Brown ties BRAC economic promise to tax plan

October 31, 2007|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,Sun reporter

BOWIE -- The economic promise for Maryland of military base realignment could falter if lawmakers fail to approve tax increases the O'Malley administration is seeking to upgrade highways and transit systems, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown warned yesterday.

Speaking at a meeting of Cabinet secretaries, Brown added an inability to cope with base-related growth to the litany of dire consequences that state officials say could befall Maryland if Gov. Martin O'Malley's package of tax increases and revisions is not adopted.

Brown, who is overseeing the administration's base-growth planning, said the state's ability to absorb up to 60,000 new jobs around its military installations may depend on finding the money needed to widen highways and expand transit serving Aberdeen Proving Ground, Fort Meade and other facilities over the next few years.

After the hourlong hearing at Bowie State University, Brown said that a consensus is needed on funding new roads. As part of the administration's plan to close a $1.7 billion long-term budget deficit, the governor is seeking a 1 percent increase in the state's corporate income tax, with the revenue to be split between higher education and transportation. State transportation officials have estimated $400 million to $600 million a year is needed for highway and transit improvements to address the state's increasing traffic congestion.

Prince George's County officials made it plain yesterday that their hopes for attracting base-related growth - and easing development pressure on neighboring Anne Arundel County - rely on state help with transportation projects.

County officials pushed plans for building new offices for up to 42,000 workers and more than 1,600 new housing units in the Laurel area alone, not far from Fort Meade.

"We can't develop, though, unless we have the roads," said County Executive Jack B. Johnson.

On a related front, the O'Malley administration's top minority-affairs official said that Maryland's congressional delegation has offered its help in seeing that small and minority-owned businesses get a meaningful share of the billions of dollars in federal spending expected to pour into the state with the base buildup.

Minority business owners have complained of being ignored or shut out of lucrative federal contracts, particularly a $477 million job recently awarded to build offices at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

"There are some loopholes in the federal system that we need to shore up," said Luwanda Jenkins, special secretary for minority affairs.

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin said in a telephone interview from Washington yesterday that he is pressing the Department of Defense, the Small Business Administration and other federal agencies to report to him on what steps they are taking to ensure that minority businesses get a shot at base-related contracts in Maryland.

"We are looking for additional help within the federal agencies to take advantage of BRAC," Cardin said, using the common acronym for the 2005 base closures and consolidations recommended by the Pentagon's Base Realignment and Closure Commission.tim.wheeler@baltsun.com

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