Prince George's County officials said yesterday that the General Assembly's decision to open Maryland's borders to out-of-state banking ultimately may benefit the District border community of Capitol Heights.
Seventy acres of Capitol Heights, which has a population of 3,300, have been designated an enterprise zone, one of 10 in depressed localities around the state. Industries that agree to locate in the zones receive state tax credits.
Under the new law, the zones would be the focus of new banking activity, such as the credit-card center that Citicorp, the nation's largest bank, proposes to build in Hagerstown.
Citicorp agreed to bring 1,000 jobs and a $25 million facility to the economically depressed western Maryland city in exchange for the right to open branch banks in the state.
"This may have turned out to be one of the most important bills, as far as economic development goes, to come along in several years," Royal Hart, the county's legislative liaison officer, told the Prince George's County Council during a briefing yesterday.
Hart said that because the Capitol Heights enterprise zone is the only one of the state zones in the Washington area, other banks interested in following Citicorp's example will be attracted to it.
Hans F. Mayer, Maryland's deputy secretary for economic development, said that the new law will enhance the marketing value of the enterprise zones. Other companies, he said, may be drawn to the state in the wake of the Citicorp move.
Hart described the possibilities for expansion as "almost limitless."
Lawrence Pierce, the assistant town manager of Capitol Heights, said that the town is already actively promoting the site, which is across the street from a Metrorail station.
"This bill is just a real free ticket as far as we're concerned," Pierce said.
County council members agreed.
"Theoretically, Capitol Heights can be the banking center of metropolitan Washington," said council member Floyd Wilson.
But Wilson and other council members were less excited about another outcome of the 90-day legislative session: the failure of a bill that would have expanded the number of members serving on the county Board of Elections.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Decatur Trotter (D-Prince George's) had been designed by black elected officials to increase minority representation on the board by expanding the number of members from three to five.
But State Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., who leads the Prince George's Senate delegation, refused to send the bill on to committee for action, even after a majority of county senators at a meeting of the delegation meeting last Saturday approved it.
Trotter and council members Wilson and Hilda Pemberton said yesterday that Miller had reneged on an agreement he had made with the bill's supporters.
"That was a disservice to the constituency he serves and a disservice to all of us as black people," Wilson said.
"We won Prince George's County for the Democratic ticket last November and we should have gotten this in return," said Pemberton.
Democrat Miller said he allowed the bill to die because Del. Helen Koss (D-Montgomery), the chairman of the House Constitutional and Administrative Law Committee considering the legislation, demanded that there should be one Democrat and one Republican added to the board, instead of adding two members from his party.
"That's Montgomery County politics," Miller said.