Franchot urges that state save unexpected funds

August 30, 2012|By Michael Dresser, Baltimore Sun

Comptroller Peter Franchot urged Thursday that the state bank about $229 million in unexpected money with which it closed out the books on its last budget year, contending that Maryland's economy remains "exceedingly fragile."

The comptroller, whose office released the final numbers for the budget year that ended June 30, recommended that the General Assembly add remaining fund balance to the state's Rainy Day Fund.

The figures the comptroller released were in line with a report in The Sun Thursday that reported the state had ended fiscal 2012 with roughly $225 million more than had been expected.  The additional funds will give Gov. Martin O'Malley additional flexibility as his administration prepares next year's budget, which will go to the legislature next January.

Franchot, a Democrat, has been a persistent critic of O'Malley's budget policies and is believed to be preparing to run for his party's nomination for governor in 2014 against O'Malley's favorite to succeed him, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown. There is little reason to think that O'Malley would heed Franchot's advice on budget priorities.

Nevertheless, the comptroller continued to warn the state to prepare for hard times ahead.

"Given the challenges business and families face in the midst of a state economy that appears to have lost momentum in recent months, I believe this money should remain in the state’s coffers to help cushion Maryland from another economic downturn, and not be put back into the state’s spending pattern,” the vacationing Franchot said in a statement released by his office.

Where O'Malley has consistently portrayed the state of Maryland's economy as improving, Franchot emphasized the gloomier statistics posted in recent months -- including a higher unemployment rate and a below-average record in private sector job growth.

The higher-than-expected fund balance with which the state ended its last budget year reflected stronger collections in the state's four largest sources  of non-transportation revenue. Individual income taxes came in 1.7 percent higher than projected in March, while the corporate income tax brought in 11.4 percent more than expected. Sales tax collections beat the estimate by only 0.5 percent. but lottery receipts did 6.7 percent better than the forecast.

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