Wednesday marks the 100th day since Brooke Lierman (D) was sworn in as Maryland’s 34th comptroller.
The first woman to hold the position in its 172-year history, Lierman is still putting her mark on the office.
“I think the job of comptroller is really unique in American state government,” Lierman said. “If you look at the Constitution, the state comptroller has the general superintendence of the fiscal affairs of the state. That is a broad mandate in our Constitution.”
“…So that means, yes, we are the revenue administrator — which is a nicer way of saying ‘tax collector,’” Lierman grinned. “But it’s also about how we spend our money. This agency sees every dollar in and every dollar out of our state government.”
In addition to being determined to modernize the state’s tax and revenue infrastructure, Lierman said she also intends to use her role on the state’s uniquely powerful Board of Public Works to ensure equity and opportunity in state contracting and to protect state infrastructure and investments from climate change threats.
“It’s making sure that we’re really focused on procurement as an important part of our economy and ensuring that we aren’t just using taxpayer dollars to erect buildings, but to actually build communities and to do that in an equitable way,” Lierman said.
The start of her tenure has not been without controversy. For about a week in March, the agency’s web site and tax filing system were partly offline.
Lierman said the problem was caused when IT specialists were performing routine maintenance of the office’s databases. When they noticed a data set that was almost full, they attempted to add more capacity, which failed and brought down the whole system, Lierman said.
“The IT team was working on it nonstop for five days until they got it back up,” Lierman said.
While people were able to file during the outage, the comptroller’s office was not able to process those returns.
Once the system was back up and running, most everything was processed in 48 hours, Lierman said.
Ultimately, Lierman said her office processed about 2.5 million tax returns and sent out 1.7 million refunds valued at more than $2.25 billion.
Lierman and the comptroller’s agency introduced seven bills this legislative session; six passed and four have been signed by the governor so far.
One of her top priorities was creating an “Office of the Taxpayer Advocate” to better assist Marylanders with their tax needs. That bill will take effect if signed by Gov. Wes Moore (D).
Another bill, already signed into law, will coordinate with several key offices, including the Office of the Treasurer and Department of Budget and Management, to overhaul the state’s financial management infrastructure, including the state’s general ledger that enables all payments and fund transfers in the state.
Lierman, who spent eight years in the House of Delegates before becoming comptroller, said her office also received more than $7 million this legislative session for technology and staffing improvements.
“Louis Goldstein used to brag that he brought the Office of the Comptroller from pencil and paper to the mainframe,” Lierman said, mentioning one of her legendary predecessors, who spent 40 years on the job. “Now, it is time for me to take us from the mainframe to the cloud.”
The limitations of the current system are myriad and Lierman sees a lot of opportunity to expand state tax policies with a more nimble system in the future.
“The first two contracts I signed when I became comptroller were cybersecurity related,” Lierman said.
Early in tax season, she appeared with other government officials and health advocates to promote the state’s “Easy Enrollment” program, which allows Marylanders to check a box on their tax returns to get more information about health insurance plans available to them — often at low or no cost.
Passed in 2019, the program still has not achieved its full vision because of limitations in the comptroller’s technology.
Within a few years, Lierman said, she hopes to be able to enable Maryland tax filers to enroll in Medicaid – without an additional step – while filing their tax forms.
Other changes she wants to make include a more user-friendly interface for filing taxes, more self-help instructions on the state’s site to help people file their returns and maximize refunds and tax credits, and streamlining customer service.
This article was originally published on MarylandMatters.org and is republished with permission.