House Passes Bill to Strip Franchot’s Regulatory Authority, Shifting Fight to Senate

    Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot’s office is focusing on the Senate to stop a bill that would strip regulatory functions from his office – but he still isn’t mincing words when it comes to discussing the legislation, which passed the House of Delegates by a wide margin on Thursday.

    House Bill 1052, which passed 97-36, would remove the oversight of the Comptroller’s Field Enforcement Division over alcohol and tobacco. The 60-person office would be moved under the oversight of a statewide commission appointed by the governor. The comptroller’s office would retain regulatory oversight of motor fuel.

    The passage of the bill comes after an increasingly contentious period between Franchot and top Democratic lawmakers.

    “It’s the wheezing and coughing of an out-of-date political boss situation in Annapolis. That’s what this vote represents,” the comptroller said in an interview in his office on Thursday afternoon.

    Legislators say they are making the change for the sake of good government and oversight, noting that Franchot’s advocacy of the craft beer industry that he currently regulates raises eyebrows. Franchot says rank-and-file lawmakers are under the thumb of legislative leadership, who have threatened to kill their unrelated bills and are themselves allowing “out-of-state beer cartels” to write the new bill.

    Franchot called the bill a “petty, personal act of retribution against me for my advocacy of the craft beer industry, a wonderful, family-friendly, exciting manufacturing sector for the state of Maryland.”

    “And because I’m a big advocate for them and I’m not a big friend of the out-of-state beer cartel, the Annapolis bosses – such as they are, and it’s getting to be a very old political boss operation in Annapolis, but they still run the place – they decided, for some bizarre reason, to punish me by disassembling the comptroller’s office with this legislation,” Franchot said.

    He said the bill was costly, punitive and unnecessarily creates uncertainty among an elite division of his office.

    The comptroller’s office has estimated that the cost of shifting regulatory authority is more than $50 million; legislative analysts have estimated a much more modest cost of $4 million initially.

    As the bill was being debated on the House floor Thursday, Economic Matters Chair Dereck E. Davis (D-Prince George’s) called Franchot’s $50 million figure “the usual hyperbole we’ve come to expect.”

    But the comptroller said a real policy debate about the cost of the move and potential effects on the functions of the enforcement division has been overshadowed by the political rivalries driving the measure.

    The comptroller and members of his staff continue to reach out to senators, particularly members of the Education, Health and Environment Committee that is considering the bill, to make sure they understand the impact of the legislation. “Because we’re not sure that message has really gotten across fully,” spokesman Alan Brody said.

    Franchot said he was “frankly surprised” that 36 members of the House of Delegates voted in favor of the bill to support him, given legislative leadership’s focus on the measures.

    The offices of legislative leaders did not respond to Franchot’s comments Thursday evening.

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    Danielle E. Gaines
    Danielle Gaines most recently worked for Bethesda Beat covering Montgomery County. Previously, she spent six years at The Frederick News-Post as the paper’s principal government and politics reporter for half that time, covering courts and legal affairs before that. She also reported for the now-defunct The Gazette of Politics and Business in Maryland and previously worked as a county government and education reporter at the Merced Sun-Star in California’s Central Valley.