House approves public-private partnership bill, threatening pending State Center lawsuit

By Justin Snow

The House of Delegates approved a controversial bill backed by Gov. Martin O’Malley that would better define the state’s policy on public-private partnerships for major construction projects after a spirited debate on Monday.

State Center rendering

An artist's rendering of the finished State Center project.

The bill, originally backed by the O’Malley administration and written by a task force that looked at improving public-private partnerships, would provide an improved process for the state to review and coordinate infrastructure project proposals from private developers.

CORRECTION: However, there was fierce debate in the House chamber over a committee amendment adopted Saturday that would expedite the legal process for the defendants of public-private partnership lawsuits. This amendment would allow them to go directly to the state’s second highest court, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, without having to first go to the circuit court.

If approved by the Senate, the amended bill would retroactively affect a lawsuit currently pending in the courts against the $1.5 billion State Center development project in downtown Baltimore. The new complex would replace dated government buildings with offices leased to state agencies as well as apartments and shops.

The project has been on hold since December 2010 when a group of Baltimore landlords and business owners, called the Coalition to Save Downtown Baltimore, filed a lawsuit against the state claiming the project was not competitively bid and would have a devastating impact on properties in the downtown area, which have struggled with high vacancy rates for years.

Opponents argued the bill would effectively eliminate the pending lawsuit and deny the right of business owners to have their day in court.

Although the chamber approved the legislation 81-52 on Monday, opponents attempted to halt the bill one last time, saying it would open the door to corruption and shady deals.

“This modern, progressive General Assembly is ready to vote against transparency, against competitive bidding, against disclosure, and we are ready to vote for shadow government in the 21st century,” declared Del. Patrick McDonough, R-Baltimore County, adding that taxpayers would end up footing the bill as state agencies would pay $36 per square foot for office space built by the state.

“Shame, shame, shame,” McDonough thundered, before calling the bill a “disgrace.”

Opposition was echoed on the other side of the aisle by Montgomery County Democrat Luiz Simmons, who said arguments from supporters that the development would create jobs were no different from arguments he heard when the legislature was battling corruption in the 1970s upon his arrival. Simmons said some people never learn.

“This is a casual and suspect sweetheart arrangement that is going to be confirming special favors,” declared Simmons. “We are sowing the seeds of corruption.”

Speaking to after the House vote, the attorney for the lawsuit plaintiffs, Alan Rifkin, said the retroactive amendment was a blatant attempt to end-run a matter still pending before the courts and prevent facts from emerging in a public trial.

“It’s an affront to the integrity of the entire judicial system and clearly intended to affect one and only one piece of litigation,” Rifkin stated.

Rifkin said that if the bill passes the Senate, the group will challenge the legislation’s constitutionality in court.

About The Author

Len Lazarick

Len Lazarick was the founding editor and publisher of and is currently the president of its nonprofit corporation and chairman of its board He was formerly the State House bureau chief of the daily Baltimore Examiner from its start in April 2006 to its demise in February 2009. He was a copy editor on the national desk of the Washington Post for eight years before that, and has spent decades covering Maryland politics and government.


  1. Dukehoopsfan

    “opponents attempted to halt the bill one last time, saying it would open the door to corruption and shady deals.”  That ship sailed a long time ago.  This is just another boondoggle designed to line the pockets of a few of our current governor’s cronies at the taxpayers expense.  Our new state slogan should be “Chicago on the Chesapeake”.

  2. Whcampbell

    More dirty tricks from the Kleptocrats!  They are pretty sure that they will lose the ongoing State Center lawsuit, so they will retroactively make it lawful to break the State’s procurement regulations.  They have no shame!  The misrule of a one party state, like Maryland is a wonder to behold.  Crony capitalism and fiscal abuse of its citizens.  The best view of this situation will be through the rearview mirror leaving Maryland for the last time.

  3. abby_adams

    To all disappointed Democrats, you were warned. Giving O’Malley another four years is not going to waste. Transparency isn’t a real concern only fodder for media propaganda in the next election cycle. The Dems are depending on voters having short attention spans come the next election.

    • publicizetheprimaries

      True progressives should do what the ‘republicans’ have done and campaign and vote with gusto in the primaries, voting out democrats that so easily allow integrity to fall, and voting IN true progressives that will insist on it. Democrat does not mean progressive or honest, and although some Reps are more honest than some Dems, the Rep’s social issues card makes them a complete atrocity to human rights

  4. MB

    Please post which members of the House voted for this law.

    • meganpoinski

       The vote tally for this bill is not up yet, but it will be available at this link:

      The House takes a bit of time to make sure the tally is correct before posting it. We will try to get a link up directly to the tally once it is available.

      –Megan Poinski, Associate Editor

  5. Mpmdecart

    I am a disapponted democrat….the md democrated party is a proud ,ego, corrupt group……who always  uses the other party to distract the people
    from the their own huge failure to have honest leadership.

    for one leader its always been about moving out and up the ladder.matter what the cost to the citizens of md. 


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