MPA proposes that it purchase Seagirt terminal Legislators fear link to gasoline tax boost

February 18, 1992|By John H. Gormley | John H. Gormley,Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS -- Adrian Teel, the executive director of the Maryland Port Administration, told a legislative panel yesterday that the port agency would like to buy the Seagirt Marine Terminal from the Maryland Transportation Authority, which provided more than $200 million to build it.

That suggestion had members of a Senate Budget and Taxation subcommittee bristling at the thought, however, that motorists might end up paying for the purchase through an increase in the gasoline tax.

Senator Julian L. Lapides, D-Baltimore, said he would oppose letting the state Transportation Department, parent of both the port and transportation agencies, go through with such a purchase without the consent of the General Assembly. "We will not permit the department to do it unilaterally," he said.

William H. Amoss, D-Harford, chairman of the Senate subcommittee with oversight responsibility for the port, said he, too, opposed any attempt to finance such a sale with revenues from an increase in the gasoline tax.

Stephen G. Zentz, deputy secretary of transportation, tried to reassure the senators. "We're not going to use gas tax revenues in order to buy Seagirt from the Transportation Authority," he said.

Seagirt is a state-of-the-art terminal that is the port's principal hope for renewed cargo growth.

The port agency has paid the Transportation Authority $9.2 million. In the coming fiscal year, the MPA plans to pay the authority an additional $3.7 million. The payments are based on what the MPA can afford to pay.

State officials acknowledge that the rate of return the authority is receiving on its money is far below market rates. Mr. Teel said he doubts whether the authority will even get back full payment for its investment.

"I hope somebody has to pay it back to somebody," Mr. Lapides said. "We're not just going to turn it back" to the MPA.

Mr. Teel responded that the port agency simply wanted to have ownership as well as operational responsibility for a terminal that will play a key role in the success of the port. "We're asking for the best business approach to manage the asset properly," Mr. Teel said.

Legislators said they were concerned, however, that any increase in the gasoline tax would be used by the administration of Gov. William Donald Schaefer to pay for the Seagirt purchase.

After the hearing, Mr. Amoss said he was not opposed to the port agency's buying Seagirt, as long as gasoline tax revenues were left alone.

The MPA is asking the Legislature to approve an operating budget appropriation of $45.3 million for the fiscal year that ends June 30, 1993, down 3.9 percent from this year's appropriation.

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