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Franchot slugs back at senator -- coolly

 Comptroller Peter Franchot responded to a blistering letter from a Democratic state senator with cool disdain Monday -- delegating the task of replying to his chief of staff.

Sen. James "Ed" DeGrange wrote a letter to Franchot last week suggesting that the comptroller was serving the interests of West Virginia rather than Maryland by openly opposing a ballot question that would allow expanded gambling in Maryland. DeGrange, an Anne Arundel County Democrat, accused Franchot of being deceitful by asserting that the gambling plan would not yield additional money for education.

In an apparently calculated gesture, Franchot did not deign to reply under his own name. Instead, his office sent a letter to DeGrange under the signature of Franchot's chief of staff, Len N. Foxwell.

Expressing regret at the "highly personal" tone of DeGrange's letter, Foxwell restated Franchot's contentions that any money raised from expanded gambling for the Education Trust Fund would simply allow the General Assembly to shift dollars from the schools to other purposes.

Foxwell also contended a new casino in Prince George's County would siphon revenue from Maryland Live Casino at Arundel Mills in DeGrange's district.

"While the comptroller would never question your loyalties the same way that you questioned his, there will be those who contend that your position on Question 7 actually subverts the economic interests of your own legislative district," Foxwell wrote.

The comptroller's reply closes with a veneer of cordiality.

"The troubling tone of your letter notwithstanding, the comptroller respects you service and values your longstanding professional relationship. He would be willing to sit and discuss these points with you in further detail -- hopefully in a due spirit of civility -- after the dust has settled. Until then, please do not hesitate to call me directly if we can be of assistance to you or your constituents," Foxwell writes.

DeGrange is a senior member of the Senate Committee on Budget and Taxation. It could be an interesting hearing next year when the Comptroller's Office comes in for its annual budget review.

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