Truth-tellers, liars and equivocators

Ehrlich didn't raise taxes, except when he voted to raise taxes

August 30, 2010 - 05:00 AM
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Is it a tax or a fee? This is the favorite rhetorical game of most politicians, and Republican former Gov. Bob Ehrlich tries to use it in the above clip. Trying to separate his and incumbent Gov. Martin O'Malley's records on spending and the budget, Ehrlich boldly tells CNBC host John Harwood that "We didn't raise taxes."

A clearly well-prepared Harwood retorts: "Flush tax?" Ehrlich explains that the flush tax was a user fee, not a tax, and that since it went to a dedicated fund for the Chesapeake Bay, it doesn't count as a tax.

Harwood then asks about a tax on health plans. Ehrlich says the plan passed over his veto.

"Taxes are a major issue in this campaign," Ehrlich says. "And the records of the two governors are not comparable."

The interview covers two of the three areas where Ehrlich supposedly raised taxes as governor. The third — property taxes — went unmentioned.


The Maryland Democratic Party pounced on the clip and began accusing Ehrlich of lying. They even went late-'90s VH1 on everyone and made a pop-up video.

Let's start with property taxes. In 2003, Ehrlich voted as a member of the state's Board of Public Works to increase the state's property tax by 4.8 cents per $100 of assessed value. He had originally endorsed the increase, then backed away from it before ultimately voting for it. The increase was necessary to pay off the state's debt.

At the time, Ehrlich promised to repeal the increase in January 2004. That didn't happen, and multiple other attempts to roll it back failed. He finally got it slashed slightly in 2006 as he was running for re-election.

The so-called "flush tax" was implemented in 2004. (And yes, 6-year-olds, it refers to flushing the toilet.)

Homeowners whose sewage flowed to one of the state's 66 water treatment plants pay a $2.50 monthly fee in to a fund that would go toward upgrading the plants. Ehrlich proposed that element of the plan, but opposed a $2.50 monthly surcharge on homeowners who owned septic tanks. Democrats inserted that into the legislation, and Ehrlich signed the bill anyway.

Lastly, there's the HMO tax. The 2 percent tax on premiums was passed by Democrats in the General Assembly over a veto by Ehrlich.

And those are just the big three. Liberal Maryland blogger Steve Lebowitz has also been trumpeting this document from the state's non-partisan Department of Legislative Services which lists all the new fees and taxes implemented under Ehrlich. From a recent article in the Washington Post:

Ehrlich also raised more fees than any governor in the past 25 years. His philosophy was that they were better than broad tax increases; government should charge for services, as a business would. As such, people who sought to register a car or business, visit a state park, or use a slew of other services paid more. Ehrlich's approach extended to public universities, where tuition increases compensated for what he said the state couldn't afford.

When we contacted Ehrlich's campaign people, their argument relied on three parts: that taxes are fundamentally different from fees; that the property tax rollback absolves him of his original vote; and that the HMO tax shouldn't count since it passed over his veto.

While the difference between taxes and fees matters to bureaucrats, it doesn't matter to the wallets of Marylanders. And if he was opposed to the property tax increase, he shouldn't have voted for it. (The other two members of the Board of Public Works were yes votes, meaning it would have passed otherwise.) We can absolve him of responsibility for the HMO tax, though.

Even if you agree with Ehrlich's argument about fees being different from taxes, and even if you think he shouldn't have to bear the burden of the HMO tax, he still voted to increase property taxes. And that's enough to make his statement Total Malarkey

Total Malarkey




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  1. justdafacts justdafacts

    Steve Lebowitz

    Aug 31, 2010 - 10:00:34 PM

    Skip - There's a fundamental difference between Bob Ehrlich breaking his campaign pledge not to raise income taxes and Martin O'Malley being unable to fulfill his campaign pledge to block the BGE rate increase: Bob Ehrlich had solitary control over his own actions. He could have vetoed any and all of the 22 tax increases he enacted, including the two measures raising income taxes, and he could have refrained from submitting a 57 percent property tax increase to the Board of Public Works. Bob Ehrlich had complete and solitary control over his own actions when he willfully violated his campaign pledge not to raise income taxes. Gov. O'Malley, on the other hand, did not have solitary control over the BGE rate setting process. No one can claim that he didn't do everything in his power to block the BGE rate increases. (If you want to get technical, his actual pledge was to do everything in his power to block the BGE rate increases, and that's what he did.) Unlike Bob Ehrlich, Gov. O'Malley did not willfully violate his own campaign pledge by his own action. - Steve Lebowitz

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  2. justdafacts justdafacts

    Steve Lebowitz

    Aug 31, 2010 - 10:03:47 AM

    Thanks for setting the record straight in the Ehrlich-O'Malley race once again, Kevin (and for citing my comments). Bob Ehrlich enacted 22 tax increases over his gubernatorial term, including two measures that sneakily increased income taxes by $178 million. When Bob Ehrlich raised income taxes in 2004 and 2005, he broke his 2002 campaign pledge not to do so. Bob Ehrlich's 22 tax increases totaling $3 billion are not the issue by themsleves. Instead, the issue is Bob Ehrlich's dishonesty in claiming he did not raise taxes, and his hypocrisy in criticizing Gov. O'Malley for doing the same thing he did himself. How can anyone believe Bob Ehrich's latest pledge not to raise taxes after he broke his word on this very matter and continues to deny the truth about his record? - Steve Lebowitz

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    • Skip727 Skip727

      Skip L.

      Aug 31, 2010 - 10:26:32 AM

      How can anyone believe O'Malley when he pledged/promised to keep BGE rates from going up? Just asking!

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