For the fifth year in a row, the comptroller has tried to save taxpayers more than $500,000 in advertising costs, and representatives of the newspaper industry have managed to block the cut.
State law has long required the comptroller to publish a list of unclaimed property and put it in local newspapers. The unclaimed property includes items found in abandoned safe deposit boxes, and forgotten savings and stock accounts.
“Over the years we have reunited over $300 million in cash and items to rightful owners,” the comptroller’s website says.
The list of unclaimed property, with the name of the original owner, has been online for several years in a searchable database, and the comptroller would like to stop printing a hefty newspaper tabloid.
According to this year’s budget analysis, “In fiscal 2012, the Comptroller’s Office spent $523,794 to print 912,721 newspaper supplements containing the names of 75,102 individuals who had unclaimed property turned over to the State in 2011. In addition, the agency spent $148,631 to have these supplements distributed newspapers throughout Maryland. The agency reunited 54,372 individuals with their abandoned property in fiscal 2012, which is a significant increase from 4,924 individuals in fiscal 2011.”
Comptroller Peter Franchot has proposed running newspaper ads quarterly to alert people to the unclaimed property database online, which includes the names of property owners from previous years. The printed version only lists property owners from the previous year.
Delegates reject staff recommendation
The motion to reject the recommendation of the Department of Legislative Services analyst was made by Del. Gail Bates, a Howard County Republican who is usually a budget hawk eager to cut spending. In an interview Thursday, Bates said, “in the scope of our budget, it’s a minimal thing.”
“There are still a lot of senior citizens that look in the newspaper,” Bates said. She said she had not been contacted by the newspapers on the issue.
Del. Guy Guzzone, D-Howard, who chairs the subcommittee that unanimously rejected the cut, also mentioned senior citizens but said he had been visited by representatives of the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association, which opposes the move.
The comptroller’s office said if the newspaper supplement was eliminated, the senior citizens could access the unclaimed property database by calling the comptroller’s office, visiting one of 12 local offices or getting assistance at a local library to go online.
The comptroller’s office declined to comment about the subcommittee’s action.
In 2008 and 2009, Franchot had sought unsuccessfully to eliminate the requirement in the law, and legislative analysts have now taken up the cause. But newspaper publishers have been able to block the change and retain the revenue from the printing and advertising.