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Franchot, O'Malley Aides Spar Over Taxes

A plan rolled out by Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) to more aggressively collect Maryland taxes was described very differently last week by Franchot and aides to his increasingly frequent sparring partner, Gov. Martin O'Malley (D).

Franchot billed the plan, which calls for doubling his corporate auditing staff and upgrading office technology, as a way to increase state revenue collections by almost $200 million over four years without raising tax rates.

"With these additional tools, we can collect even more money owed the state of Maryland, money to fund education, health care and the environment," Franchot said in a statement.

Aides to O'Malley, meanwhile, saw the "tax gap initiative" as a bid by Franchot to increase his office's budget during a tough fiscal climate. The cost of Franchot's initiative, according to his office, would be $52.5 million, $10 million of which has been previously approved by lawmakers.

O'Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said Franchot's request "to increase his budget" would be reviewed by O'Malley's budget secretary, T. Eloise Foster, as part of the normal budget process.

"Given the state's budget deficit, we're all faced with the challenge of doing more with the same or less resources," Abbruzzese said in a statement. "For example, we've reduced the governor's office staff budget by 11 percent and have enacted a hiring freeze at other state agencies."

Franchot unveiled his plan Friday, a day after making a pair of public appearances to voice his opposition to slot-machine gambling, a key component of O'Malley's plan to bridge a looming $1.7 billion budget shortfall.

In response to those appearances, O'Malley spokesman Steve Kearney took a jab at Franchot, saying the governor would welcome "some ideas about collecting unpaid taxes, which is, after all, his job."

Franchot aides said Friday that Kearney's comments were curious, given that Foster had received a letter about Franchot's plan last month.

"It's time to modernize our outdated tax compliance system and double the number of corporate auditors so that everyone pays their fair share," Franchot spokeswoman Christine Duray said. "We hope the administration will support us in this effort."

By Phyllis Jordan  |  October 7, 2007; 11:24 AM ET
Categories:  John Wagner  
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