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ACasino Tax Break is a Tough Sell

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How about a tax break for a business that generates more than $500 million a year in revenues?
Anne Arundel County Councilman Pete Smith admits it’s a tough sell. His district includes the Live! Casino, and he wants the county to fulfill its commitment to provide funding for an enlarged conference center and meeting space at the 17-story luxury hotel the casino owners will open next year.
Here’s the pitch he’s schedule to make to the council this month: A couple of years ago, the County Council passed a tax increment financing plan (TIF) to help the Cordish Companies that runs the casino build a larger event and conference center than it was planning, in order to accommodate high school graduations and community college functions.
As it turned out, Cordish couldn’t benefit from the TIF as planned, but did expand the facility based on that commitment. “They never issued the bond,” Smith said.
To fulfill that commitment, Smith now wants to give Cordish a tax break of up to $1.2 million a year for the next 30 years.
“If we do nothing, [we] would be spending way less,” Smith said. But by granting the tax break, “we keep our word.
“I want our kids to graduate here,” said Smith. “I want them to walk across this stage.” Currently, Anne Arundel high schools use the Show Place Arena, in Upper Marlboro, that can handle the larger crowds.
The original TIF was a tough sell, passing by only a 4-3 vote, and Smith acknowledges the tax break will be, too.
It’s not as if the casino is not paying taxes. In addition to property taxes, the casino generates $20 million a year in local impact grants, besides the $220 million that goes to the state’s Education Trust Fund. And it provides about 3,000 jobs.
Smith believes that most of the people opposed to the tax break are actually opposed to the gambling at the casino, but he says that issue was decided by voters in 2008.
“I represent everyone in my council district,” Smith said. “It is my job to protect their interests.”
We’ll see if Smith can persuade three other council members to go along with him.

Parkway Plans
The whole Arundel Mills complex, with its stores, casino and hotels, has grown more difficult to reach, especially along the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. It was once a smooth alternative to I-95, but now experiences slowdowns through much of the day.
In September, Gov. Larry Hogan announced a proposal to add four toll lanes to the Parkway between Baltimore and Washington using a public-private partnership.
The plans sound like traffic relief for a major highway, but they face environmental and logistical problems. First, Maryland needs to acquire the rights to the portion of the highway nearest D.C. from the U.S. Park Service. Hogan said he has already initiated those talks.
Many people wondered how much of the tree-lined roadway would be gobbled up. There would be the required environmental impact statements. In follow-up stories, Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn suggested tunneling under the current roadway could be one of the options.
Democrats running for governor were quick to criticize Hogan’s plans, which also included toll lanes on the Capital Beltway and I-270. The candidates jumped on the lack of transit options. They also said creating so-called “Lexus” lanes would establish one set of highways for people who can afford to pay the tolls, and the existing roadways for people who can’t.

Clowning Around
One of the consequences of partisan gerrymandering of legislative districts is that some districts are “packed” with Democrats or Republicans, and the races are essentially determined in the party primaries.
One of those districts in Anne Arundel County is District 33, the most Republican of the districts, which includes Severna Park and stretches to Crofton. The district has a Republican senator, “Big Ed” Reilly, and three Republican delegates, Michael Malone, Tony McConkey and Sid Saab.
Republican County Councilman Jerry Walker, limited to two terms on the council, is planning on running for one of those delegate seats, and the delegates are not taking kindly to the challenge. In an unusual move, they got the House Republican Caucus Committee, the incumbent-protection arm of the GOP delegates, to send a color mailer depicting Walker as a clown.
“Which one of these clowns blocked your property tax cut?” the mailer asked, showing a picture of Walker next to that of a clown. The mailer claims that Walker voted with the three council Democrats 68% of the time, and takes money from unions and special interests.
“Republicans cannot trust Jerry Walker,” the mailer said, eight months away from the Republican primary.
Walker has long been a maverick against the party establishment. He’s had a long-running feud with Republican County Executive Steve Schuh. In 2013, Walker voted with the three Democrats on the council to choose Laura Neumann over Schuh as county executive to replace John Leopold, who resigned after a court conviction.
Leopold has not slunk away into obscurity. He has been seen door knocking in District 31B and is expected to try to reclaim the seat he once held in the House of Delegates. Del. Meaghan Simonaire, 27, daughter of Sen. Bryan Simonaire and the youngest member of the House when elected, has said she will not be seeking re-election, as she had originally planned.