Running for office against a legend

December 12, 1997

If you look at them closely, Maryland Comptroller Louis Goldstein and his challenger Tim Mayberry could be related, an uncle and a nephew perhaps. Both are balding, bright-eyed and capable of giving a speech on a moment's notice. But while Goldstein is apt to declaim on Maryland's history, Mayberry talks numbers, and how he'll work them in taxpayers' favor if he's elected.

Though he received 40 percent of the vote the last time he tried, the Boonsboro resident faces two daunting tasks - convincing voters that the comptroller's post is not just a ceremonial job and that after 40 years in the job, it's time for a Maryland legend to ride off into the sunset.

Mayberry knows that speaking ill of Louis Goldstein would be a little bit like bad-mouthing Santa Claus, so he doesn't. He will not criticize the incumbent personally, and has in fact sent Goldstein a letter proposing that the incumbent leave office and become Maryland's full-time ambassador of good will.


But those pleasantries aside, what Mayberry will say is that it's time for a change of polices in the comptroller's office, changes Mayberry said can save the taxpayers $200 million a year.

For instance, Mayberry says, if you pay the state a fee by check (for auto license tags, for example), Mayberry says it now takes an average of six weeks before that check is deposited in the bank. That's six weeks during which taxpayers lose interest income on the money, Mayberry says. His conservative calculation is that a change to a modern bank "lock box" system would save $23.7 million a year.

Similarly, Mayberry says, when state checks go out late to contractors and suppliers doing work for Maryland's government, a late fee must be paid. If Maryland paid in 30 days as required, it could save $14.5 million a year in late fees, Mayberry said.

These suggestions and more were made to the comptroller's offer in audits done under the supervision of William Ratchford, the now-retired head of the Department of Fiscal Services, Mayberry said, Unfortunately, the needed changes haven't been made, he said, and because of lax handling practices, the state is still losing thousands of dollars worth of checks each month.

"Now one of the things you're going to hear in this race is about the state's AAA bond rating. Well, Maryland requires that bond interest is paid first, before anything else. We also have a per-capita income that's No. 2 in the nation and a per-capita tax load that's No. 4."

With numbers like that, it's no wonder the state has a AAA rating, Mayberry said.

Mayberry's list of changes he feels are necessary is so long that you begin to wonder whether someone whose background is in the private sector - he's a former bank vice president and consultant - will really be able to make a dent in it. That's especially true given the fact that politically speaking, he wouldn't be the go-along, get-along member of the state Board of Public Works that Goldstein has been.

It's not the comptroller's job to block deals like the one that brought pro football back to Baltimore, Mayberry said, but providing accurate information is part of the post's responsibilities.

Mayberry said The Baltimore Ravens deal is based on unrealistic assumptions about how much those who attend games will spend, he said. He noted that one questionable premise was that 30 percent of those who attend a Sunday game would stay in Baltimore for the weekend and spend $200 a day while there.

Another example of questionable information, Mayberry said, is the estimates of Maryland's surplus that have been inflating since the tax year closed. Those should have been nailed down tight much earlier than this, he said. Neither position would be likely to make him popular with Gov. Parris Glendening, but Mayberry knows that if this election turns into a popularity contest, his chances aren't as good as they would be otherwise.

He's running, he says, because "I'm a fifth-generation Marylander and I have a special expertise in this field." After the last race, he says, he's been approached about every political job in the state. But this, he says, is the one he wants.

Spending less than $20,000 last time, this guy won 40 percent of the vote. There's some feeling that Goldstein, like Steve Sager in the last Hagerstown mayoral race, took his opponent too lightly in 1994. I doubt the incumbent will do so again, and I look forward to Goldstein's first campaign visit to Western Maryland.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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