Senate panel OKs design funds for 3 projects


ANNAPOLIS -- After criticizing the paucity of private-sector financing, a Senate panel approved yesterday initial-design funding for three technology-related projects.

But the members of the Budget and Taxation Committee's subcommittee on capital spending sent a clear message to the state's economic development community: Give us a return on our investments.

The capital budget subcommittee, which includes nearly everyone on the full committee, approved $3.4 million for the three projects:

* The Christopher Columbus Center for Marine Research and Exploration, a nearly $200 million complex scheduled to be built on Piers 5 and 6 in the Inner Harbor area. The state Department of Economic and Employment Development had requested $1.8 million to design three aspects of the complex; the subcommittee approved $1.2 million.

* The Maryland Bioprocessing Facility, a $23 million project to be located either at the University of Maryland Baltimore County or at the Johns Hopkins University's Bayview Research Campus. The building is intended to provide space and equipment for small companies that need to advance beyond the research stage into manufacturing. DEED requested $2 million; the panel allocated $1.2 million.

* The Maryland Information Technology Center, a shared facility that probably will be located near Silver Spring. The center will allow small and mid-size companies to test new digital communications technologies. The Senate panel agreed to DEED's request that $1 million be set aside from the state's Sunny Day Fund for economic development.

Although the Senate panel was generous with the state's funds, the legislators made it clear they want some strings attached to the money.

Referring to the bioprocessing facility, Richard Madaleno, a Fiscal Services Department analyst, said his agency's concern "is that companies will come in, use the facility and possibly jump to New Jersey or Massachusetts, where there are established biotechnology industries."

Sen. John A. Cade, R-Anne Arundel, and Sen. Decatur W. Trotter, D-Prince George's, said that the budget language should include assurances that if the two Baltimore-area projects ultimately turn a profit, the state should get some of the benefits.

Sen. Julian L. Lapides, D-Baltimore, was more concerned about a lack of demonstrated support for these projects from the private sector.

"You always talk a big game about the private sector, but they never seem to come up with it," he said. "If they think it's so wonderful and such a viable concept, why isn't the private dollar in there?"

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