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Baltimore City Paper

Putting the Private in Public Private

[caption id="attachment_12713" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Rendering of the State Center--This Would Be The Retail Part"]

[/caption] Opponents of the $1.5 billion State Center project suffered a setback Monday night when the House of Delegates passed a bill to "better define" public-private partnerships. The bill, backed by Gov. Martin O'Malley, carried an amendment seemingly aimed at scuttling a lawsuit against the State Center project. The bill, and the floor amendment introduced in a work group composed of members from the Environmental Matters, Appropriations and Health and Government Operations committees, caused a stir all weekend. Opponents, including Del. Luiz R.S. Simmons (D-Montgomery), on Saturday said the amendment made the bill a "Trojan horse for the worst kind of special interest." The amendment retroactively allows the defendants in cases involving public-private partnerships (triple p's, in the jargon) to remove the case directly to the state's highest court—the Court of Appeals. A coalition of downtown office building owners and Little Italy restaurateurs has sued the state over the State Center project, claiming the developers were chosen without proper bidding and that the cost to state agencies—$33 per square foot—is a bad deal for taxpayers. The state has dragged its feet in providing the documents the plaintiffs have demanded. The judge has sided with the plaintiffs on that point—called discovery. The house bill, if passed by the Senate, could short-circuit the discovery process, according to Ramsey Flynn, who has spoken for the plaintiffs in the case. He blasted out an e-mail quoting the plaintiffs' lawyer, Alan Rifkin:

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Flynn has been working his e-mail list all weekend, and the story made headlines around the state.

and

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drew a direct line to State Center from the bill. Proponents said the retroactive provision was not nefarious or unusual, and that it is in the public interest to expedite the slow-moving court process because, well, time is money. Here's a

of the House debate from Saturday. While the amendment caused a ruckus, the main bill has been less controversial.

The

Washinton Post

has the

, linking the effort to a little-noticed, O'Malley Administration trend toward more PPPs:

PPPs and long-term leases have been a trend in government for several years. The deals are often used to get politicians out of a short-term fiscal jam when facing re-election or a jump to higher office, but they are not always great for taxpayers.


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