The outcome of this year's Maryland General Assembly session from suburban Washington's perspective may have been illustrated recently when Lawrence Hogan, the feisty Prince George's executive who left Annapolis last year feeling bruised and cheated, threw a party to toast the work of the county's legislators.
Hogan, who last year fought and lost -- several major battles with county legislators on local bills, this year festooned a party room at the Hilton hotel here with ballons, ribbons and a banner that proclaimed: "Prince George's Delegation is No.1!"
With four days left in the session, both Hogan and Montgomery Executive Charles Gilchrist not only are seeing their dreams of Metro funding come true, but are close to winning approval for all the significant local legislation they proposed in January.
Today, the Senate's budget and Taxation Committee handed Gilchrist an important victory by narrowly approving a measure that would allow Montgomery County to levy a new, stiff tax on developers who convert apartments to condominiums.
That measure was the centerpeice of Gilchrist's four-bill condominium package in the legislatrue, and its enactment by the Senate -- which is now expected -- would give Gilchrist, he said this afternoon, "fundamentally everything we wanted this year."
Meanwhile, Hogan's prized local bill of the year, a measure that would allow Prince George's to receive nearly $10 million in state funds that have been stalled for year, had passed both the local delegation vote, the House, and a Senate committee, and was expected to be routinely enacted before the week ends.
Last year that same bill, which technically would restore borrowing power to Prince George's agencies that was taken away as a side effect of the county's tax-limiting TRIM charter amendment, was caught up in a sharp dispute between Hogan and the county's state senators, who eventually killed it.
"We've been able to have a very good working relationship with the delegation this year," said a pleased Ella Ennis, Hogan's liaison with the legislature. "All of our major bills are out of the House, and on their way through the Senate."
The Hogan measures Ennis is watching would give the County Housing Authority the ability to raise money for housing assistance programs through revenue bonds and permit the newly created Parking Authority the ability to build garages with funds raised in a similar way. A third bill that still has a chance of enactment would allow Hogan and the County Council to set up an independent, nonprifit board to manage county hospitals, which currently are controlled directly by the county government.
Gilchrist's condominium tax bill, already approved by the House, would allow the County Council to impose a 4 percent tax on the value of each rental unit that is converted to a condominium.
Gilchrist estimates that taxes paid by developers on the first 2,000 rental units converted after the tax takes effect would amount to $4.8 million, and says the money would be channeled into a county housing assistance program to ensure the production of 2,000 new rental units for low and moderate income families through low-interest loans for developers.
The tax proposal represents one of Gilchrist's major efforts to respond to the wave of condominium conversions in Montgomery county that has resulted in 3,000 apartments being sold as condominiums in the county in the last 5 months.
County officials say they are uncertain whether the tax proposal will result in new costs being passed along to condominium buyers by developers, as critics of the measure have charged. The aveerabe price of a condominium in Montgomery, estimated to be about $60,000, could rise by $2,400 if the tax cost is passd along to consumers.
A principal reason for passage of the measure by the Budget and Taxation Committee, where it faced what county officials believed was a decisive test, was the compromise reached earlylast month between Gilchrist and Sen. Laurence Levitan (D-Montgomery), chairman of the committee and an ardent opponent of the tax.
Levitan agreed to let the tax proposal "rise or fall on its merits" in his committee -- instead of actively seeking to kill it -- after Gilchrist agreed to allow two of his other condominium bills to be dropped for this year.
Levitan also halted his efforts to enact his own bill that would have eliminated a 180-day built-in time delay now required in condominium conversions. Gilchrist said yesterday that the two other condominium laws he was seeking are already in effect as county ordinances, and that the two bills he abandoned would have been necessary for technical reasons only if Levitan's measure had been approved.
Hogan also managed to win approval of his bond bill by compromising with legislators. An amendment was added to the bill that will eliminate once again the county's ability to borrow funds unless county voters approve the bonds in a referendum next November.