If you were thinking about locating a business in Prince George's County, and you heard that the county might try to back out of a long-term tax agreement it struck only a year ago with another important business leader, would you have second thoughts? Wouldn't that indicate there is something less than impressive about the credibility of the county in attracting or keeping industries? If you answered yes to either question, and you care at all about the financial health of Prince George's County, you should be aware of just such a damaging move, being pushed by county council member Sue V. Mills.
The industry in this instance is one of particular pride locally: the Washington Capitals professional hockey franchise, which came close to disappearing a year ago in a bath of red ink. Owner Abe Pollin-- staring at huge hockey losses over the years--had to scramble for new investors, who said they would come in only if certain conditions could be met by the county and by Caps fans. A key condition was the county's agreement to grant six years' amusement-tax relief to the hockey franchise, which the county council did by a 10-to-1 vote.
The only opponent was Mrs. Mills. All the other members recognized the greater financial benefits to the county of keeping the Caps around. They realized that 1) the hockey franchise had meant millions in other tax yields to the county; 2) that spending in the county directly related to the hockey games had exceeded $6.8 million; 3) that the Washington Capitals organization was employing more than 100 persons full-time and part-time; and that 4) the Capitals were involved in many local civic and charity activities, including working with children, veterans, patients at military hospitals, elderly residents and in fund-raising.
The Caps stayed, and even played better than ever. Mrs. Mills stayed, too, and began pressing this year to repeal the tax-relief agreement. Some newly elected council members then were apparently taken in by a misleading but politically appealing notion that a millionaire shouldn't get this tax relief. After all, this argument went, wasn't Mr. Pollin's Capital Centre doing all right, and wasn't he, too, coming out ahead overall?
But a losing operation--in this case, the Capitals-- is just that, and the investors who are not Mr. Pollin came to the county on the basis of agreements that are part of any sound financial planning. Instead of cheap shots and numbers games, in the name of fairness to other businesses, thoughtful council members will recognize the important yields to the county from a relatively modest investment--and will reject any attempt to renege on a good-faith business agreement.