Senators debating whether to include dedicated Prince George’s County seat on Stadium Authority board
Legislation to change the makeup of the Maryland Stadium Authority remained in limbo late Friday night after a Senate committee passed the bill early in the day, only to amend it hours later by dropping a provision for a Prince George’s County representative on the panel.
House Bill 542 would have given the Prince George’s County executive authority to make an appointment to the Stadium Authority and provide for $20 million in bond money to be available for bus rapid transit system grants each year in Montgomery County.
The legislation initially raised the number of seats on the Stadium Authority board to 10 — an even number, with no provision for a tie-breaker vote — giving Prince George’s County a designated seat, the same as Baltimore City.
But in a late afternoon meeting, the Budget and Taxation Committee voted to strip the Prince George’s County seat from the bill, as the rest of the Senate considered other legislation. The change apparently was recommended by Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City), who had told senators that County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) okayed losing the seat.
As the evening turned to night, Prince George’s senators tried to reach Alsobrooks for clarification, but were unsuccessful. They even tried Gov. Wes Moore’s office, in the hope that he would intercede to help keep the board seat, but the response was inconclusive.
“We’re gonna get this changed,” insisted Sen. Joanne C. Benson (D-Prince George’s).
The new board appointment, subject to the advice and consent of the Senate, can be traced to an appropriation bill last year that authorized the Stadium Authority to sell up to $400 million in bonds to pay for construction of buildings — except for a stadium – in the so-called Blue Line Corridor in Prince George’s County.
The money was approved as an effort to jump-start transit-oriented development along the Washington Metrorail’s Blue Line.
The mayor of Baltimore — where two stadiums for professional sports teams were built — is empowered to appoint a member of the Stadium Authority board. The governor names six members, and the Senate president and House speaker each name one member.
Del. Benjamin S. Barnes (D-Anne Arundel and Prince George’s), chair of the House Appropriations Committee, amended routine legislation for the Stadium Authority to include the provision for the additional Prince George’s seat. In explaining it, he specifically mentioned the Baltimore seat.
The annual $20 million for Bus Rapid Transit Fund grants was also included in the pending bill to allow Montgomery County to tap into the $27 million in State Lottery Fund that is deposited each year in the Maryland Stadium Facilities Fund for disbursal to eligible grantees.
The new bill would establish a Bus Rapid Transit Fund in the Maryland Department of Transportation where the lottery money would be deposited each year. Montgomery County, as one of the few “eligible” jurisdictions in the state, would be able to float bonds for bus rapid transit protects, based on the $20 million each year.
Before the start of what would turn into a 12 1/2-hour workday for senators, Budget & Taxation passed the bill the House sent over in a 45-minute voting session that started at 10:15 a.m.
In an interview a short time later, Sen. Guy J. Guzzone (D-Howard), chair of Budget and Taxation, said “We voted it, but I’m holding the bill.”
After a beat, Guzzone added, “I don’t know why I’m holding the bill.”
Apparently the Senate president’s office had been quietly working to drop the House amendment empowering the Prince George’s County executive to make the appointment, given that it would raise the number of board members to an even number. Word was passed down that Alsobrooks had agreed to the change.
Hours later, just before 5 p.m., Guzzone took the Budget & Taxation Committee off the Senate floor to the so-called Silver Room on the first floor of the State House to reconsider and amend the Stadium Authority bill.
Guzzone told committee members that Alsobrooks conveyed to Ferguson her willingness to go along, in the interest of keeping an odd number of members on the board.
“It would be nice if she called me, as delegation chair,” said Sen. Michael A. Jackson (D-Prince George’s).
When Senator Benson sought clarification, Jackson replied, “The county executive has apparently agreed to it.”
“Wow,” Benson said.
She then asked the county’s third senator on Budget & Taxation, Sen. Jim Rosapepe (D-Prince George’s), whether he agreed, and he answered, “I think it’s ok, if the county executive agreed to it.”
Jackson said he would try to find out for sure before the bill hit the floor.
“If I have to stand up later on the floor, I will,” he said.
After the committee formally returned to the Senate chamber for the continuing proceedings, Guzzone and Rosapepe stopped in the Senate lounge to chat. Within minutes, Jackson walked from the opposite end of the room, cellphone in hand, shaking his head.
The three senators huddled.
A few minutes later, just before 6 p.m., Ferguson, still at the rostrum, appeared to have gotten the word of a problem from a staffer. He gave a shrug of bewilderment and shook his head, at one point quietly saying, “No.”
Guzzone entered the chamber with a grin of disbelief and raised eyebrows. He was followed Benson, who walked in and frowned hard at Ferguson, making sure he saw her reaction.
The Prince George’s County senators talked quietly among themselves as the Senate’s debate and voting continued as a backdrop.
Finally, around 7 p.m., the Senate recessed for an hour-long meal break.
Some Prince George’s senators consulted privately with Ferguson on the floor of the Senate at the start of the recess.
At 8 p.m., the bells were rung to summon senators back to their third floor session of the day. A group of the lawmakers in route to the chamber was asked if some sort of agreement had been reached on what to do with House Bill 524, the over-the-shoulder response was “Don’t know yet.”
Just after 11 p.m., during a short recess while senators waited for printing of an amendment, Benson asked Rosapepe if he had heard anything.
“Nah,” he said, shaking his head.
“Disgraceful,” Benson said, referring to the amendment.
Just before adjournment Guzzone announced that Budget & Taxation would meet at 10 a.m. Monday, before the Senate reconvenes at 11 a.m. on the last day of the 90-day legislative session.
It remained unclear Friday night what would happen to the bill as the Senate adjourned at 11:32 p.m.
Josh Kurtz contributed to this report.