ANNAPOLIS — For about 24 hours this week, it looked as though $200,000 were heading to Frederick as planning money for a proposed downtown hotel and conference center.
A committee of lawmakers hashing out differences in the House and Senate versions of the fiscal 2017 operating budget said Thursday afternoon that they would direct the money to the hotel project.
However, when Republican members of the Frederick County delegation — who voted earlier this session against a bill seeking a much larger sum — caught wind of the plan, they pushed to cut the allocation.
By early Friday afternoon, the $200,000 was gone from the budget. But lawmakers say the topic of hotel funding could come up again next week relating to the state’s capital budget.
On Wednesday, the House of Delegates passed its version of the state’s fiscal 2017 operating budget. The Senate passed its version of the measure a week earlier.
The two chambers’ budget bills had 58 differences. Neither side would accept the other side’s version as a whole, so a conference committee met to resolve the conflicts.
Among them was a House amendment to remove $1 million from the projected cost to demolish buildings at the former Baltimore City Correctional Complex.
The conferees and their advisers — none from Frederick — decided to redirect that $1 million to a few other projects.
On Thursday, $200,000 for the Frederick hotel was on the beneficiary list. After the dustup Friday, the Frederick project was replaced by another.
One conferee, Sen. James “Ed” DeGrange Sr., D-Anne Arundel, said the hotel and conference center allocation was removed from the operating budget discussion, but would come up in later discussions.
“We’re going to be dealing with that in the capital budget,” DeGrange said. “In some form.”
The House is expected to formally approve the capital budget early next week. Then, that budget bill is likely to go to a conference committee.
There is at least one issue, and now possibly two, relating to the downtown hotel project in the state’s capital budget bill.
The first relates to an amendment to a 2012 bond allocation of $250,000. Then-Sen. David Brinkley and then-Delegate Galen Clagett requested that bond bill for the acquisition, planning and design of the Downtown Frederick Hotel and Conference Center.
This year, the Senate version of the capital budget extended the city’s deadline for matching the grant and cashing it in until 2018.
Extensions are not uncommon, and several were in the Senate’s version of the capital budget bill this year.
Sen. Michael Hough, R-District 4, said he’s opposed that general obligation bond since 2012 and felt the delegation should have had a chance to weigh in on the extension. It’s unclear who requested the amendment, but the change was in the Senate version of the capital budget that passed that chamber unanimously on Wednesday.
The second potential issue relating to the capital budget is whether an additional appropriation for the Frederick project could come through the House version of the bill, or during conference committee negotiations.
Republican members of the Frederick County delegation met Friday and drafted a letter to budget conferees saying they opposed additional allocations for the project.
Tussles over the downtown hotel and conference center have dominated delegation business this year in Annapolis.
County lawmakers introduced two project-related bills this year. One, backed by Frederick City Democrats, would authorize the Maryland Stadium Authority to issue $19.8 million in bond funding for the project. Another, backed by Frederick County Republicans, would have capped the county’s hotel tax rate to keep that revenue from funding the downtown project.
Both bills face steep odds against passing this session.
Who requested the money?
No one in Frederick County’s delegation on Friday claimed responsibility for asking budget conferees for a hotel appropriation.
“$200,000? No,” Sen. Ron Young, D-District 3, said when asked if he’d made the request.
He wouldn’t mind funding for the project, however. “I hope that we get a whole lot,” Young said.
Delegate Carol Krimm, D-District 3A, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, supports the downtown hotel project. She said she didn’t know who suggested the hotel allocation, but she would’ve welcomed the money.
“If there’s money there, I would support it because it keeps the project moving,” Krimm said. “We are concerned about keeping the project moving.”
Hough said he opposes any additional money for planning the project. He believes it will be used, in part, to pay for lobbyists to keep asking lawmakers who don’t support the project to change their minds.
Delegate David E. Vogt III, R-District 4, said he didn’t know about the conference committee allocation discussion. Delegate Kathy Afzali, R-District 4, who abstained from voting on the hotel bond bill in February, also said she didn’t know about any request.
Delegate William Folden, R-District 3B, said he’s against a $200,000 allocation for the hotel project because money is needed in other areas, like a gym or parks and recreation services at the planned Butterfly Ridge Elementary School near the Hillcrest neighborhood in Frederick.
Delegate Barrie Ciliberti, R-District 4, said the funding issue had become muddied, along with other particulars of the project. He wants a better, more detailed plan before the General Assembly gives money to the project.
Delegate Karen Lewis Young, D-District 3A, said she didn’t know about the $200,000 requested of the conference committee, but she would have supported it.
“Those of us who represent the city of Frederick will continue to make every effort possible to make this project a reality,” she said.
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.