Pittman sends state­ment by ap­point­ing Walker

The Capital - - OPINION -

All dur­ing the cam­paign for Anne Arun­del County ex­ec­u­tive, we can’t re­ally re­call a big pic­ture state­ment on eco­nomic devel­op­ment pol­icy by Steuart Pittman.

To any­one lis­ten­ing last week, Pittman made one with the ap­point­ment of Jerry Walker as the new CEO of Anne Arun­del Eco­nomic Devel­op­ment Corp.

Walker’s ap­point­ment is im­por­tant for a cou­ple of rea­sons. He’s a Re­pub­li­can, even if a Re­pub­li­can that lots of other Anne Arun­del party mem­bers have trou­ble em­brac­ing. So, by nam­ing him to head a quasi-pub­lic agency, the county ex­ec­u­tive can le­git­i­mately make claim to a bi­par­ti­san ad­min­is­tra­tion.

But Walker was also one of two bud­get and fi­nance wonks on the County Coun­cil dur­ing his eight years, and most es­pe­cially so un­der the four years Steve Schuh oc­cu­pied the top floor of the Arun­del Cen­ter. He and Chris Trum­bauer, then a Demo­cratic coun­cil­man from Annapolis and now Pittman’s pol­icy and leg­isla­tive ad­viser, pro­vided a coun­ter­bal­ance to some of Schuh’s big ideas about fi­nanc­ing the gov­ern­ment.

Per­haps most im­por­tantly in light of his new job, how­ever, was Walker’s 2017 votes to deny tax­payer as­sis­tance to David Cordish and Live Casino and Ho­tel in Hanover.

He blocked one plan to help Cordish fund a ma­jor ex­pan­sion us­ing a tax in­cen­tive fund. In a se­cond go-round on a plan to pro­vide tax­payer sup­port for a pri­vate busi­ness — a very lu­cra­tive pri­vate busi­ness — Walker and Trum­bauer were on the los­ing side of the pro­posal to give $36 mil­lion in prop­erty tax re­lief to the casino com­pany.

In ex­change, tax­pay­ers got a con­fer­ence cen­ter that one day could be used for high school grad­u­a­tions.

Schuh and his al­lies on the coun­cil es­sen­tially ar­gued that the county and the casino are busi­ness part­ners. The county reaps mil­lions in rev­enues from the casino ev­ery year, and adding a ho­tel and con­fer­ence cen­ter was pitched as an im­por­tant in­vest­ment in keep­ing com­pet­i­tive. Walker didn’t buy it. And he now brings that phi­los­o­phy — one that ques­tions the need for tax­pay­ers to sub­si­dize lu­cra­tive pri­vate busi­nesses — to the role of sup­port­ing busi­nesses such as the casino.

We ap­plaud the choice and sug­gest that while there is plenty of good work done by the Anne Arun­del Eco­nomic Devel­op­ment Corp., there is room for im­prove­ment. The agency was set up by for­mer county ex­ec­u­tive Robert Neall decades ago to re­duce trans­parency, a way to cut busi­ness deals with­out close pub­lic scru­tiny.

Pittman’s com­mit­ment to trans­parency should shed just a bit more sun­shine on eco­nomic devel­op­ment de­ci­sions. This agency pro­vides valu­able loan pro­grams, lo­ca­tion ser­vices, and ad­vice to new and ex­pand­ing busi­nesses — but much of what it de­cides is hid­den from pub­lic view be­cause it is a pri­vate en­tity funded by tax­pay­ers.

The in­flu­ence of a county ex­ec­u­tive whose busi­ness ex­pe­ri­ence is that of a farmer and a new chief ex­ec­u­tive with a record of op­pos­ing tax­payer fi­nanc­ing for pri­vate en­ter­prise could mean changeover at the of­fices of eco­nomic devel­op­ment.

PAUL W. GILLE­SPIE/CAP­I­TAL GAZETTE FILE

To any­one lis­ten­ing last week, County Ex­ec­u­tive Steuart Pittman made a state­ment on eco­nomic pol­icy with the ap­point­ment of Jerry Walker as the new CEO of Anne Arun­del Eco­nomic Devel­op­ment Corp.

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