ANNAPOLIS — Discussion of the proposed downtown Frederick hotel and conference center dominated General Assembly debate on the 100-page, $1 billion capital budget bill on Thursday.
An amendment by budget negotiators added a provision that could send $1 million to the city of Frederick this year to help with planning for the project, and pre-authorizes Gov. Larry Hogan to appropriate $7.5 million in bond funding to the project in both 2018 and 2019.
The floor debates, which drew in lawmakers from Allegany to Anne Arundel counties, capped off a week in which lawmakers from the city of Frederick (all Democrats) and Frederick County (all Republicans) traded accusations of public meetings violations and backroom deals.
While a $19.8 million Maryland Stadium Authority bond bill that divided the delegation was never voted on in House and Senate committees, the capital budget appropriation was included Wednesday by a 10-member conference committee working out differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.
Because of legislative rules, reports by conference committees cannot be amended, so the conference center appropriation couldn’t be singled out from dozens of other provisions.
Some Frederick lawmakers urged their colleagues to vote against the committee’s amendment.
“This is quite frankly egregious,” Sen. Michael Hough, R-District 4, told that chamber, noting that four members of the delegation didn’t support funding for the project.
Sen. Ron Young, D-District 3, defended the appropriation and the project’s support.
He called the downtown hotel and conference center project a “second renaissance” for the city.
Hough garnered some support from Republican colleagues — 10 other votes — during a vote on the committee amendments.
When it came to the larger capital budget bill, however, only Hough and one other lawmaker voted against the package.
In the House, county delegates said they would not vote against the capital budget because of the other worthy projects included in the bill. Delegate William Folden, R-District 3B, said he never doubted the economic development value of a downtown hotel, but opposed the process for funding.
“Citizens have a right to transparency. Interested parties on both sides should have a right to be a part of the process,” he said.
Delegates Karen Lewis Young and Carol Krimm, Democrats who represent District 3A, urged the chamber to support the amendment.
The House did not hold a roll call vote on the conference committee amendments. In a vote on the capital budget, no Frederick County lawmaker opposed the bill.
But Delegate Barrie Ciliberti, R-District 4, didn’t cast a vote either way, and Delegate Kathy Afzali, R-District 4, marked herself as “excused,” though she was sitting at her desk.
Afzali’s vote was a violation of House rules, but she intended it to be considered an abstention, she said later.
Afzali also said Thursday that her choice to abstain from a vote earlier this session at a delegation meeting on the Stadium Authority bill is one of her biggest regrets in politics. A 5-3 vote against that bill could have carried more weight when it comes to the deference lawmakers give to county delegations on local issues.
The capital budget appropriation for the conference center faces at least one more hurdle this session.
The Republican governor can veto projects in the capital budget bill. The budget bill was passed early enough that any vetoes could be overridden before the end of session.
Both Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, and House Speaker Michael E. Busch expressed support for the conference center as an economic development project Thursday.
“Our goal is to try to give cities some pizazz, bringing people back downtown,” Miller said. “A conference center would really be a home run for downtown Frederick.”
Frederick Mayor Randy McClement described the budget amendment as an exciting milestone, in an emailed statement.
“We look forward to working with the other public and private entities involved to finalize the details of this proposed funding and how the funding will affect the project’s timing,” he also wrote.
The proposed hotel would be on the property at 200 and 212 E. Patrick St., which is currently owned by a business entity formed by members of the Randall family. The Randall family also owns the parent company of The Frederick News-Post.
Staff writer Nancy Lavin contributed to this report.