The Washington Post

Baker, council spar over $50 economic development fund, delay likely

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker’s signature program, a $50 million economic development fund, has hit some rough patches. Late Monday, Baker told the County Council that he wanted to pull back the proposal after council members submitted a new round of amendments that Baker said risks bogging down the fund with too many bureaucratic requirements.

Council members said it’s a matter of ensuring proper oversight of the fund, which would be the region’s largest.

“We want the ‘wow’ factor,” Baker (D) said in an interview Tuesday. But the plan, as now envisioned with changes pushed by the council, “would not allow us to be nimble enough.”

Baker said he was confident that he and the council could work out their differences, though probably not in time for the measure to be voted on before the council’s August recess.

Council chairman Ingrid M. Turner (D-Bowie) said the disagreement is over how much oversight the council would have of large sums that the fund might be allocating to developers and specific projects. She referred to a county law, approved in a referendum, that requires the council to approve contracts of $500,000 or more.

“It is a great opportunity; a great vision of the county executive and we support that,” Turner said. But she said the council is required to exercise oversight of executive branch expenditures. “I am confident we will get it right,” she said.

Baker, elected last year on a vow to clean up ethics in the county, where businesses have complained that they must “pay to play,” has also said that the county must spur economic development by taking some bold steps. The economic development fund is a key part of his administration’s program for trying to spark growth, he has said.


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