Sauerbrey hits pension issue Campaign Ad Watch

October 15, 1998|By Thomas W. Waldron

Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey is airing a new TV commercial that attacks Gov. Parris N. Glendening for a special pension he helped put in place for himself as Prince George's County executive. The ad also touts her plan to cut income taxes for some retirees.

What the ad says: The 30-second ad reminds voters of the supplemental pension that Glendening and the Prince George's County Council crafted before he left office there in 1994. "Remember Glendening's pension scandal? First he left Prince George's County with a huge deficit, then was caught trying to give himself a pension he hadn't even earned," an announcer says. The ad goes on to highlight Sauerbrey's call for a cut in income taxes for retirees. Sauerbrey says: "I'll eliminate the unfair retirement tax and keep Maryland families together."

The facts: Shortly after Glendening took office, newspapers disclosed a special early pension plan that would have benefited Glendening and some of his top aides. The benefits were intended to help county employees who had been "involuntarily separated" from their jobs. Glendening was said to qualify because the county's term-limit law precluded him from running again for county executive. After the pension plan was publicized, Glendening said he would forego the early benefits. Ultimately, the Maryland attorney general issued an opinion saying that Glendening should never have been classified as eligible to receive them. Glendening has acknowledged making a mistake in the matter.

The statement about a "deficit" left by Glendening for Prince George's County is a matter of interpretation. Technically, the county had a budget surplus when Glendening left office. But forecasters predicted a shortfall of more than $100 million the next year unless the budget was cut by then.

Sauerbrey has called for increasing the amount of retirement income that is exempt from the state income tax. Currently, the first $15,900 of an individual's retirement income is exempt from taxation. She would increase that figure to $33,000, at a cost to the state of about $200 million in lost revenue. Text displayed in the ad reads "Up to $33,000 Per Person," which some viewers might conclude is their potential tax savings. In fact, a Maryland taxpayer would save as much as $800 under her proposal. Despite Sauerbrey's assertion, the state has no "retirement tax."

Analysis: Sauerbrey is trying to link two themes -- lingering bad feelings about the Prince George's County pension and her proposal to help the elderly. Polls show that a substantial number of voters have concerns about Glendening's character, and the ad could reinforce those feelings. The tax cut is a potentially potent issue for Sauerbrey, as retirees are among the most likely voters to cast ballots.

Pub Date: 10/15/98

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