City Councilman Carl Stokes, chairman of the taxation committee, says he is refusing to physically sign legislation needed to approve public subsidies for the $1.8 billion Harbor Point development.
The city's taxation committee voted 3-0 Wednesday night to approve $107 million in public financing for infrastructure and parks at the waterfront project, over the objections of Stokes, who left the room in disgust as the vote was being taken.
As committee chairman, Stokes has some administrative duties for bills approved by his committee. His signature is needed on the bills by Friday for the legislation to advance to the full City Council on Monday.
But in an email, Stokes said he is declining to sign off on legislation he believes does little more than enable corporate welfare.
"Money and corruption trumps taxpayers and neighborhoods," he wrote. "This project is politically greased and what is just for city taxpayers and downtown property owners be damned. ... I do not intend to sign."
But staffers for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, who back the financing, say supporters are planning a legislative maneuver around Stokes' signature.
Since Stokes was absent at the time of vote, supporters can invoke special rules to allow the committee's vice chairman, Councilman Bill Henry, to sign the bills, said City Solicitor George Nilson, who works for Rawlings-Blake. If Henry, who abstained from the vote, doesn't sign, Nilson said, backers could take the bills to any other member of the committee who supported the subsidies: Councilmen Warren Branch, William H. Cole IV or Edward Reisinger.
If, for some reason, they all declined to sign the bills, Young could petition the legislation to the full council anyway through a special motion, Nilson said.
"There are plenty of ways of dealing with it," Nilson said of Stokes' refusal to sign the bills. "The vote of the committee would not get frustrated, at the end of the day, by the committee chair's refusal to sign the bill reflecting the committee's action."
The three pieces of legislation enable the city to issue $107 million in tax increment financing bonds that would accumulate interest and fees for a total debt of $283 million.
Under tax increment financing deals, the city issues bonds to pay for property acquisitions, infrastructure improvements and other project costs, then uses the increased tax revenue generated by the development to pay off the bonds.
The Harbor Point development is the planned home of Exelon's new regional headquarters, a Morgan Stanley facility and other office buildings, residential towers, stores and a hotel.
The site is assessed at $10 million, but the Baltimore Development Corp. projects it would be valued at $1.8 billion for tax purposes when the developer, Michael S. Beatty, completes it.
In addition to the tax increment financing, the development is benefiting from more than $100 million in tax breaks.