For many Marylanders, Louis Goldstein was synonymous with the Comptroller's Office. Goldstein had served longer than any elected state official in Maryland history at the time of his death in 1998. While most people remembered him for his long career in public service and folksy Southern Maryland charm, Louis Goldstein also left a legacy of technological innovation and prudent fiscal management within the Office of the Comptroller. Goldstein's role as Comptroller of the Treasury was instrumental in the development of modern government in the state of Maryland.
Louis L. Goldstein was born in Prince Frederick, Calvert County, Maryland, on March 14, 1913, to Goodman and Belle Butcher Goldstein. The Goldstein family was fairly prominent in Prince Frederick, owning and operating a downtown department store. After graduating high school, Louis earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry from Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland. Upon completing college, however, Goldstein began to turn his attention toward politics. Soon after completing his degree at the University of Maryland Law School, he successfully ran for his first public office as a State Delegate representing Calvert County in 1938. He was elected to the Maryland Senate in 1946 after serving a four year stint in the United States Marine Corps during World War II. As Senator, he became Majority Floor Leader in 1951 and President of the Senate in 1955. During his legislative career, Goldstein was involved with bills that created the Maryland Port Authority, required open government meetings, and prohibited oil discharges in the Chesapeake Bay. While he was the floor manager for the bill that established the controversial retail sales tax, he did not suffer from the political backlash against the tax that cost then-Governor William Preston Lane, Jr., re-election.1
Goldstein was first elected as Comptroller of the Treasury in 1958 on a Democratic ticket that included then Comptroller J. Millard Tawes of Somerset County as Governor, Thomas D'Alesandro of Baltimore City for the United States Senate, and C. Ferdinand Sybert of Howard County for Attorney General.2 Interestingly enough, Maryland's most influential newspaper, the venerable Baltimore Sun, endorsed the Republican opponent in that first election, but would go on to endorse Goldstein in each of the following nine elections.3 Goldstein would hold the office of Comptroller continuously until his death; in fact, the only election he ever lost was the 1964 Democratic primary to Joseph D. Tydings in the race for United States Senate. Many of Goldstein's predecessors as comptroller used the office as a step to becoming governor and, in this tradition, his name was often mentioned as a potential gubernatorial candidate. Goldstein, however, was as loyal to his party as he was to his constituents and job--attending more Democratic national conventions as a delegate or alternate than any other individual--and chose not to run against friends and his Democratic colleagues who always emerged as candidates for the governor's race.4 An indefatigable campaigner, Goldstein was an old-fashioned politician who had an uncanny knack for remembering names and faces and would go to great lengths to meet with constituents---even, on one occasion, climbing a telephone pole to speak with a working lineman.5 On any given day, he could be found meeting with constituents, sometimes as the governor's designated representative, across the state, leaving citizens with his trademark farewell, "God bless you all real good!" He was sometimes criticized for paying more attention to his next campaign than to his current job, but Maryland citizens either disagreed or did not care. The late Lucille Maurer, former Treasurer of Maryland, once referred to him as "the most popular tax collector in Maryland history."6
Those who worked most closely with Louis Goldstein remember him as not only a skilled politician and larger than life personality, but also as an adept fiscal administrator. As a member of the Board of Public Works, Goldstein was well known for his careful scrutiny of even the smallest of state contracts to ensure that taxpayer money was not spent extravagantly in public works projects. Treasurer Richard N. Dixon recalled that, when it came to the Board of Public Works, Goldstein "ran the show. He read every page of those big agenda books before the meetings. He must have spent the weekend going through the items."7 Goldstein's careful attention to the most minute details of proposals that came before the Board at its weekly meetings allowed Maryland to maintain its reputation for being both financially responsible and socially progressive. Goldstein prided himself on having never denied funding for a school construction project. The power granted to Comptroller as a member of the Board of Public Works plays a vital role in maintaining the checks and balances of the Maryland government since the Maryland constitution grants the governor extensive powers.8 He was also instrumental in Maryland obtaining and protecting, even in lean times, its triple-A bond rating with the three top New York investment houses. The triple-A bond rating, a type of credit rating for governments, is the highest Wall Street standard of fiscal soundness and has saved the state millions of dollars over the years by sustaining lower interest rates for government borrowing. Protecting the bond rating took a combination of economic restraint and financial savvy, developed through years of experience in public service and his private business ventures into real estate, tree farming, and newspaper publishing. One of the most notable examples of these characteristics came in 1987; just months before the catastrophic stock market crash of 1987, Goldstein moved $2.5 billion of the state pension fund out of stocks and into corporate bonds. In 1998, Maryland was only one of eight states with a triple-A bond rating. The state of Maryland and Goldstein himself received several awards for responsible fiscal management and accuracy in public disclosure.9 These awards included the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting by the Government Finance Officers Association, awarded to Maryland nineteen consecutive times, the Distinguished Financial Leadership Award from the Association of Government Accountants, and the Scantlebury Award from the Joint Financial Management Improvement Program of the U.S. Government. The National Association of State Comptroller's created an award in Goldstein's honor in 1997, the "Louis L. Goldstein Award for Excellence." In an unprecedented honor for a surviving and incumbent public official, the Maryland Treasury building was named the Louis L. Goldstein Treasury Building in 1984.10
An equally important, but less well-known aspect of Louis Goldstein's administration as comptroller was the dramatic technological advances he brought to the work of the Comptroller's Office. Maryland was the first state to employ a computerized tax collection and processing system and to share income tax return information with the IRS. These systems allowed the Comptroller's Office to process tax returns and pursue delinquent tax payers more efficiently. At the time of Goldstein's death in 1998, final preparations were underway to allow Maryland citizens to file personal income tax returns electronically for the first time. Louis Goldstein was also one of the first state officials to recognize the potential problems of the Y2K computer bug for state computer systems, allowing Maryland to be among the first states to be prepared for the coming of the year 2000. Goldstein himself never owned a computer, but he saw the importance of technology for maintaining efficiency in the Office of the Comptroller.11 His diligence made Maryland a model for the nation in the field of government accounting.
Goldstein's commitment to technological innovation came at a particularly opportune time in the history of the Office of the Comptroller. Tax systems across the nation changed to make income and sales taxes replace property taxes as the primary source of government revenue, reflecting the demise of land as a significant source of wealth. In Maryland, this shift in the tax structure required the state to shoulder many responsibilities previously reserved for local governments. Public works projects and social welfare programs became part of the state government's regular duties for the first time. Maryland became the tenth state in the nation to provide financial support for public schools and the rapid development of the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area throughout Goldstein's tenure necessitated extensive road construction to support the growing population. The Comptroller's Office played a pivotal role in generating and managing the revenues needed for this extension of the duties of the state government.12
The growing responsibilities of the state government had other unforeseen consequences. Legislative apportionments had not kept pace with the rapid expansion of the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area, leaving the sparsley populated areas of the Eastern Shore, Southern and Western Maryland with a disproportionate amount of power in the state legislature. Legislative reapportionment left the Maryland's dominant Democratic Party in shambles for a time, but Goldstein was left unscathed by the shift in electoral power. Goldstein was as popular with his urban and suburban constituents as with his rural ones and continued to win elections by impressive margins.13
Louis Goldstein also built for himself a reputation of being an unfailingly honest politician in an era when constituents became increasingly concerned with corruption among public officials. He could not completely escape rumors that he had used his office for personal financial gain at times, such as when he sold land to the state and Calvert County government to build a satellite campus for Charles County Community College. Nothing came of such rumors. The professional ethics of his position prohibited him from investing in the stock market, so he owned extensive tracts of land throughout southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore and had long since made himself a wealthy man through shrewd real estate investments. To dispel even any appearance of impropriety, Goldstein abstained from voting when this land purchase came before the Board of Public Works.14 This type of deal might not have come under such close public scrutiny when Goldstein first came to office, but, after the 1970s, in the wake of the Watergate scandal within the federal government and questions of corruption surrounding the Spiro Agnew and Marvin Mandel administrations within the state government, Marylanders increasingly demanded significant oversight over the actions of their elected officials. Goldstein also saw his role on the Board of Public Works change to consider issues of race and gender equity as well as economics in the awarding of state contracts. Along the same lines, naysayers often questioned Goldstein's willingness to hire minorities and women, but this charge was never substantiated and the Comptroller's Office went to some lengths to ensure that affirmative action programs were implemented.15
The last half of the twentieth century proved to be a period of significant change for Maryland, both socially and in its political institutions. Louis Goldstein led the Comptroller's Office through these changes in his forty years heading the office. The length of Goldstein's career may be what most Marylanders remember him for, but he was far more than just a popular politician. Louis Goldstein used his long career in public service well; he maintained tough fiscal standards for the state even when the economic future looked bleak and he had the foresight to make his office a technological innovator in the field of government accounting. Maryland citizens may miss the personality that Louis Goldstein brought to the state government, but his legacy remains so long as Maryland remains one of the most economically stable states in the nation.
Louis L. Goldstein, MSA SC 3520-1579 Sources Page
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