Franchot: Maryland can't keep borrowing and spending

January 04, 2012

Recently, The Sun challenged my decision to vote against a proposal to raise the State of Maryland's debt ceiling from $925 million to $1.075 billion in the upcoming fiscal year ("Franchot drifts right," Dec. 26). While I appreciate that others may not share my point of view, I was surprised that The Sun would resort to name calling in expressing its disagreement. The accusation that I had "gone over to the side of anti-government activism" was simply outrageous, as was the suggestion that I was now in philosophical alignment with the tea party.

For the record, I am a proud Democrat who has consistently supported responsible investments in transportation, health care, public education and Bay restoration.  Contrary to what was implied in the editorial, I do not believe we should rely upon the elimination of programs and services to balance the state budget.  Rather, I have encouraged my colleagues throughout State government to follow the private sector and identify ways that we can deliver more effective services for a lower cost. 

My vote last month to oppose an increase in the state's debt ceiling wasn't based upon my party or philosophy but on sheer common sense. Last month, the Maryland Board of Revenue Estimates — which I chair — voted to downgrade our state's revenue forecasts for the next two fiscal years by $121 million and actually reduced our expectations for sales tax receipts by $216 million. Simply put, our economy is expected to remain fragile for the foreseeable future, characterized by historically high unemployment, a weak housing market, and flagging consumer confidence. As a result, Annapolis will have less money at its disposal.

As any household would attest, the notion that our state can continue to rack up more debt and spend more money even as we are taking in less is unsustainable. It will inevitably lead to higher taxes, draconian cuts to our social safety net, and probably both. We cannot afford either outcome at a time when too many working families are still struggling to put food on the table and when too many Maryland employers are simply trying to make their next payroll. That is why I oppose an increase in the gas tax at this time and have even called for a two-year moratorium on all new taxes.

Finally, I obviously share The Sun's desire to create good-paying jobs in our state, and I would agree that our state government can play a valuable role in that process. However, I do not believe that government can be our state's primary economic engine, nor do I think that we will get there through higher taxes, spending and debt.

Rather, I believe that our state government must work with the private sector to create the conditions for long-term growth — whether that means providing a stable tax climate, a consistent regulatory environment or more responsive customer service. Ultimately, it is the private sector that will determine the health of our economy. Annapolis must remain focused on making our state more competitive for jobs and economic activity they provide and reject the easy temptation of short-term fixes.

Peter Franchot, Annapolis

The writer is Maryland's comptroller.

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