Baltimore needs a "dramatic" effort to bring back visitors who will eat at its restaurants and shop its boutiques, Comptroller Peter Franchot said Friday.
Speaking before a group of business leaders assembled for the BWI Business Partnership's December breakfast, Franchot said businesses and restaurants across the city are "suffering because of the perception that the city is unsafe."
He pushed back on those fears and urged people to visit small businesses in the city at least once this holiday season.
"Any urban area has violence, you can't avoid that, but Baltimore is safe and Baltimore is a wonderful city of great neighborhoods," he said. "The important part is it is the beating heart of the state of Maryland."
After the speech, Franchot said he thinks Baltimore needs the state and the private sector "to step in and do a statewide public relations/marketing campaign" aimed at encouraging Maryland residents to shop and dine in the city. Recent market research surveying county residents found more than 30 percent of respondents reported a decrease in their trips to Baltimore.
"We need to appeal to Marylanders," he said. "Let's try to reverse the decline. I'm not the one who can implement it, but somebody needs to do it now."
Franchot also addressed Maryland's fiscal state as a new year, and new legislative session, approaches. The state's Board of Revenue Estimates said Wednesday that Maryland has a surplus of more than $1 billion, thanks to $500 million carried over from last fiscal year, as well as new revenue collected by applying the 6 percent sales tax to items purchased online following the Supreme Court's Wayfair decision. Franchot said Maryland is also collecting more money as a result of federal tax cuts passed last year.
"We're going to see, I believe, a very robust 2019 because we've turbo-charged the economy with the tax cuts," he said.
Still, he advocated for saving much of the excess revenue pouring into the state's coffers. The economy is in its 113th consecutive month of expansion — the longest such stretch was during the 1990s tech boom, in which the country saw economic growth for 119 months in a row.
"Unfortunately, a recession is inevitable," Franchot said. "I think we need to learn from that and put money aside."
Another focus of the upcoming General Assembly session will be regulation of the state's breweries. Franchot's push to loosen the restrictions on brewery production, hours and more met with resistance from legislators and alcohol distributors last year and ultimately failed.
The comptroller said he plans to back similar legislation next session.
"I'm much more optimistic this year that we'll do right by this group," he said. "When you try to change anything in Annapolis, it takes a couple years."