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Carroll delegate proposes changes on state furniture sales

Carroll delegate proposes changes on state furniture sales
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A bill that is sponsored by a Carroll County delegate and would restrict deeply discounted sales of Government House furnishings to outgoing governors will be heard Wednesday in Annapolis.

"Apparently, unbeknownst to me, this has been a long-standing practice," Del. Haven Shoemaker said about the practice of allowing outgoing governors to purchase Government House furniture for steep discounts. "I just don't think it's good government."

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The impetus for the legislation, said Shoemaker, R-District 5, was the news last year that former Gov. Martin O'Malley had purchased several pieces of furniture from the state at severely discounted prices.

O'Malley, a Democrat, paid $9,638 for furniture that the state originally bought for $62,000, according to The Baltimore Sun. The furniture was made available for purchase by O'Malley after the Department of General Services deemed it to be unneeded surplus.

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Current Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, has been vocal in his criticism of the furniture sale.

"Some folks are going to deem this to be a partisan attack," Shoemaker said. "[But] the bottom line is, I'm trying to seek transparency through this and, really, just good government."

House Bill 5, which Shoemaker pre-filed in the fall, calls for an approval to be made by the Government House Trust before an item can be deemed excess property. The trust, which oversees the renovation, design and furnishing of the house, would also be responsible for disposing of the property.

The bill would also forbid a current or former governor from acquiring an item before that item is placed on auction and made available to the general public for bidding.

Currently, the Department of General Services, or DGS, determines when furnishings at the Government House, where the governor resides, is no longer of use. Once an item is deemed surplus, the secretary of the DGS, who is a member of the governor's executive cabinet, has multiple options. If the furniture cannot be transferred to a different unit of state government, the secretary is instructed by state law to seek the maximum value possible for the state.

After information about how much money the state charged O'Malley for the furniture was publicized, some questioned whether the state had really made an effort to get the best value.

"It doesn't look good to do business this way," Shoemaker said.

Wes Adams, the Anne Arundel County state's attorney, has opened an investigation into O'Malley's furniture purchase, The Baltimore Sun reported earlier this month.

O'Malley's presidential campaign has denied any wrongdoing by the former governor.

"This is a bogus political attack that the Maryland Republicans have tried to make stick, and it's sad that they're wasting taxpayer resources on it," campaign spokesperson Haley Morris told The Sun in an email.

Shoemaker said his bill would ensure more fairness in the process by putting control over the assessment and sale of furnishings in the hands of an independent body.

"There will be an extra layer of protection for the taxpayers," Shoemaker said.

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As of Tuesday afternoon, Shoemaker said he had heard of no planned testimony in opposition to the bill.

A hearing is scheduled for Wednesday at 1 p.m. in the House Health and Government Operations Committee.

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Twitter.com/heatherleighnor

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