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Tax issues among successes from legislative session, Md. comptroller says

April 10, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN -- Successes in this year's state legislative session include extra jobs for enforcing tax compliance and, for the first time, regulations governing tax preparers, Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot said Wednesday.

He said he was happy that a controversial computer-services tax was repealed, but not that a hasty substitute created a higher income tax on millionaires.

Franchot stopped at The Herald-Mail two days after the Maryland General Assembly ended its 2008 session.

The approved fiscal year 2009 budget includes 22 new auditing and revenue jobs for his office, he said. The office estimates $200 million in new revenue in the program's first four years, then $80 million to $100 million per year after that.

Franchot, a Democrat and former state delegate, was an early critic of the computer-services tax, which was approved during the fall special session but repealed at the end of the 2008 regular session.

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He said the state needs a blue-ribbon panel on spending, rather than quick fixes to plug budget shortfalls.

On this and other issues, Franchot has locked horns with legislative leaders, even within his own party.

One battle has been between Franchot and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert/Prince George's.

Miller favors legalizing slot machines, which Franchot opposes.

In the past session, Franchot accused Miller of trying to cut two top comptroller's office positions to punish Franchot. The positions were not cut.

At the Senate's insistence, fiscal year 2009 budget language says the comptroller's office will be funded only for his constitutionally defined duties.

Asked about speculation he's paving the way for a run for governor, Franchot said, "I don't pay a lot of attention to the political pundits .... They've always misinterpreted who I am. I'm an issue-based politician and I'm not someone who's itching to run for higher office. In their mind-set, they confuse energy on issues with ambition for office."

He said Annapolis sometimes has "a Tammany Hall-type environment, where the leadership seems to crush dissent .... I don't accept any of it .... The worst thing to do is acquiesce to it."

Franchot testified in favor of an emergency bill to clamp down on a proliferation of slot-style machines in Southern Maryland and other parts of the state.

The bill passed, but it was "gutted by the gambling industry," he said.

Another approved bill calls for Maryland to divest holdings in companies that do business with Sudan or Iran.

Franchot, the vice chairman of the board of the state retirement and pension system, said there's no deadline to act.

Less publicized, he said, was the board's recent decision to move $8 billion of its $40 billion in assets out of U.S. stocks and into international stocks and other investments, for better diversification and stability.

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