Comptroller Peter Franchot defended yesterday the high salaries of two top deputies in response to legislative analysts' calling for additional scrutiny of the tax collector's executive ranks.
The hearing in the House of Delegates came a week after Franchot accused Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller of plotting to eliminate the two deputies as "political payback" for the comptroller's vocal opposition to slot machine gambling and a new tax on computer services.
Miller has dismissed Franchot's claims as "outrageous" and said the Senate - which takes up the comptroller's budget today - will adhere to recommendations by the nonpartisan Department of Legislative Services.
A new budget analysis by that department said that Franchot's three-deputy executive organization is "not typical" of state agencies and noted that Franchot's deputies - two of whom are former political activists who supported his 2006 campaign - are paid more than deputies of other agencies.
"It is not clear," wrote legislative analyst Jody J. Sprinkle in the report, "that the new structure is the most efficient use of state resources."
When he took office last year, Franchot reorganized his executive hierarchy over the reservations of the Department of Budget and Management, creating a deputy-level chief of staff and adding a third deputy comptroller position.
All three deputies earn more than $150,000 a year, though the two new positions manage only about 40 employees between them, while Linda Tanton, the veteran deputy comptroller, oversees about 1,070 employees, according to officials.
Franchot defended his prerogative to create a "management system that really fits my style" and which enables a "collective synergy that is not represented by that organizational chart."
In response to questioning by Del. Charles E. Barkley, a Montgomery County Democrat who chaired yesterday's subcommittee hearing, Franchot said his deputies are "fairly compensated." Barkley persisted in interrogating Franchot about the salaries. "I think your deputies are actually making more than many of the secretaries of the other agencies," he said.
"I'm not another agency," Franchot replied, noting that his office is an independent state entity that collects about $20 billion in taxes a year and requires leadership equipped to handle complex technical issues about tax law compliance.
Franchot, a Montgomery County Democrat, said yesterday he still believes political enemies in the legislature are targeting for elimination the positions of his chief of staff, David S. Weaver, and Deputy Comptroller Len N. Foxwell.
Weaver and Foxwell helped Franchot in his bid for the comptroller's office, and both have worked as spokesmen for other Maryland politicians.
The legislative analysis did not recommend that Franchot cut the two positions, nor did any lawmakers in the House committee yesterday suggest he take that step.
Franchot has also claimed, based on what he acknowledged were "just rumors," that Miller will push for "draconian cuts" to the $117 million comptroller's budget recently proposed by Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat.
But the Department of Legislative Services only recommended a roughly $771,000 budget cut.