Maryland Senate President Criticizes Comptroller’s Performance in Letter

Maryland Senate President Criticizes Comptroller’s Performance in Letter

Mike Miller says the General Assembly will examine how millions in Montgomery County taxpayer funds were misallocated

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Maryland Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller

Maryland Government website

Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller is not parsing words in his recent criticism of Comptroller Peter Franchot.

Bethesda Beat obtained a letter Wednesday that Miller sent to Franchot Tuesday criticizing the comptroller for failing to properly handle tax collection duties and for meddling in local political issues.

The letter comes after a Washington Post report detailed that the comptroller’s office, which handles tax collections in the state as well as regulates the liquor, tobacco and gas industries, misappropriated between $12 million to $15 million in taxpayer funds in the county. The funds, according to the report, were sent to municipalities such as the Town of Chevy Chase and City of Rockville, rather than to the county, where they should have been allocated.

“While your spokesman accepted responsibility for your failure to execute the responsibilities of your office, the fact that you could lose track of an estimated $12 million to $15 million raises legitimate anxieties about your stewardship of funds,” Miller wrote in the letter. “This will now force some Montgomery County municipalities to repay millions of dollars because of the sloppiness in your office.”

Miller wrote that he’s responding to a letter from Franchot about spending state funds for air conditioning units in Baltimore County Public Schools in which he describes the comptroller’s tone as “overly dramatic and unnecessarily adversarial.”

“Your attention to local government affairs in places like Baltimore County and Montgomery County is clearly distracting you from your execution of your constitutionally mandated responsibilities,” Miller wrote.

Franchot’s initial letter, which was provided to Bethesda Beat, urges Miller and House Speaker Michael Busch to call for a public hearing to discuss a plan to allow state school construction funds to be used for portable air conditioning units in public schools. That letter came after a representative of Miller delayed a vote on the matter. Both letters are an extension of an ongoing debate the comptroller and Gov. Larry Hogan have been having with Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz over air conditioning in that county’s public schools.

Andrew Friedson, a spokesman for the comptroller, described Miller’s letter as an “over-the-top response” that “is disappointing and completely avoids a very serious public health issue affecting tens of thousands of families, teachers and school support staff who are subjected to unhealthy and unsafe conditions in sweltering classrooms.”

Friedson, who previously acknowledged the Montgomery County tax mistake in the Post, also responded that Franchot is “extremely proud of his well-documented record of exceptional taxpayer service.”

The dispute is perhaps the most recent display of the split between Franchot and the establishment Democratic Party in Maryland. Franchot and former Gov. Martin O’Malley had a public spat in 2012 in which O’Malley called Franchot the state’s “version of Mitt Romney.” Over the past year, Franchot has also aligned himself frequently with Republican Gov. Larry Hogan while working on issues on the Board of Public Works, according to The Baltimore Sun.

In Miller’s letter, the Senate president also called for a public hearing during the early days of the General Assembly, which starts in January, to discuss the tax issues.

Miller wrote that legislators plan to examine, “first and foremost, how you lost track of an estimated $12 million to $15 million in taxpayer funds, whether the same mistake occurred with municipalities elsewhere, the costs incurred in correcting your error, and what steps you are taking to prevent such embarrassing mismanagement of public funds from occurring again.”

Friedson said the comptroller would be “more than happy to participate in a public hearing” and that he will also be prepared to discuss the unsafe conditions in schools without air conditioning.

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