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Franchot, lawmakers at war over bills to change alcohol oversight

Bryan P. Sears//February 5, 2019

Franchot, lawmakers at war over bills to change alcohol oversight

By Bryan P. Sears

//February 5, 2019

Comptroller Peter Franchot. (Bryan P. Sears)
“This legislation is a sham,” says Comptroller Peter Franchot. It will be enormously expensive to the taxpayers for no good reason.” (Bryan P. Sears)

ANNAPOLIS — Comptroller Peter Franchot is vowing a war on Democrats over a bill that would limit his authority and another that could threaten his ability to remain in his job.

His sharp words and an equally sharp response from lawmakers comes on the heels of three bills introduced by Sen. Ben Kramer, D-Montgomery. The bills are the result of an interim commission tasked with examining how alcohol is regulated in the state and how those laws are enforced.

“It will leave the comptroller’s office doing what most comptrollers do and that’s tax collection and enforcement,” said Kramer. “There are a number of states that have commissions. In fact, we were somewhat unique here in Maryland. I believe there are only one or two other states that have an elected official that has this task. It puts us more in line with 46 or 47 other states that have independent authorities.”

Kramer’s first bill, weighing in at 78 pages, would strip enforcement of alcohol, tobacco and motor fuel laws and regulations from the comptroller. Enforcement would be moved under a newly created commission appointed by the governor.

A second bill would bar the comptroller, members of his staff and officials with local liquor boards from accepting campaign donations.

Kramer, in an interview said the comptroller and “elected officials at the state and local level” were included in the prohibition.

The bills were drafted based on recommendations of a commission created by the legislature last year — Kramer, a delegate last year, and Del. Warren Miller, R-Howard and Carroll, sponsored the bill in 2018. That legislation was seen by Franchot and others as retaliation for the comptroller’s advocacy on expanding state alcohol laws to benefit the craft brewing industry.

“It’s motivated by petty retaliation toward me for being an advocate for craft beer, which is opposed by out-of-state corporate beer interest,’ said Franchot, speaking of Kramer’s bills. “I will never stop my support for these wonderful businesses. This legislation is a sham. It will be enormously expensive to the taxpayers for no good reason.”

“The citizens are going to get hosed because they’re going to get less enforcement and they will pay through the nose for this action,” said Franchot.

The comptroller then fired back at Kramer for supporting Montgomery County’s government-run alcohol system while renting space at shopping centers he owns to government liquor stores.

“This is not a campaign contribution. This is someone who actually has alcohol payments put into his pocket each month and he has the temerity to put in legislation completely rewriting the regulation of the businesses that he profits from personally,” said Franchot, who put his hands in his back pockets to emphasize the point. “It’s a little window into what I call the swamp of Annapolis, where people wonder how power is used to punish people personally.”

Franchot said his comments would be the first highlighting the “many, many connections between high-ranking members of the General Assembly and and the out-of-state beer companies.”

Franchot downplayed the importance of the campaign contribution bill, saying he posted $1 million in his most recent campaign finance report and isn’t dependent on donations from the industry.

Legislation to limit his ability to fundraise could open the door for potential challengers.

Franchot and his staff also complained that Del. Dereck Davis, D-Prince George’s and chair of the House Economic Matters Committee, has refused to introduce Franchot’s legislation to loosen restrictions on the craft brewing industry. The bill is the same as legislation Franchot championed last year but failed to gain support.

“How can I put this: I don’t owe the comptroller a damn thing,” Davis told reporters when asked about not introducing the bills for Franchot. “When a department wants to put a bill in, it’s a courtesy that (we) extend. There’s nothing the comptroller has done on this or any other issue for that matter where he extends courtesies.”

Davis, when asked why he would not introduce a bill for Franchot this session after doing so in 2018 said: “Because he didn’t show his ass last year the way he has this year.”

But Davis maintained that the legislation moving enforcement out of the comptroller’s office was not the legislature cracking Franchot across the knuckles.

“I think the comptroller’s narcissism knows no bounds,” said Davis in response to questions about the bill targeting Franchot. “No one is worried about retaliating against the comptroller. He’s just not that important to us, and he’s not on our radar screen.”

Davis compared Franchot’s attacks on Kramer and other lawmakers to President Donald Trump.

“There seems to be this reoccurring habit that every time someone disagrees with him he attacks them personally. He goes after their character. Who else does that sound like to you? We see that down the street from here (Washington) all the time.”





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