies considering whether to set up shop in Maryland would shun Baltimore for its lack of a transportation system capable of transporting goods in and out of the city.

“It has to be a total package. You’ve got to get the whole thing,” said Mr. McFadden, Baltimore Democrat.

On Tuesday, Mr. Hogan announced a tax cut package aimed at helping retirees, poor working families and small businesses. If fully implemented, his proposal would cost the state $480 million in revenue cuts over five years for the “most vulnerable Marylanders,” the Republican governor said.

Earlier this month, Mr. Hogan announced a $700 million project to demolish vacant and rundown homes in Baltimore.

Ms. Gladden criticized the governor’s demolition plan, saying the lead-based paint and lead-lined pipes in old homes would create toxic dust during demolition.

Mr. McFadden said that demolishing old homes to build new ones would not help anyone without fixing the city’s aging infrastructure and building a new public transportation system.

“I have to be political. It’s a start,” he said. “But [Mr. Hogan], you want to demolish the homes, level the land, put in the proposal for developers to rebuild homes, right? Well, it costs money to buy and they have to work somewhere. So it can all be tied in if you have a comprehensive plan. And to me, a comprehensive plan would be that you get the jobs and the people working so by the time the houses go up, you have the money to buy.”

U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski said Wednesday on the “Annapolis Summit” broadcast on WEAA (88.9 FM) that Baltimore’s problems need to be approached on two levels, one being education and jobs and the other addressing drugs and violence.

Nonetheless, Democrats expressed support for the core of the Hogan plan, complaining that its ideas had been taken from Democratic proposals in years past.

“These proposals are old Democratic ideas rehashed,” Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said on “Annapolis Summit.” “The problem is communication. It’s the same problem between husbands and wives: you want to stay married, you got to be able to communicate.”

“It all comes down to balance. You have only so many resources and you have to make sure everyone in our society benefits from what we do,” said Sen. Edward Kasemeyer, chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. “I think certainly some portions of it will be successful. There’s no question, I think the business community and individuals are looking for some kind of relief in terms of taxes and I think we’ll be able to accommodate them on some level.”

Mr. Kasemeyer said that Mr. Hogan’s call for expanding the earned income tax credit (EITC) for families earning less than $53,000 a year would likely get “serious consideration” in the legislature, as well as his proposal to lower filing fees for small businesses. But when it comes to the suspending corporate income taxesn, it might be harder to convince people, the Baltimore County Democrat said.

“How do you justify treating some businesses differently than existing businesses?” Mr. Kasemeyer said. “So that’s probably a little more complicated.”

The issue was just one of many that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle will debate during the General Assembly’s 90-day session.

Wednesday’s opening was largely given over to formalities in the House and the Senate, such as votes for the Senate President and House Speaker — Mr. Miller and Delegate Michael E. Busch, respectively, were elected again — and Mr. Hogan swung by both chambers to call for bipartisanship and the spirit of cooperation.

The first day did not feature votes on any major issues pre-filed in the legislature, from paid sick leave to automatic voter registration. Both chambers also voted to postpone veto override votes for bills dealing with voting rights for former inmates, legalizing marijuana paraphernalia, criminal-asset forfeitures and taxes for online hotel-reservation sites until Jan. 20.

Mr. Hogan said he particularly disagreed with the legislature’s decision to override his veto on a bill that would allow felons to vote upon their release from prison, even if they are still on parole or probation.

“If the legislature wants to override the veto, they certainly have that right,” Mr. Hogan said on “Annapolis Summit.” “They have the super-majority. They have the ability to do that. Politically, and legally, I just don’t think it’s a good idea.”

Mr. Hogan also defended his proposal to reduce or eliminate spending mandates, which Democrats have said is a thinly veiled attempt to cut education and healthcare spending, saying that he had increased education spending “despite rhetoric to the contrary.”

“We are not rolling things back, we’re moving them forward,” he said.

The legislature will also take up drunk driving legislation to install ignition interlocks for all convicted drunk drivers, automatic voter registration, criminal justice system reforms, poverty, college affordability, the state’s heroin epidemic, and paid sick leave — which Mr. Hogan has said will hurt small businesses.

Another fight lawmakers are gearing up for: reducing or eliminating mandates. The governor announced a plan to cut back mandated in spending in years where revenue doesn’t match up and has asked the legislature to consider cutting down on spending mandates.

Mr. Miller said that mandates are “not good government” and Mr. Hogan’s plan was “a worthy idea” but that the legislature sometimes had to resort to them to ensure necessary funding.

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