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Herald-Mail: Commissioners give Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot a warm welcome

Peter Franchot likes to come to Western Maryland.

That is at least partly because the Maryland comptroller usually gets a friendly reception here, as he did Friday from the Washington County Commissioners when he stopped by on a swing through Western Maryland.

"We see you quite a bit, and we take notice of that," Commissioner Wayne K. Keefer said.

Though Western Maryland is predominantly Republican and Franchot is a Democrat, he sometimes finds the climate a bit warmer here than with members of his own party in Annapolis.

This year was a prime example — in the closing weeks of the Maryland General Assembly, Democrats in the legislature closed ranks to approve a measure that removes the Board of Public Works, comprised of Franchot, Gov. Larry Hogan and Treasurer Nancy Kopp, from oversight of school-construction projects.

Many saw the move as an attack on Franchot, a frequent ally of the Republican governor.

Franchot told Herald-Mail Media on Friday that the amendment removing the board "should definitely be overturned. It was done in the back rooms. It got very little public notice and very little hearing.

"And it's the type of legislative action that really disgusts the public because it has nothing to do with school construction and it has everything to do with sending messages to politicians about who they like and who they don't like," he said.

Though he didn't speak directly on that topic during his meeting with the commissioners, he alluded to it a time or two. He called the Board of Public Works "a wonderful body looked at somewhat skeptically by the legislature for some reason," noting that "bad ideas tend to come out of the back rooms, particularly if they're done impulsively or for egos."

And he called the General Assembly's tax-relief bill that raises the standard deduction for Maryland returns a "de minimus effort." Hundreds of millions of dollars that taxpayers potentially could pay as a result of lost deductions through the federal tax overhaul will be kept by the state, he noted, rather than given back to taxpayers.

The bill that passed originally was filed by state Sen. Andrew A. Serafini, R-Washington, but was amended to make the deduction considerably smaller than originally proposed — and that prompted Franchot to label it "a small Band-Aid."

He also criticized lawmakers for not passing craft-brewery reform legislation, and vowed to try again.

"I guarantee that bill will pass next year," he said.

The measure "would have put craft brewers on equal footing with distilleries and wineries," he said.

The comptroller concluded that "common sense did not prevail this year in Annapolis" from his perspective.

Franchot agreed with county officials that the continued loss of the local share of highway user revenue — money collected from vehicle taxes and titling, gas taxes and related fees — was "a huge mistake — it's proven to be just a calamity." The money was redirected during Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration to help balance the state's budget. County Administrator Rob Slocum told Franchot that the county has had to borrow from other funds to perform the road-repair work once covered by the local share of highway-user funds.

Slocum and the commissioners also updated Franchot on two of the county's priority state-funded projects — expanding Interstate 81 and improving the interchange at Interstate 70 and Md. 65 near the Premium Outlets shopping center and the new Walmart supercenter on Sharpsburg Pike.

The cloverleaf at I-70 and Md. 65 has been approved at a projected cost of $80 million, but he said he believes it could be done for $40 million to $60 million. Franchot said he might be able to help expedite the project, and Slocum promised to work with the comptroller's office to that end.

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