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Brown, Hogan, duel over economy in 1st debate

Gubernatorial candidates Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and Larry Hogan dueled vigorously over how to improve Maryland’s economy during their first televised debate Tuesday.

The candidates also skirmished over gun control, education, abortion and crime.

Financial issues, however, came up repeatedly in the debate at WJZ-TV. The station was scheduled to broadcast the event co-hosted by The Baltimore Sun on Tuesday evening. Hogan, a Republican, highlighted tax increases initiated by Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley to link Brown with unpopular tax hikes. Hogan has made the criticism a main thrust of his campaign.

“Taxpayers in Maryland are suffering,” Hogan said. “They just can’t take it anymore, and that’s exactly why I’m running.”

Brown pointed to a 40 percent increase in college tuition during former Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s administration, overcrowded classrooms and terrible traffic congestion when O’Malley and Brown took office in 2007 as evidence the state had fallen behind in making critical investments. Brown said Maryland residents did their part to boost needed state investments. The Democratic lieutenant governor emphasized he did not see a need for tax increases, if he is elected.

“There will be no new taxes,” Brown said.

On the contrary, Brown said, he would explore tax relief. He stressed his differences with Hogan on that point, criticizing the real estate broker’s proposal to cut the corporate income tax from 8.25 percent to 6 percent. Brown described it as a corporate tax giveaway to the wealthy few. Brown said he would direct tax credits at small businesses to help the middle class.

Hogan countered that Brown’s comments sounded good, but that they ran contrary to what has happened since 2007. Hogan said he wants to roll back as many tax increases as he can.

Moderators posed questions to the candidates sent in by state residents. Brown, asked about the negative tone of the campaign, said he believed it was important to highlight his opponent’s positions.

Brown then segued to criticizing Hogan for his position on gun control. Hogan replied that he wouldn’t try to roll back last year’s sweeping gun-control law. Brown also criticized Hogan over a report in The Washington Post that cited people who said Hogan told them he would appoint a state police superintendent who would be looser on gun-control enforcement. When asked by reporters after the debate about it, Hogan said the claim was “a bunch of nonsense.”

Hogan also countered television ads that say he supports rolling back abortion rights. Hogan said he would not seek changes to those state laws if elected.

During the debate, Brown said while work remains to drive down crime, statistics show crime is at its lowest level in decades. Hogan, however, criticized how the state has handled a spike in heroin statewide, a trend that has been seen in other parts of the nation as well. Hogan said he would declare a state of emergency to address the problem in January, if elected.

A Washington Post-University of Maryland poll released Monday said Brown was leading Hogan by 9 percentage points in a state where registered Democratic voters outnumber Republicans 2-1. Brown was leading Hogan 47 percent to 38 percent among likely voters. Eleven percent were undecided. The poll was conducted Thursday through Sunday among a random sample of 1,005 adults on conventional and cellphones. The margin of error for registered voters is plus or minus 4 percentage points and 5 percentage points for likely voters.