Spurred by a Campaign for Liberty drive, a handful of residents opposed a Harford County Council bill giving an Edgewood company a loan, calling it "crony capitalism."
By a 5-1 vote, the council Tuesday night approved a $750,000 economic development opportunity loan to British-based Smiths Detection Inc., whose U.S. headquarters are on Lakeside Boulevard in Edgewood.
The bill includes a workplace training grant of $100,000 for the company.
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Harford, MD, USA
212 S Bond St, Bel Air, MD 21014, USA
2202 Lakeside Blvd, Edgewood, MD 21040, USA
Jim Richardson, Harford County's Economic Development Director, said the company primarily creates chemical and biological detection systems and has been operating in Harford County since 2002.
An e-mail sent by the Campaign for Liberty the same day noted Smiths Detection is a "multi-billion dollar company that manufactures TSA-used body scanners."
The bill is "basically payola to a foreign corporation," Scott DeLong, a Campaign for Liberty member and vice-chair of the county's Republican Central Committee, said. DeLong said Smiths Detection has received millions in federal contracts.
"Just because other states are willing to put out their taxpayer money for companies doesn't mean it's something we should be doing," DeLong said.
"This proposal seems like something Donald Fry, [Governor] Martin O'Malley's chief bagman, would come up with," he said, referring to a former Harford state senator and current president of the Greater Baltimore Committee.
"This government-business cronyism is leading us down the road to democratic socialism," he said. "This is hardly the time to hand out cash from the taxpayers of Harford County."
Several other residents also questioned the need for the whole economic loan program, criticized the company's production of airport body scanners and said a multibillion-dollar corporation hardly needs the county's money.
Lowell Sheets, of Forest Hill, said the program creates a situation in which the government determines the winners and losers, and the winners will be "the rich and well-connected."
"Corporations are in bed with the federal government, in bed with the state government and perhaps the county government," Sheets said.
"The power to tax is the power to destroy," he said. "All these kinds of subsidies basically only help large businesses and hurt small businesses."
Del. Glen Glass also opposed the loan and explained that Republican Central Committee chairman Patrick McGrady, who was not at the meeting, has been leading the opposition to the resolution.
"I just feel like this whole thing has been rushed and there hasn't been enough time to thoroughly research this," Glass said, explaining he also led the fight against TSA searches and body scanners in the legislature.
"This whole deal makes me uncomfortable and I feel this process has been rushed, and there needs to be more time to vet this properly," Glass said.
Richardson, the county economic development director, defended the program in anticipation of the opposition.
"This supports jobs. This is a jobs bill. This is true jobs coming to Harford County, in the manufacturing sector," he said, noting it is in Edgewood, "a critical area that we're very interested in continuing seeing to grow."
"We are in a competitive market. I know there's a lot of discussion about these loans and the government's role in these loans, but we are in a competitive market," Richardson continued. "We're not even close to matching some of these packages that could be offered to a company like this in another state, in another region."
The company would add 103 jobs, with average salaries of $74,000, to its existing stock of 220 jobs.