TRAPPE — If Mid-Shore residents hope to see their finances, job stability and economic prospects improve, they will need to call on legislators to spend less and save more, Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot told the Talbot County Chamber of Commerce at a luncheon on Thursday.
"Living costs are rising, but income is not; expenses are going up," he said. "There are over 400,000 Marylanders out of work ... If (our economy) is recovering, it is an uneven recovery; it is a jobless recovery."
Franchot called himself a "recovering legislator," whose seven years as state comptroller have given him a perspective on economic numbers that is unique; and though he said he is proud of his state, its economy has significant problems, especially in the private sector.
"I appreciate all the social advances the legislature has passed down recently, and I am in general agreement with those achievements," he said. "But let's be honest: it's time to focus on the economy.
"We must remind ourselves (the Democrats) we have a moral responsibility to provide jobs for Marylanders — and I'm not talking rhetoric. I want to know where the jobs are and where is the actual product that we as Democrats are obligated to produce."
Franchot said the beginning of every economy on a personal and individual level is work. Without jobs, people have nothing.
"A job is the cornerstone of a person's life," he said. "Let's just lay it out on the line. We cannot have a great state with 400,000 people looking for work or who have just given up."
The answer, said Franchot, is not complicated. He urged focusing for the next three years on economic issues: long-term economic and employment growth in the private sector. He said the social advancements the Democratic Party was making were nothing without fiscal responsibility. Education, environment and healthcare programs would all be in jeopardy if they were not properly and responsibly managed.
"We need to regroup, we need to prioritize, we need to honestly balance the public budgets," he said. "We have to stop politicizing economic data and focus on the facts: We are 46th in the country in private sector-wage growth. Why is that important? People are working harder, longer and earning less. That's bad for the economy because they need to be adequately paid in order to produce economic growth."
Franchot said it was not just or productive to continue to invest money in protecting natural resources, advancing education and transportation and making Maryland a great state at the expense of working families.
"We have gotten into the mindset in Maryland that spending for the sake of spending is progressive and that it's sustainable," he said.
Spending more and raising taxes cannot work, he said. "We have to focus, not on how much we're spending on a given program, but on the results. Is anyone looking at where money is being spent and if it is getting the results that have been promised? What is the output? What is the product?"
As an example, Franchot cited the programs to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, stating "according to objective data" though millions had been poured into efforts to make its waters cleaner, the Bay continues to get dirtier every year.
Whether the programs focused on the environment, education or healthcare, Franchot said management discipline was needed to produce accountability and transparency in spending.
"It's the same with education. (For example), Maintenance of Effort: We're going to raise your property taxes in Talbot County in order to spend more money on education," he said. "Are the kids better off? Does anyone manage the money that's being spent so that it has a better product?"
The same applies to health care, Franchot said. Of the two and a half trillion dollars being spent on health care in the country, a third of it is wasted on medical treatments that are unnecessary, do not work or actually hurt people, he said.
Franchot said the state budget concerned him, but not nearly so much as the budgets of small businesses and families. He pointed to the "for sale" and "for lease" signs cropping up all over Maryland and said the lack of collaboration between the state and the private sector was largely to blame, calling the relationship "adversarial."
With elections coming up for state government, Franchot said the best way to change the tide of private sector losses was to challenge current legislators and future candidates to be accountable.
"Ask every candidate what they will do to better manage the money they are spending on these programs and what they are doing to measure that the taxpayers are getting a good result," he urged. "Everyone you have elected — hold their feet to the fire and ask them, 'Who's managing the store?'"