ANNAPOLIS -- Western Maryland's seemingly doomed Rocky Gap golf course got another five-month reprieve, and restrictions were placed on plans to expand Baltimore's Convention Center DTC as a House-Senate conference committee completed work yesterday on the state's 1992 capital construction budget.
Full General Assembly approval is expected tomorrow, the last day of the 1991 session.
Final compromises on the $329,999,673 construction plan were reached by three senators and three delegates, who for three days negotiated how much state money should be spent on projects as diverse as the Christopher Columbus Center, a marine biology and archaeology research center planned for Baltimore's Inner Harbor, and the Ward Foundation Complex, a waterfowl art and decoy museum to be built in Salisbury.
The Columbus Center ultimately received $1.5 million; the Ward Foundation, $500,000. A sampling of other projects in the budget include: $3.5 million to plan a new 2,500-bed medium/maximum security prison in Western Maryland; a nearly $2.3 million fund from which various juvenile services projects will be financed; $1.6 for a new computer science and engineering building at the University of Maryland's Baltimore County campus; and $500,000 to build a YMCA facility in Cecil County.
Reflecting the difficulty the legislature had balancing the state operating budget this year, the capital budget also includes $12 million to finance the state's parkland acquisition program, and another $7 million for its farmland preservation program. Legislators were forced to borrow money for the two programs because funds traditionally included in the operating budget for those purposes were diverted to help cover a huge budget deficit.
The two teams of lawmakers faced each other across tables strewn with budget papers, Diet Coke cans, a huge box of doughnuts, coffee cups, and bottles of Tums and Pepto Bismol. Staff sat in between, keeping tab on a calculator and immediately punching the decisions into a computer. As always, the conferees saved their hardest decisions for last. One was the proposal, pushed by Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Baltimore business leaders, to provide as much as $2 million in state funds to plan a doubling of the size of Baltimore's Convention Center.
But legislators in both houses said they wanted assurances the private sector would help pay for any expansion, and that the state would not end up with an expensive project on its hands that several likened to the Camden Yards stadium and the Central Light Rail line through Baltimore -- projects that experienced large cost overruns. The conferees finally agreed to appropriate $1.5 million, but only if the state's Convention Center Authority can raise the same amount from private sources. They also said no more than half the money can be spent until the legislature approves a financing plan for the project. Finally, they added wording that said, "It is the intent of the General Assembly that this appropriation is not a commitment in any way to provide further funding for an expansion of the convention center."
"I think the state is unwilling to have another debacle like the stadium," said Sen. Julian L. Lapides, D-Baltimore.
The conferees also voted to borrow $7.2 million to build a Jack Nicklaus signature golf course as a tourist attraction to Rocky Gap State Park, but gave backers of the project only until Sept. 1 to come up with "documented commitments" for the financing of a companion 240-room hotel and conference center. If they should fail, the bond authorization would be canceled.
"That gives us enough time," said Delegate Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany, an advocate for the project who claims he has verbal assurances the financing will be there.
The legislature appropriated $7.2 million for the golf course in 1988, but the money was never spent because financing for the hotel could not be nailed down. The appropriation was finally diverted this year to help balance the budget, so Mr. Taylor convinced legislative leaders to borrow the money instead.
"We met with the prospective investors and representatives of DNR (the Department of Natural Resources) last week, and are persuaded they are close enough to financing to at least warrant a five-month extension," said Delegate Timothy F. Maloney, D-Prince George's, chairman of the House capital budget subcommittee.
The 1992 capital budget
Here is a sampling of some of the more than 200 capital budget appropriations agreed upon by a joint conference committee on the state's $330 million capital budget for the 1992 fiscal year that begins July 1:
Villa Julie College $3 million
Atlantic General Hospital $2 million
Johns Hopkins University $1.15 million
Baltimore Museum of Art $1 million
Lake Roland Dam $1 million
Francis Scott Key Medical Center $500,000
Prince George's Equestrian Center $500,000
Frederick County YMCA $495,000
Our Daily Bread-Soup Kitchen $300,000
Calvert Marine Museum $150,000
Shady Grove Adventist Hospital $100,000
Western Maryland Scenic Railroad $100,000
Cumberland Summer Theater $100,000
Salisbury Zoological Park $40,000
Baltimore Zoo 0
Academy of Arts (in Easton) 0
Statewide prison facility contingency fund $40.8 million
420-bed addition to Eastern Correctional Institution $8 million
Phase 2, McKeldin Library, U.M. College Park $3 million
Construct new Annapolis district court $2.75 million
Statewide asbestos abatement $2 million
Renovate Saratoga Street Center $1.8 million
Bio-Processing facility $1.5 million
Upgrade perimeter security, House of Correction $892,000
Prince George's County baseball stadium $250,000
Computer and Space Science Complex, College Park 0