More restrictions put on power of Board of Public Works by House bill

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The Board of Public Works. Governor's Office photo

By Diane Rey

For Maryland Reporter

Gov. Larry Hogan’s recent attempts to acquire land from the federal government for a Redskins stadium and to expand the Baltimore-Washington Parkway have led to yet another effort to limit the power of the Board of Public Works made up of the governor, comptroller and state treasurer.  The bill passed the House of Delegates Thursday in a party-line vote after lengthy floor debate.

As amended, HB1282 would require a justification and cost-benefit analysis to be submitted to the Legislative Policy Committee for property valued at $500,000 or more. That body, made up mostly of the legislature’s Democratic leaders, would have 45 days to respond before the acquisition could go to the Board of Public Works for approval.

The bill also stipulates that BPW may not approve an acquisition of property from the federal government until a study has been done on the ongoing fiscal effect of the acquisition on the state.

Republican lawmakers questioned the need for the change in procedure and the length of the 45-day review period. The House of Delegates approved the bill 96 to 38 along party lines Thursday night.

“I think it’s odd we’re changing something that’s worked in the past,” said Del. Steven Arentz, a Republican delegate from the Eastern Shore.

“The bill is a response to concerns expressed about the administration’s plans to acquire Baltimore-Washington Parkway and Oxon Cove Park from the federal government,” said a statement from its floor leader, Del. Al Carr Jr., D-Montgomery. “The bill would provide notice, reporting and the opportunity for comment to the legislative branch of government before the Board of Public Works could acquire property greater than $500,000 in value.”

Baltimore-Washington Parkway

Hogan sent a letter to Maryland’s congressional delegation in March asking them to support his proposal to take over the federal portion of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway from the National Park Service in order to improve road conditions.

In response, Democratic legislators sent their own letter to the congressional delegation March 28 “to express our strong opposition to Governor Hogan’s request” and asking them “to continue pushing the Department of Interior-National Park Service to repair the Parkway and maintain it in a state of good repair.”

Their letter said Hogan also wanted to add four toll lanes to the parkway, which they opposed.

Redskins stadium

The governor also made news last year when he proposed swapping state-owned land in Western Maryland for federally owned parkland in Prince George’s County as a site for a new Redskins stadium. The stadium proposal has since been dropped.

Carr said in the floor debate these were “things we found out in the press not in the course of our jobs as legislators.”

Del. Susan Krebs, R-Carroll, one of three Republicans who voted against the bill in the Health and Government Operations Committee on Monday, said she objects to holding up future state land acquisitions because Democrats disagreed with the governor’s actions on two projects.

“It’s one more bureaucratic step in the process and there’s no explanation why … They want to show the governor who’s boss,” she said.

MDOT says bill would hold up projects

Officials from the Maryland Department of Transportation submitted oral and written testimony opposing the bill at a hearing before the committee March 5.

“Passage of this legislation would slow the land acquisition process for MDOT projects, affecting delivery timelines for future projects as well as current projects which have received federal and state approval and are already underway,” MDOT Secretary Pete Rahn and other transportation officials said in a letter.

The letter says the legislation would negatively affect projects in state highways, mass transit, aviation and the Port of Baltimore.

Originally, the bill applied to land acquisitions appraised at $100,000 or more. The committee amended the bill to exclude property acquired through Program Open Space, the Rural Legacy Program, land preservation funds, the Community Parks and Playgrounds Program, the Heritage Conservation Fund, and the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation.

Del. Jerry Clark, R-Calvert and St. Mary’s, offered a floor amendment that also exempts federally owned military property. It was adopted by the House.

The bill’s fiscal note includes $150,000 in FY 2020 to hire two analysts to conduct the required cost-benefit analyses.

“The idea of this bill is to protect the interests of the state,” said Del. Anne Healey, D-Prince George’s, who sponsored the bill. “If the state acquires a piece of land from the federal government, we want to know what comes with it, what costs are involved …We as a body, as a legislature, will be informed.”

She noted that BPW “still has the ultimate authority” on land purchases.

A spokesperson for the governor would not say whether the governor would veto the bill if it passes the Senate.

“The governor looks forward to reviewing this legislation when it reaches his desk,” said Shareese DeLeaver-Churchill in an email.

Reach Diane Rey at reywriting@gmail.com