Comptroller discusses economy with Chesapeake Gateway Chamber
Franchot touches on jobs, taxes and later school start
Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot discussed the state of the economy and his push to start school after Labor Day, among other topics, during a speech before the Chesapeake Gateway Chamber of Commerce last Tuesday.
During remarks at Red Brick Station in The Avenue at White Marsh on March 22, Franchot characterized the state economy as “unstable,” citing a relatively high employment rate and stagnant wage growth.
Maryland has an unemployment rate of 4.7 percent, lower than the national average of 4.9 percent. The state lost 1,800 jobs last month, according to a preliminary report issued by the state labor department last Friday, though the number of jobs is up by 37,600 (or 1.4 percent) over February 2015.
The state, Franchot noted, added 40,000 jobs in the private sector last year.
“It’s been a very slow recovery, if it has been a recovery at all,” he noted.
Nevertheless, he remains “cautiously optimistic,” citing a need for the state to attract new business, help small businesses and allow taxpayers to keep more of their money.
Franchot, a Democrat, discussed his relationship with Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, noting, “I’ve taken a little bit of flack from my party for working with Gov. Hogan.”
He theorized that Hogan’s election has had a calming effect, helping to stem what he characterized as a tide of successful people leaving the state amid tax and fee increases instituted during the previous governor’s administration.
The governor, he noted, “has calmed down some of the tax increases,” he said.
Franchot also called for a decrease in spending, a halt on some regulatory changes and a multi-year moratorium on new taxes, calling such measures “the right medicine for an underperforming state economy right now.”
He also touched on the ongoing tax season, referring to the recent indictment of nine former Liberty Tax employees arrested on alleged theft and tax fraud charges.
“You should be careful if you go to one of these storefronts,” he cautioned attendees, encouraging taxpayers to make sure their tax preparer also signs the return. Taxpayers should also make sure the preparer includes their identification number and check to ensure that
they will actually receive the refund.
So far this year, the Comptroller’s office has processed nearly two million returns. Of those, about 6,000 potentially fraudulent returns, totaling approximately $ 9 million, have been blocked.
In Franchot’s first year as comptroller, his office detected 314 fraudulent returns. That number had jumped to 20,000 returns totaling $ 28 million last year.
“This is not a new problem, but it is one that has been growing in the past few years,” he said.
He added that the same technology they use to quickly process returns ( his office averages a 2.1 business day turnaround) also al- lows them to detect fraud.
During the question period, Franchot fielded an inquiry about his initiatives surrounding air conditioning in schools and his push to return schools to a post-Labor Day start date.
He decried the lack of air conditioning for 30,000 students in Baltimore City and Baltimore County.
“If we put our child in those conditions, we would be arrested for child abuse,” he said, adding, “If we put our dog in those conditions, we would be arrested for animal abuse.”
Regarding his push to start school after Labor Day, Franchot pointed to an economic argument, noting that such a move could boost business, including tourism and recreation.
Though the movement has been blocked for the past two years, he expressed confidence that it will be implemented this year.
“This September, your kids in Baltimore County are going to go back after Labor Day,” he said. “Stay tuned on that one.”
When asked by what means Franchot would make this happen, comptroller’s spokesperson Peter Hamm declined to expand on Franchot’s remarks.
“The Comptroller’s comment should speak for itself,” Hamm said. “We don’t have anything to add.”
Franchot’s remarks also looked to the future. While he remains optimistic for growth in the long term, he cautioned about the economic impact of the raucous election season.
“These national elections are going to hell in a handbasket,” he said.
He added, “The political turmoil that is going on in the country right now is going to contribute to volatility.”
Comptroller Peter Franchot spoke before the Chesapeake Gateway Chamber of Commerce last Tuesday.