In one of the most competitive races in Maryland, the two candidates for state comptroller began a virtual forum Thursday with a civics lesson.
Del. Brooke Lierman (D-Baltimore City) and Harford County Executive Barry Glassman (R) talked about how the comptroller is one of three independent elected officials statewide, sits on various boards, and serves as the state’s tax collector.
“Our state comptroller is more than just a bean counter,” Lierman said. “It’s an office that’s uniquely situated as the elected [chief financial officer] to focus on the economic challenges and the income-based issues that we face as a state.”
Glassman, who touted his 30-year experience in public office, calls the comptroller “the taxpayers’ representative.”
“It is a very technical, fiscal fiduciary role. We need experience to do that,” he said.
The office will see a new face after Comptroller Peter Franchot (D), who has held the job since January 2007, unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for governor.
Lierman, 43, seeks to become the first woman ever elected to the position.
If elected, Glassman, 60, would be the first Republican comptroller in 122 years.
During the one-hour forum, sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Maryland and several other organizations, a few differences surfaced.
Asked whether state government should consider the social and environmental impacts of companies it invests in and whether the state’s pension funds should divest from fossil fuel interests, Glassman said the focus should remain on investment return for employees and that policy should not be altered based on political whims.
“I don’t think a carbon neutral or a new policy such as that is probably realistic going forward,” he said. The goal, he said, should be to make sure the “pension fund is secure for our employees.”
Lierman, who co-chairs the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Pensions, said the legislature divested from Russia after the country invaded Ukraine this year.
She said the committee also determined that “climate risk is investment risk. The Maryland state retirement and pension system needs to consider the impact of climate change on investment risk and monitor our net zero-line investments in climate solutions to ensure the long-terms sustainability of our investment portfolio.”
As for the Hogan administration’s proposed project to widen Interstate 495 and 270 using toll lanes to finance the work, Lierman said the project, one of several high-profile public-private infrastructure arrangements, lacked “robust” accountability.
Glassman said he supports the governor’s plan to widen the highways, especially now that he’s been “baptized in the traffic around our Capital Beltway during this campaign.”
“I understand in procurement there’s some challenges. Once those technical challenges are solved, or resolved, I do think [the Board of Public Works] should move ahead and approve those [plans],” he said. “Particularly where we are with inflation, labor shortages and products, every day you wait the cost goes up.”
Glassman and Lierman did agree the procurement process should be streamlined to allow for more minority-owned and women-owned businesses to participate in bigger contracts. In addition, the candidates said the states should improve the digital infrastructure to make sure those companies can receive timely bids on projects.
As they offered closing remarks, the candidates summarized their endorsements.
For Glassman: the governor, Maryland Farm Bureau and Fraternal Order of Police.
For Lierman: Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wes Moore and his running mate, former Del. Aruna Miller, U.S. Rep. Anthony Brown, who’s running for Maryland attorney general, plus environmental groups and organized labor.
The Schaefer Center for Public Policy at the University of Baltimore hosted the forum online. Co-sponsors were Maryland Matters, League of Woman Voters of Maryland, Maryland Reporter, Maryland Nonprofits and Maryland Latinos Unidos.
A video of the comptroller forum will be posted online on the Schaefer Center’s YouTube page in a few days.