Reforms would improve redevelopment tax credit

February 09, 2010

We agree with the conclusion of The Sun's editorial about the Sustainable Communities Tax Credit of 2010 ("Rethinking redevelopment," Feb. 8) -- that the program has been a proven stimulus for economic development. However, its characterization of our motives in proposing changes to it was incorrect.

When you have a program that has been successful for 14 years, you can:

A. Rest on its laurels.

B. Look for ways to improve it.

The O'Malley administration chose B. In fact, the track record of the program as a catalyst for construction jobs and neighborhood revitalization was one reason for wanting it to be extended elsewhere -- to tightly defined places jointly identified by the state and local governments where growth should be channeled. The additional areas outlined by the bill combined comprise only 0.15 percent of land in the state.

The $8.53 return per $1 invested, as you point out, is vitally important, but the bill also calls for an exceptional and welcome cooperation among state agencies, including Planning, Transportation, Housing and Community Development, and Business and Economic Development. The Energy Administration is involved because we're tying historic renovation to green building standards, one of the first programs in the country to do so. Health officials are involved because we believe the changes could foster less car-dependent, more walkable -- and healthier -- communities. Tying the programs makes sense as we've come to see their outcomes as interdependent.

We're not alone in refining our focus on assisting "sustainable communities." Just last week, the Obama administration announced a new multi-agency initiative involving the Environmental Protection Agency, Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Transportation toward that end, including funds for a pilot clean-water program in Maryland. We shouldn't neglect to point out that members of the business and historic preservation communities in Maryland and other strong advocates of the tax credit program in the past helped craft the proposed changes in the 2010 bill. They agree that the strengthening of our existing communities is the ultimate objective.

Richard Eberhart Hall, Baltimore

The writer is Maryland's secretary of planning.

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