Comp­trol­ler dis­cusses econ­omy with Ch­e­sa­peake Gate­way Cham­ber

Fran­chot touches on jobs, taxes and later school start

The Avenue News - - Front Page - By NI­COLE ROD­MAN nrod­man@ches­pub.com

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.”

PHOTO BY NI­COLE ROD­MAN

Comp­trol­ler Peter Fran­chot spoke be­fore the Ch­e­sa­peake Gate­way Cham­ber of Com­merce last Tues­day.

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