By Justin Snow
After the General Assembly failed to pass a bill dictating state policy on public-private partnerships, plaintiffs in the State Center lawsuit are moving forward with their case.
An attorney for the group of Baltimore business owners who have been suing the state since December 2010 said the amended bill’s failure to gain passage was further validation for their case. They allege the $1.5 billion State Center development in the Bolton Hill neighborhood of Baltimore was not competitively bid and that the new complex would negatively affect already high downtown vacancy rates.
“We have always felt confident in our legal analysis of the case,” said attorney Alan Rifkin in an interview last week. “There’s very little support for what the state did in the procurement law.”
Rifkin said he has met with the defendants and the Attorney General’s Office to negotiate a scheduling order as required by the court and hopes the order will be an important step moving forward.
Clock ran out
The clock ran out on the public-private partnership bill on the last day of session, making it one of several bills that failed to gain final passage due to debate over the state budget. Adding to the bill’s delay was controversy surrounding an amendment in the House of Delegates that would have retroactively affected the pending lawsuit.
The O’Malley administration bill was originally intended to improve the process of how the state reviews and coordinates project proposals from private developers. With the amendment, the legislation would have expedited the process defendants can appeal a decision. This raised constitutional questions from lawmakers and legal experts alike.
The plaintiffs cried foul, alleging the amendment was targeted directly at their case in order to circumvent the judicial process and end delays on the project’s development.
The O’Malley administration backed the amended bill, stating that they did not think the House amendment was reason enough to rescind their support for a key initiative that had been considered in depth by a task force.
However, the Senate advanced their own version of the bill, dropping the controversial House amendment. The Senate version failed to reach final approval before adjournment last month.
Brown disappointed but hopeful
Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown led the task force on public-private partnership reform and said he was disappointed the bill failed to pass.
In a statement to MarylandReporter.com, Brown blamed prolonged budget debate on the General Assembly’s failure to finish consideration of the public-private partnership bill, but expressed confidence in the consensus they were able to build over the 2012 session.
“Encouraging private investment in Maryland’s public infrastructure has the potential to create thousands of jobs and lay the foundation for sustainable economic growth, and I look forward to the General Assembly taking up our proposal again during a future legislative session,” Brown said.
Even with as many as two special sessions looming on the horizon to deal with taxes and gambling, it is unlikely that lawmakers will take up other matters in either session, including the public-private partnership legislation. After the controversy caused by the House amendment, it is even more unlikely retroactive legislation will be considered anytime soon.
As the State Center lawsuit continues to make its way through the courts, Rifkin said he hopes what played out in the legislature was the third and final strike for the state. Since the lawsuit was filed, the state has made failed attempts to dismiss the case and to countersue the plaintiffs for $100 million.
“The integrity of the judiciary was directly affronted by the amendment,” said Rifkin. “One would hope that that’s the last of the attempts to avoid the issues in the case.”