The Machine Strikes Back for State Center

The machine is pushing back against the Maryland Public Policy Institute’s blistering critique of the $1.5 billion State Center boondoggle. MPPI pegs the cost of phase one to taxpayers at $127 million.

From Jay Hancock’s blog:

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One of their main arguments is that MPPI failed to add up the project’s benefits in their study. This is a common response when somebody questions a public project. The development will generate $81 million in taxes, ground rents and parking fees! It’ll be a “world class transit-oriented development.” It’ll create “thousands of jobs.”

Yet MPPI did take a look at the project’s benefits and found them so ethereal they couldn’t be quantified. From page 4 of the report:

Proponents of the project argue that in addition to whatever costs may be incurred, the project will also bring significant benefits to both Baltimore City and to Maryland. These include some soft, hard-to-quantify benefits such as revitalization of the area surrounding State Center and construction, retail, and facilities-related jobs. We consider these benefits to be “soft” because they rely on completion of multiple phases of the project, and it is often impossible to determine how many jobs are “created” versus shifted or relocated. Such benefits are certainly possible, but at this point their value remains impossible to estimate or rely upon.

A group of Baltimore businesses is suing to halt the project over violation of state procurment laws. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, an ardent State Center proponent, said the city will push forward “even if it means going against wealthy and powerful downtown interests. … It is time to stop suing and start doing.”

Is Rawlings-Blake really fighting against “wealthy” and “powerful” interests or on behalf of other wealthy and powerful interests?

Take a look at some of the political contributions of the State Center developers and it’s clear the mayor, the O’Malley administration, and the state’s Democratic machine aren’t exactly standing up for the little guy.

State Center Contributors

Last summer the Baltimore Business Journal reported:

The developers behind a massive redevelopment of the $1.5 billion State Center office complex have enlisted some of Baltimore’s most prominent minority business owners to replace Ronald Lipscomb’s Doracon Contracting.

Harbor Bank of Maryland CEO Joseph Haskins and Eddie Brown, of Brown Capital Management, will help fund and develop the 28-acre campus of aging office buildings in the city’s Midtown neighborhood…

Doracon withdrew from the development team for undisclosed reasons in May 2009. The company is owned by Ronald Lipscomb, who pled guilty in June 2009 to a count of conspiring to violate campaign finance laws in connection with the City Hall corruption trial.

Lipscomb was the connected developer Governor O’Malley called “a man of vision talent and commitment to the greater good.” Lipscomb, like the State Center developers, poured lavish campaign contributions upon Maryland Democrats. Sheila Dixon may have resigned in disgrace, but the Democratic controlled political-developer complex remains.

Hundred of millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies for connected developers? Yes. Property tax relief for the lumpen proles? Not so much. Baltimore City property owners would do well to remember these campaign contributions the next time O’Malley and Rawlings-Blake scoff at the idea of lowering the city’s onerous property tax rate.

Updated With Correction

Ramsey Flynn from the Coaltoion to Save Baltimore wrote to inform me that their lawsuit against the State Center project is not challenging the Ehrlich administration’s 2005decision but rather procurement violations from 2009 and 2010.

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