Annapolis' flat-earth council Revenue authorities: Fearful aldermen foolishly curbed their own ability to fund projects.

November 13, 1998

ANYONE attending the most recent meeting of the Annapolis city council might have come away confused. That wasn't a criminal enterprise the participants wanted to exterminate: It was a revenue authority.

"Scam" was the label former Ward One Association President Gilbert Renaut used to describe the city's ability to use authorities to build public enterprises, from parking garages to convention centers. Councilman Joseph Sachs, chairman of the finance committee, said revenue authorities circumvent "citizen review."

As a result of these arguments, the Annapolis council voted unanimously to rescind a 1995 amendment to the city charter that authorized creation of revenue authorities. Mind you, the city in three years never exercised this power. Since Monday's action, neither will it have the chance.

The council's actions were based on an unfounded, illogical fear that revenue authorities might mushroom out of control and drag down city government. Nothing could be further from the truth. Revenue authorities have been created for decades across the nation to provide services without putting unnecessary burden on municipal budgets.

Revenue authorities control self-supporting enterprises that generate income. For example, rather than finance a parking garage by issuing general obligation bonds, which are backed by a government's ability to tax, a parking authority can finance a new garage on the facility's ability to generate fees. The concept is hardly outrageous. Most large counties in Maryland and Baltimore City have revenue authorities.

The city council's underlying problem is that fears delegating responsibility to entities other than itself. It is more comfortable as a micro-manager than as a policy-maker. Perhaps a more forward-thinking council will someday reverse this body's shortsighted action.

Pub Date: 11/13/98

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