ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland's comptroller on Wednesday denounced a measure proposed by a fellow Democrat that would strip regulatory powers over alcohol, tobacco and gasoline from his office, describing the bill as "the very darkest motivations of the Annapolis machine."
Although Franchot is a Democrat, he has been at odds with the Democratic leadership that controls the General Assembly. Franchot, a statewide elected official who is the state's tax collector, is one of three members of the state's powerful Board of Public Works, along with Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and Treasurer Nancy Kopp, a Democrat.
Franchot, who has often supported Hogan on the board that votes on state contracts, used his introductory remarks at a meeting Wednesday to decry the bill. He said his advocacy for reforming the state's alcohol laws in support of craft brewers and small businesses has brought "petty retribution" from lawmakers who support big corporations.
"Ultimately this is not a battle of personalities, as some would have you believe," Franchot said. "This is about the type of state that we want to become. Are we going to stand up for the public interest, or carry water as this bill will for the special interests?"
The measure would create a state commission to regulate alcohol, gasoline and tobacco and replace dozens of agents who work for the comptroller's office that investigate illegal sales of alcohol and tobacco.
Kopp, who is elected by the legislature to the board, said governments often look at reorganizing responsibilities. Kopp also said many other states do not put such powers in the office of the state's tax collector, and she added: "I don't think calling peoples' motivations into question really helps the discussion."
"The discussion should be: what is the best and most efficient, fairest and most transparent way of administering both the taxation aspects and the law enforcement aspects of that particular office," Kopp said.
Hogan noted other actions the General Assembly has taken to limit his powers in recent years, as well as the authority of the board. Last year, the General Assembly with a supermajority of Democrats passed legislation to take spending decisions about school construction away from the board and put it in the hands of a state commission. Hogan vetoed the bill, but lawmakers overrode the veto.
At the meeting, Hogan jokingly started singing to the tune of "99 Bottles of Beer," as observers in the audience at the board meeting laughed.
"Welcome to the club, Mr. Comptroller," Hogan said. "That's one. Ninety-nine bills to take the power away ... take one down, pass it around, 98 bills to take my power away."