Senators reject Schaefer plan to buy 6 buildings


ANNAPOLIS -- A Senate subcommittee yesterday killed an $88 million Schaefer administration proposal to buy six Baltimore office buildings currently rented by state agencies.

Senators said they feared the plan would have pushed state debt beyond the agreed-upon limit, jeopardizing the state's triple-A bond rating.

Similar action is expected in the House of Delegates, where Delegate Timothy F. Maloney, D-Prince George's, chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee reviewing the capital budget. Delegate Maloney said it was "highly unlikely" his colleagues would approve any proposal that would put state debt above the $330 million ceiling recommended for fiscal 1992.

Respect for the debt limit was the chief reason for yesterday's unanimous decision, said Sen. Charles H. Smelser, D-Carroll, who chaired the nine-member Senate subcommittee of the Budget and Taxation Committee. Senator Smelser also said he was not keen on buying buildings he had not seen.

"I think we'd be remiss if we didn't look at them," he said. "Sometimes the state buys these buildings and has to do a lot of work renovating them."

The buildings in question include 200 St. Paul Place, which houses the Office of the Attorney General, and 1400 E. North Ave., which houses a District Court. The Schaefer administration based its proposal on the premise that buying the buildings would be cheaper than continuing to rent office space.

Sen. Julian L. Lapides, D-Baltimore, said another reason he voted against the proposal was the fact that it would take valuable property off his city's tax rolls.

"I think we have to be concerned about how many state-owned facilities we have as opposed to tax-producing facilities," he said.

Sens. Smelser and Lapides both said the proposal will be studied during the summer and said the subcommittee will see if the state can get a better deal next year.

However, key to any similar proposal next year will be the strain it places on debt affordability. Senator Smelser said he is not interested in any plan that exceeds the debt limit.

"I think if we decide to go with some of them, it ought to be within our debt affordability limit," he said.

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