Move to expand MEDCO charter passes Assembly

Arundel golf course and other construction projects now possible

March 31, 2001|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

The state Senate passed legislation yesterday broadening the charter of the Maryland Economic Development Corp., clearing the way for the construction of an Anne Arundel County golf course and other projects across the state.

The legislation, which has been approved by the House already, passed on a 36-9 vote after a lively debate in which opponents criticized the sweeping authority the legislation would vest in the corporation.

MEDCO, founded in 1984, is a quasi-public corporation that uses its tax-free bonding authority to finance development projects - often in conjunction with local governments. Under the original law establishing it, the corporation was given a mission of investing in projects situated in economically distressed areas of the state and otherwise unable to attract private investment.

In practice, MEDCO's role grew to where it took on a variety of projects - many of them politically popular and highly successful - all over the state.

But MEDCO ran into trouble when Anne Arundel County brought it into a deal to build a 36-hole public golf course off Fort Smallwood Road. Opponents of the Compass Pointe project, led by the owners of private golf courses, threatened a lawsuit challenging the corporation's authority to issue bonds.

MEDCO told legislators that the threat cast doubt on other projects as well, making it difficult to sell its bonds. It asked for a legislative remedy giving it broad authority to take on virtually any project it considered beneficial.

Lawmakers narrowed the bill somewhat, adding a requirement that the MEDCO board certify that any nongovernmental project it took on would not compete with private business. The bill still allows just about any program that has the support of a local government.

The strong support for MEDCO in both chambers reflected the political popularity of the projects it has financed.

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