- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 10, 2011

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot lashed out Wednesday at federal lawmakers, blaming recent scrutiny of the state’s finances on Congress’ contentious national debt-ceiling debate.

Mr. Franchot, a Democrat, said during a state Board of Public Works meeting that Maryland is in sound fiscal shape, despite recent worries that it could lose its triple-A bond rating in the wake of last week’s federal downgrade by Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services — one of the three major rating agencies.

He criticized Congress for bickering and failing to monitor the nation’s financial picture, adding that resulting federal woes have allowed credit agencies to cast aspersions upon Maryland — a state whose finances are heavily tied to the nation’s, due to its heavy reliance on federal funding and government jobs.

“I think it’s a wake-up call for all of us in public service,” Mr. Franchot said. “I think it’s time to put down the partisan brickbats and put country above party.”

Maryland — whose maximum rating has long allowed it to borrow money at lower interest rates — appears likely to keep its rating in the short term. S&P announced this week it had no immediate plans to review any states’ triple-A ratings, despite lowering the national rating for the first time ever from triple-A to AA-plus.

Moody’s Investors Services chose last week not to downgrade Maryland, despite conducting a review. But the agency did give the state a negative outlook, meaning a worsening national picture could likely damage state finances.

While Mr. Franchot praised the state for managing its debt well enough to finance infrastructure projects while maintaining a high credit rating, he said a more conservative approach might be needed in the near future.

He even worried during Wednesday’s meeting that the state could soon approach its own debt ceiling, and somewhat reluctantly voted to approve a $184 million health facility in Baltimore whose financing he said could further move the state toward its limit.

Maryland’s self-imposed ceiling requires it to limit annual debt service to 8 percent of total revenues. Maryland analysts estimate the state could approach that mark by 2017.

Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat and fellow board member, was less worried about the state’s debt ceiling, pointing out that it has raised the limit several times without incident.

“We’ve done it in a moderate and responsible way and maintained a triple-A bond rating the entire time,” he said.