Democrats knock Hogan, but they like tax breaks, too

Republican's desire to cut Maryland's corporate taxes subject of attack ads

Anthony Brown campaign ad screenshot

Anthony Brown campaign ad screenshot (Baltimore Sun / September 25, 2014)

Here's another thing: The attack ad on Larry Hogan that claims Anthony Brown's Republican challenger for governor wants to give a $300 million tax break to corporations at the expense of kindergartners — that's another stretch into the shady side by the Democrats, and for a couple of reasons.

First of all, Hogan hasn't said any such thing yet, although, being a mainstream Republican businessman, he says he would cut Maryland's corporate tax rate, and we all know the story there: You can't be a Republican without saying you want to cut taxes. It's a thing with them. It gets into the DNA after a couple of generations.

Of course, it might make no sense. There might be no guarantee that cutting corporate taxes will grow the Maryland economy and create badly needed jobs. But it sounds good. It's like a bird call to companies thinking about building a nest in the Hardly Free State: Hey-you-guys, lookie-here lookie-here lookie-here!

It's not a Rick Perry-style Come-to-Texas-and-Exploit-Our-Workers kind of message, but it sets the tone that Maryland is open for business.

Now, Hogan has said he wants to reduce spending first, then see about cutting taxes. But Brown supporters, lead by the Democratic Governors Association, apparently took a legislative analysis of cutting the corporate tax rate by 2.25 percent, and they pinned the $300 million cost of doing that on Hogan.

And since he isn't as hot about expanding pre-K education as Brown is (because Hogan doesn't think we have the money to pay for it), then ole Larry must be a shill for millionaires. After all, the Supreme Court says corporations are people, and such people are likely to be millionaires who live where the air is rare (and I don't mean Back River).

So, you get the picture: Hogan wants to make the rich richer while depriving little bitty children of a head start on education; the children most likely to be deprived would be those from families that cannot afford pre-K otherwise.

In other words, Hogan wants to take $300 million that could go to poor children and give it to rich guys in suits.

I got all that from a 30-second television ad.

(By the way, here's the only downside to the Orioles now being on national television instead of MASN: No ridiculous Barry Glazer commercials.)

Hey, as I said the other day, Brown's camp can go negative if they want — and they apparently want — but it seems strange: A Democrat who has served two terms as lieutenant governor in one of the bluest states in the country attacking his Republican opponent when he could be blowing his own shofar. Maybe, with the election little more than a month away, polling suggests that the challenger is too close for comfort, thus the investment in negative messaging (Whack-a-Hogan) as a way to reopen a lead.

Fine.

But here's the other thing about this particular ad: Democrats in Maryland aren't exactly chaste when it comes to tax breaks for parties of dubious deservedness.

I mean, the DGA and Brown's camp can knock Hogan for wanting to help corporations and millionaires, but generosity isn't exclusive to Republicans.

Last spring, the Democrats who dominate the Maryland General Assembly could not bring themselves to raise the state's minimum wage — to $10.10 an hour by 2018 — without also giving something to the wealthy. So they raised the exemption on estate taxes from $1 million to nearly $6 million. Gov. Martin O'Malley signed the bill. That change will do little but make some of the richest people in one of the richest states in the country even richer.

Brown, by the way, said that, had he been governor, he would not have signed the bill authorizing the tax break. Of course, he said this when it no longer mattered, about two months after the legislative session ended.

There are other examples, too:

A year ago, the Baltimore City Council, dominated by Democrats, gave final approval to $107 million in taxpayer assistance for the controversial Harbor Point project. The mayor of Baltimore, one of the many establishment Democrats who supports Brown for governor, was downright bullish on the package of benefits.

And in May, the mayor and the Board of Estimates voted to give Big John Paterakis, the politically influential multimillionaire who owns H&S Bakery, $200,000 he didn't need to move his distribution center from Harbor East to a location out on Pulaski Highway.

This is the same Big John who got a $25 million tax break to build a hotel back in the 1990s, and that came with the support of the mayor at the time, a Democrat, and the City Council, all Democrats.

So in 2014, as Democrats sound a populist theme and knock Larry Hogan for wanting to cut corporate taxes, something that would not happen without the full support of the Democrats who dominate the legislature, it plays like the Brown campaign so far: thin.

drodricks@baltsun.com

Dan Rodricks' column appears each Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He is the host of "Midday" on WYPR-FM.

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