Hotel boosters have zeroed out in Annapolis so far — capital budget bills HB151/SB171 delete last year’s grants

So far there’s no sign that this year’s City taxpayer-funded lobbying effort on behalf of state aid for the downtown hotel is bearing any fruit. Capital budget bills HB151 and its twin SB171 both list $8.5m of grants sought last year but in this year’s first budget bills they are ‘bracketed out.’ Apparently these bills started with holdover items from last year in text, but in the first version square brackets are placed around items proposed to be deleted.

A number of us were concerned to read the bills and see the grants pop up again. Without seeing the square brackets it looked like the lobbying effort had born fruit. In fact it means the present intention is to delete them.

Lobbying

The City has admitted to shelling out $10,750 this year to a Chamber of Commerce-led lobbying effort on behalf of state aid for the hotel project. Their contract is with Greenwill Consulting of Annapolis.

The County is believed to be contributing also but hasn’t yet revealed how much.

Over three legislative sessions the total City expenditure on lobbyists for the hotel project totals $86,000.

In addition to the City and the County dollars, money for the Annapolis lobbying has come from the Tourism Council, the Downtown Partnership and Plamondon Hospitality Partners, the City-selected developer for the project.

We’re guessing that with its City ‘partners’ contributions added, the amount spent on these begging expeditions runs to a total of around $150,000.

Earlier report on taxpayers funded lobbying:

http://frederickhotelboondoggle.us/2017/02/city-continues-lobbying-for-dhcc-10750-being-spent-this-session-in-annapolis/

This year’s key House and Senate Capital Bond bills HB151 and its identical twin SB171 haver gone to their first reading. Neither bill has any staff report or yet gone to committee hearing for debate, let alone a vote. But these are the texts they are working from.

First bracketed item relating to the downtown hotel at p33 of HB151 would authorize a $1 million grant to the Mayor and Board of Aldermen for the Frederick hotel and conference center, conditional — as a year ago — on a 4-party Memorandum of Understanding between the Maryland Stadium Authority, the City, the County and the developer that somehow minimizes the state contribution while maximizing the money from the other three parties. The budget committees can review and comment on the 4-party MOU, the bill states. None of that will fly, and the $1,000,000 has the ‘delete’ square bracket around it.

Second hotel item at p39 would provide a grant of $7,500,000 to the Mayor and Board of Aldermen toward the Downtown Frederick Hotel and Conference Center which the bill informs us is located in Frederick County. That’s it for the second one — it’s an unconditional grant. Square brackets indicate an intention to delete this provision along with other items on either side of it.

Last year the legislation ‘pre-authorized two $7.5m grants in consecutive fiscal years the first in the coming year FY2018 and another $7.5 in FY2019.

The City had been counting on getting the $1m grant last year but was unable to fulfill the condition of negotiating a 4-party MOU because the state Stadium Authority (MSA) withdrew its support for the project, complaining the project had been developed without its involvement and there was no clear role for the authority in the project.

hb151:

http://mgaleg.maryland.gov/2017RS/bills/hb/hb0151F.pdf

The Senate twin sb171:

http://mgaleg.maryland.gov/2017RS/bills/sb/sb0171f.pdf

Governor’s budget de-authorizes last years $1 million, says DH&CC ‘cancelled’

The Governor’s capital budget has no grant for the hotel project. In fact it deauthorizes the $1 million granted last year saying on page xiii that the rationale for deauthorization is ‘Project cancelled’.

see: http://www.dbm.maryland.gov/budget/Documents/capbudget/FY2018CapitalBudgetSummary.pdf

BACKGROUND: Unlike the operating budget, the General Assembly can add to, or delete projects from the capital bond program, which is treated as a supplementary appropriation bill and is only acted upon after the operating budget bill has been passed. The capital bond bill goes to the Governor and he has line item veto power.

COMMENT: It seems incredible that anyone from Frederick would ask the state for money for the hotel project now. Since last fall four state agencies have given it the thumbs down:
1. Maryland Stadium Authority’s board of directors were unanimous in the view that the project was a mismanaged mess, and said they wanted nothing more to do with it.
2. MEDCO which set impossible conditions for working with it.
3. Department of Housing and Community Development said ‘Sorry, nothing’ after being asked for a $1 million grant.
4. Maryland Historical Trust which (a) put the site’s old tannery building and the site itself on a Don’t Touch list called the National Register of Historic Places, (b) made a withering critique of the inadequacies of the archeology submission and (c) said the City needs to make present a concrete proposal for the site defining the area impacted in order to complete the regulatory process.

Meanwhile design work has halted. City permitting agencies had been told last summer they would get plans by November last. Then in January this year they were told the plans would come in April this year. Now in March they are told there will be further delays to mid-year.

The project faces major challenges getting approvals from the City’s own Historic Preservation Commission and its Planning Commission with their extensive workshops and public hearing processes. From the lodging of plans to an approved project could take a full year. And what’s approved could be very different from the project as specified in the developer-City MOU.

Why should the state be asked to get behind a City sponsored project that eight years after the first consultants were hired is still not through the City’s own permitting and public consultation procedures?

Of course that didn’t stop them asking for state money last year.

They were defeated in the regular appropriations process. Both the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Finance Committee heard the arguments for and against and said: No, not ready or not right.

Only by an end run around the established appropriations process — an insider deal at the end of the session — were grants approved.

Maybe they’ll try pull a similar stunt this year?

Like a last minute motion to “remove square brackets from lines 9 through 14 of page 39” of HB151.

2017.03.07

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