Around noon, Franchot met with Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce board members, reiterating his stance that the state should hold off on any new taxes or increases in existing taxes.
In recent years, Franchot has visited the county at least twice a year, touring schools for which the school system has requested state school construction money or visiting local shopping centers to encourage residents to shop in-state.
Asked if he was contemplating a run for governor in 2014, Franchot said he was “going to take a look at it,” but that he enjoyed being comptroller.
“I get a lot of support from people all around the state who want common sense, pragmatic, workable solutions free from all of the spin of politics,” Franchot said after his tour of Bester.
“So I’m going to take a look at it, but I must admit, I think I’m making a difference as comptroller and I am honored to have the job,” he said.
Franchot, a Democrat, described himself as fiscally conservative and socially progressive.
Last fall, he laid out a plan to turn around the state’s economy that includes a moratorium — for the two upcoming fiscal years — on any new tax increases.
Franchot said Gov. Martin O’Malley’s proposal to levy a 6 percent sales tax on gasoline, which would be phased in over three years, would hurt the state’s economic recovery and damage the middle class.
“There’s plenty of money,” Franchot said. “The question is: Who is minding the store?” and assessing how the money is spent, he said.
As one of three members of the state’s Board of Public Works, Franchot votes whether to approve state funding requests for capital projects such as school construction. The other two members of the board are O’Malley and Treasurer Nancy Kopp.
Bester Principal Kristi Bachtell led Franchot and several local elected officials on a tour of the aging elementary school in Hagerstown’s South End.
O’Malley’s proposed budget, for the fiscal year starting July 1, includes $3.6 million toward replacing Bester, almost fulfilling the school system’s request for state funds for that particular project in the upcoming fiscal year.
School system officials went to Annapolis on Jan. 25 to ask the Board of Public Works for an additional $2.4 million for school construction projects, including $798,000 for Bester in the coming fiscal year.
The earliest construction would begin on the new Bester is July or August, said Rob Rollins, the school system’s director of facilities planning and development. The new school will be built behind the current one, which will continue school operations until the new Bester opens, which is expected to be in time for the 2014-15 school year.
Wayne Ridenour, president of the Washington County Board of Education, told Franchot that replacing Bester Elementary was “vital for this community.”
Concerning a possible new stadium to keep the Hagerstown Suns in town, Franchot, a Washington Nationals fan, encouraged chamber officials during a meeting at Hager Hall Conference & Event Center to look at the economic impact of having a minor league baseball team in the community.
Recalling his support for a new stadium for the Baltimore Ravens, Franchot said people picketed his home saying that the money should have been used for schools.
“Now they call me and ask me for tickets to Ravens games,” he said.