Comptroller Franchot sworn in

Speech outlines expansion of office agenda

January 23, 2007|By Jennifer Skalka | Jennifer Skalka,Sun reporter

Former Del. Peter Franchot was sworn in as Maryland's 33rd comptroller yesterday, pledging to expand his duties beyond collecting taxes and work to protect state parklands, push investment in scientific industries and fight slot machine gambling.

Franchot, a Montgomery County Democrat who defeated former Comptroller William Donald Schaefer in last year's primary, said that he plans to be "an outspoken advocate for the progressive values for which I have always stood."

He said Maryland must get its finances in order, and that he will work with lawmakers and Gov. Martin O'Malley to overhaul the tax code and erase the state's structural deficit, expected to top $1 billion annually for the rest of Franchot's four-year term.

But slots, a possible solution favored by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and to some degree supported by the governor, is not the answer, said Franchot - one of the General Assembly's most vocal critics of expanded gambling in recent years.

"I will continue to argue, and use the power of my office, to oppose any solution that includes the reintroduction of slot machines into our great state," Franchot said during a ceremony in the House of Delegates, of which he was a member for two decades. "We have been down that road before and, frankly, it was a disaster. Crime, corruption, bankruptcy and addiction, these are the unintended consequences of slots, and, ladies and gentlemen, I am not willing to gamble on Maryland's future."

Miller, who attended the ceremony but did not join in the applause for Franchot's anti-slots vow, said Franchot needs to adjust to his new role, which does not require him to offer policy prescriptions for the state's woes.

"I am willing to see him be a good, effective tax collector," Miller said in an interview. "He helps us balance the budget, but first we have got to collect the money."

The state comptroller is responsible for collecting taxes. He also holds a seat on the powerful three-person Board of Public Works, which signs off on all state contracts. The other two board members are the governor and state Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp. With the defeat of Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. - who had developed a close working relationship with the former comptroller - the board is now composed of three Democrats.

Franchot, a lawyer and father of two who lives in Takoma Park with his wife, attorney Anne Maher, said yesterday that "the economic future of our great state rests in the life-changing power of the life sciences."

He said he believes that cures for Parkinson's disease, leukemia, cancer and diabetes can be found in Maryland. And to that end, his office will convene a life sciences summit later this year to create a strategy for drawing talent to the state.

The comptroller also promised to be an advocate for the environment. "I will never vote to approve sweetheart deals to sell parkland and open space to developers or valuable state assets like the Baltimore World Trade Center," he said.

Schaefer, the former Baltimore mayor and governor, did not attend Franchot's swearing-in. Still, Franchot paid homage, albeit briefly, to his predecessor.

"Having worked with him for the past 20 years, I can say that the first question he always asked during any policy discussion is this: `How does this help people?'"

Former Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Schaefer rival, had only praise for the man who defeated him. Glendening lauded Franchot for taking an activist tone in his address to a packed House of Delegates.

"Almost all of those issues will come before the Board of Public Works, one way or another," Glendening said. "It is true that he has taken that extra step, saying `I am going to initiate public policy debate, public policy discussion.' But I think, within boundaries, that is proper, that is appropriate. He is one of the few statewide elected officials."

O'Malley said that he views Franchot as an ally on many issues, from protecting natural resources to caring for the sick to education.

"With his voice on the Board of Public Works, we are going to advance that agenda, that agenda that serves all Marylanders," he said.

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