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Franchot believes it's time for a change

August 27, 2006|by BOB MAGINNIS

Though he's running against William Donald Schaefer, Del. Peter Franchot said he has a great deal of respect for the 84-year-old comptroller.

If there was one thing he could tell Schaefer, the Montgomery County Democrat said it would be "Thank you for your service, but it's time for a change."

Franchot, 58, has billed himself as "the only Democrat in the race," explaining that as a member of the three-member Board of Public Works, Schaefer has sided with Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich too often.

Franchot said his other opponent in the Sept. 12 Democratic primary, Anne Arundel County Executive Janet Owens, was under consideration as Ehrlich's running mate this year. (In fact, a photo of Owens helping Ehrlich present a gubernatorial citation appears on the governor's Web site.)

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But although he criticizes Owens as pro-sprawl and pro-slots - he says he's opposed to both, though news reports indicate he was pro-slots in 2001 - Franchot knows that his major opponent is Schaefer, who has served as Baltimore's mayor, Maryland's governor and now as the state's comptroller.

Though he is 84, Schaefer seemed unbeatable until a recent series of incidents, which included criticizing immigrants and asking a female staffer who had brought him a cup of tea to return so that he could watch her walk away again.

Franchot alludes to this briefly, saying that with him the voters will get a candidate "who isn't going to embarrass you."

It's Schaefer's performance on the Board of Public Works (BPW) that really stokes Franchot's fire, however.

In 2003, Franchot said that after Ehrlich raised the state's property tax, ending years of holding it down with general fund dollars, the yield was $160 million.

That cash was used for general fund expenses, Franchot said, and then the governor asked the state's agencies to find another $230 million in cuts.

"Schaefer voted for those cuts," Franchot said.

This year, Franchot said, after the General Assembly session was over, Ehrlich proposed shaving a couple of cents off the state property tax he had successfully raised previously.

Franchot said the proposal went to the Commission on State Debt, on which Schaefer sits. According to the agency's Web site, the commission "convenes annually to recommend a state tax rate on real and personal property. This tax rate must provide sufficient funds to meet debt service requirements on outstanding general obligation bonds during the next ensuing fiscal year."

At that session, Franchot said, Schaefer voted with State Treasurer Nancy Kopp, who opposed lowering the tax. But the next day, at the BPW meeting, Franchot said Schaefer voted to lower the tax, leaving Kopp, the BPW's third member, incredulous.

"The second issue was early voting, which is all tied up in the courts now," Franchot said.

The legislature passed it, but Ehrlich, who suspected a trick to boost turnout in Democratic strongholds, vetoed it.

"We overrode the veto," Franchot said.

Ehrlich's answer was to get the BPW to hold up an $800,000 software contract that Franchot said was "essential to the smooth operation of the election process."

Again, Franchot said, Schaefer sided with Ehrlich.

Franchot said that Ehrlich has used Schaefer's vote to thwart the will of the legislature.

"We need to get the board back to what it was under Louis Goldstein - a kind of fiscal watchdog," he said.

As for his own credentials, Franchot points to his 20 years on the House Appropriations Committee. Despite being rebuffed by that committee on a number of bond bills for his district in 2005, Franchot said he has brought many things to his district.

Asked which he was proudest of, he said it was the Strathmore Hall Arts Center, which is a music and performing arts center on Rockville Pike.

"It was a $100 million project and we got $48 million from the state, " Franchot said, adding that County Executive Doug Duncan was also instrumental in putting that deal together.

Can a Montgomery County Democrat win votes in Washington County, where Ehrlich is well-liked and tip-jar gambling is a local tradition? Stay tuned. In the next few weeks, I will write about Schaefer and Owens.

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