February 17, 2010

Podcast: New appproach to historic credit questioned

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By Natalie Neumann
Natalie@MarylandReporter.com

Members of the Senate budget committee are skeptical of a bill that would restructure a popular tax credit for historic redevelopment. The bill is called the Sustainable Communities Act of 2010.

The 14-year-old Heritage Structure Rehabilitation Tax Credit is set to expire after this year. It has been used to encourage homeowners and developers to fix up properties deemed historic by state and federal officials.

But if this bill passes, it would distribute $50 million dollars in tax credits for a variety of projects. Those would include environmentally-friendly, but non-historic renovations.

The move was intended to broaden the appeal of a bill that failed in the same committee last year. Historic properties tend to be concentrated in urban areas and the existing program has disproportionately benefited Baltimore City.

Chairman Ulysses Currie, a Democrat, says the legislature has been working on the historic tax credit for many years.

“Last session we worked on it all session and couldn’t get the bill passed and now you come here with a bill that’s incredibly tougher, challenging than bills before.”

He criticized that the bill should have come in earlier. However, it was introduced on Jan. 22, nine days after this year’s session began.

Supporters say the bill would create jobs, spur economic development and help the Chesapeake Bay. Donald Fry is President of the Greater Baltimore Committee.  He says no other program has been as successful at revitalizing buildings than the heritage tax credit.

“This bill just broadens it to provide some enhanced benefits consistent with smart growth principles.”

But opponents have doubts about the new uses for the cash.

Republican Sen. David Brinkley says the bill would stretch funds that were intended for historic buildings.

“When I see so many different people clamoring for the same dollars, we are gutting the heritage tax program. We are gutting what the original intent of what this whole thing was.”

Supporters say non-historic buildings wouldn’t receive the same amount tax credit and the application process of applying for such credits would be streamlined into one.