Buy Those Office Buildings!

March 28, 1991

Why would legislators kill a plan that could save the state hundreds of millions of dollars over the next 40 years? Did they do it in retribution against the Schaefer administration?

That seems to be the case. The arguments put forth by legislators for defeating this plan defy logic and are contrary to the facts that were presented to them. This is one instance in which putting out $88 million in bond money would result in huge savings down the road.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer sought permission to use this bond money to buy six Baltimore office buildings and then move state agencies out of rented space and into these state-owned structures. Instead of paying rent, the state would be using that same money to pay off the bonds while its equity investment in the properties grows. In just five years, the state could save $13 million; over 40 years, the cumulative savings would exceed $600 million!

Still, a Senate subcommittee turned down the plan with the lame excuse that it might jeopardize the state's triple-A bond rating because it exceeded the $330 million debt ceiling recommended for this year. Yet officials of bond-rating houses testified before the subcommittee that this program would be viewed favorably by the rating organizations because it would reduce long-term state outlays for rent and increase the state's physical assets. Breaching the debt ceiling this one time didn't concern them.

Lawmakers ought to reconsider their rejection of this money-saving proposal. The state has an excellent chance to capitalize on the current glut of downtown office space. If state officials are permitted to act now, they can purchase prime office buildings at low prices and also get low interest rates on their bonds. And instead of paying rent on 725,000 square feet of office space, the state would be acting as its own landlord.

Taxpayers want elected officials to spend their tax money with care. Here's a chance for legislators to show they know how to save a buck -- even millions of bucks -- by investing a buck wisely.

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