Comptroller Peter Franchot is being criticized for comparing the lack of air conditioning in Baltimore County and Baltimore City public schools to contaminated drinking water in Flint, Mich.
He made the comparison during the Board of Public Works meeting Wednesday before Gov. Larry Hogan, Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp and Franchot voted to allow schools to use state construction money to install portable air conditioners.
Franchot compared the dedication of air conditioning activists in Maryland to the people of Flint, who long complained about their drinking water only to find that it was contaminated with lead.
"We were all dismissed as a bunch of malcontents," Franchot said. He later added: "This is our Flint."
House Speaker Michael E. Busch was not keen on the comparison.
"Flint, Michigan, is a life-threatening situation facing families and children. It's a national crisis. It hardly compares to initiatives of air conditioning in schools that we will try to alleviate in the budget process," Busch, an Anne Arundel Democrat, said in an interview Thursday.
Francot's office declined to further explain his statements.
"We're not going into what the comptroller said at the meeting," said Franchot's spokesman, Andrew Friedson. "He said what he said ... He feels strongly it is a public health and safety issue."
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, meanwhile, was unhappy that the Board of Public Works injected politics into decisions about school construction.
Miller said the state's school construction decisions should be made to serve the people, "and not the ego of elected officials."
Miller suggested that Franchot, a Democrat, has trumped up the importance of adding air conditioning in schools at a time when some school districts need to deal with overcrowded classrooms and other building issues.
"We'll worry about portable air conditioning at some other time," said Miller, a Calvert County Democrat.
Miller also was not happy with Franchot's repeated criticism of Baltimore County, where 48 school buildings are without air conditioning.
The county plans to add central air to all of them by 2021 — or by 2019 if the state will contribute more money. Franchot and Hogan, a Republican, have been blasting Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz on the air conditioning issue for months.
"The comptroller's wishes to embarrass the county executive of Baltimore County, I don't believe are going to be realized," Miller said. "Those views are a long way from reaching home plate."
Kamenetz, a Democrat, has defended his progress on air conditioning more schools and his spokeswoman called the Board of Public Works' policy change "pure political theater."
Friedson, suggested it was Miller's fault that the issue ended up at the Board of Public Works. The Interagency Commission on School Construction — which makes decisions on funding for schools — considered making the policy change on paying for portable air conditioning units in December, but Miller's appointee to the commission balked.
"The comptroller was pleased to collaborate with Governor Hogan to clean up the Senate president's mess on behalf of tens of thousands of Maryland's students and teachers," Friedson said.
A General Assembly committee has the option to review and vote on the policy change. Sen. Roger Manno, co-chairman of that panel, has said his group "will take a very long and thorough look at it."