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April 12, 2019
Garrett County Republican: ‘Just be cautious' on economy, Comptroller Franchot says
May 2, 2019
OAKLAND — Maryland’s economy is strong, according to Comptroller Peter Franchot.
“But my experts tell me there’s an inevitable downturn,” he said during an interview in Oakland on April 25.
“They’re not exactly sure when, but within the next two years. So the message is just be cautious.”
The comptroller indicated Western Marylanders didn’t need to be warned to save money because they’re usually “tight with a dollar.”
“But in Annapolis, the message that I had was put as much money in the rainy day fund as possible,” Franchot said. “Then we’ll weather the downturn without having to cut, in real time, spending — which causes a lot of havoc.”
When the economy picks back up, he noted, the state will then be ready to restore services where needed. He noted, however, that the Legislature has plans to spend money on education and other items.
“(Gov. Larry) Hogan’s a good moderator,” Franchot said about spending. “When it becomes irresponsible, he’s pretty good at moderating it.”
The comptroller said the projected downturn is just part of the natural cycles of an economy.
“Now, you can attribute a specific start to a downturn, maybe, with some event that happens,” he explained. “But the main problem is we’ve had this historically long upturn in the stock market and in the economy.”
Franchot reiterated that one can’t predict when a natural downturn will happen.
“But my folks are pretty certain that within the next one or two years, there’ll be a major correction in the economy,” he said. “All the arrows are pointing in the direction that people need to be cautious and put money aside.”
Prior to becoming Maryland’s 33rd comptroller, Franchot represented Montgomery County for 20 years in the House of Delegates.
He was elected to his fourth term as comptroller in November. The Democrat easily defeated his Republican challenger, Anjali Reed Phukan, by garnering about 72 percent of vote statewide.
As comptroller, Franchot oversees the collection of taxes for the state.
“Knock on wood, the tax season is going very well,” Franchot said.
He reported his office recently processed 50 million returns. About 92 percent of them were filed electronically, with many Marylanders receiving their refunds within two days.
Franchot said his office is in the process of replacing its current computer system, which will take about four years.
“The system is old,” he said. “It’s out of date.”
Barring any glitches, he indicated, the new system will provide even better service to taxpayers.
“It’s going to be more user-friendly,” he said. “And people, particularly young people who are fluent in technology, are going to be able to get access.”
The comptroller’s website is also being updated to help taxpayers access resources better and get their questions answered.
“We are also using the technology for fraud detection,” Franchot said about beefing up security for processing tax returns.
He noted his office has “filtered” out more than 2,000 fraudulent tax returns in the last five or six years.
“So, we’re able to kind of keep our heads above water,” the comptroller said about trying to outwit scammers. “That’s a big job because everyone around the country is facing that problem.”
In addition to his role as comptroller, Franchot serves on the Maryland Board of Public Works with Gov. Hogan and Treasurer Nancy Kopp.
“We meet every two weeks year round and vote, on average, for $4-5 million in state contracts,” Franchot said.
In Maryland, he noted, two votes are needed to approve every contract. As such, the comptroller said he and Hogan, a Republican, have formed a “good government alliance” regarding the procurement issue.
“That’s proven, I think, to be a big benefit over the last couple of years,” Franchot said. “I don’t always agree with Gov. Hogan, but I respect him. I don’t say negative things about him.”
The comptroller indicated he would like to attend the Autumn Glory Festival Grand Feature Parade on Oct. 12 in Oakland. He participated in the event with the governor a few years ago.
“That’s the one where Hogan shamed me into walking the whole parade,” Franchot said. “I said, ‘You’re really going to walk the whole thing?’ I had this nice little car I was going to ride in. ‘Nope,’ he said, ‘you’ve got to get out of the car.’”
Franchot described the Grand Feature Parade as a very well-attended, well-done parade.
Staff writer Renée Shreve can be reached at 301-501-8394 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.