Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot on Thursday called for a two-year ban on any tax increases, and offered pointed criticism of local business leaders who have supported a rise in the gas tax.
During remarks at a stop in Odenton, the state’s chief financial officer said he disagreed with much of the proposals in Gov. Martin O’Malley’s fiscal year 2013 budget. In particular, he railed against the proposed addition of sales tax to the price of gasoline, and called on the state government to restore “fiscal discipline” in order to inject life into what he called a “feeble” economic recovery.
“All of these taxes pass some basic tests, but in the aggregate, they are a crippling burden,” Franchot said.
The Democrat spoke during a visit with the 33rd District Democratic Club at Perry’s Restaurant. He talked at length about the potential impact of O’Malley’s proposal to add a 6 percent sales tax phased in over three years to the price of gasoline, in order to fund transportation upgrades in the state.
Other groups, including the West Anne Arundel Chamber of Commerce, had previously endorsed a plan to add a flat 15-cent tax.
Franchot said he opposed any gas increase, calling it “regressive” and particularly burdensome on small business owners.
“For the chambers of commerce—especially these local chambers—to be in favor of a gas tax in this economy, I find just deplorable,” he said in an interview with Patch after the meeting. “They are really arguing against the interests of their constituents.”
Franchot acknowledged a need for transportation improvements in the state, but said hundreds of millions of dollars could be found by streamlining the procurement process for the State Highway Administration, and by completing some projects using public-private partnerships.
Franchot said he disagreed with fellow Democrats who claim that increased spending on infrastructure would stimulate the economy and create jobs.
“It’s a leftover attitude from better economic times,” he said. “They need to understand that the reality has changed … maybe two years from now, they can bring that idea back.”
Though he had harsh words for his own political party, Franchot’s remarks were generally well-received by club members, who also expressed concern over the gas tax proposal and the use of money in the Transportation Trust Fund help balance the state’s budget.
“I think it’s ridiculous that they tell us a tax is for this, then they go around and spend it on something completely different,” club vice president Torrey Jacobsen said.
Franchot expressed similar concerns.
“Our budget is not honestly balanced,” he said. “Let’s be honest. We’re robbing Peter to pay Paul. It’s balanced in name only.”