A 2012 state provision implemented in Prince George’s County to curb developer contributions will be erased in October.
That’s because the Maryland General Assembly approved legislation to end a ban on businesses contributing to a county executive campaign or a slate that includes the executive while a project is reviewed by District Council and other boards.
The bill was approved on March 17, the penultimate day of the final legislative session that was truncated due to the coronavirus outbreak. The legislature briskly reviewed and approved about 500 bills in the final three days.
Sen. Paul Pinsky (D-District 22) of University Park, a longtime senator and staunch supporter of the campaign ban, wasn’t in attendance due to the death of his wife. Pinsky, who chairs the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, blocked the bill last year when it came before the committee.
Del. Dereck E. Davis (D-District 25) of Mitchellville, who introduced the bill, said it helps perspective county candidates compete for statewide offices. Davis has highlighted how the campaign prohibition negatively affected former County Executive Rushern L. Baker chances in the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial race.
“In Prince George’s County, the last time we’ve had an elected statewide leader was [former County Executive and Maryland Gov.] Parris Glendening and that’s despite the fact that we’re number one in Democratic votes and number two in population,” Davis said. “If you’re tired of riding shotgun and if you want to step up and lead, then you have to have the resources to make the case.”
Davis sponsored legislation to prohibit campaign contributions for county executive, Baltimore mayor and other members of governing bodies in all 23 counties and Baltimore City. However, the bill was shot down in both the Ways and Means and Environment and Transportation committees.
Del. Jazz Lewis (D-District 24) of Glenarden preferred this option.
“If you do it for one, do it for all. It’s just fair,” said Lewis, who voted against the campaign contribution bill in both the county delegation session and on the House floor. “I think the optics are off.”
Baker led the effort to campaign reform to change the county’s image after his successor Jack Johnson served more than five years in federal prison for bribery and other convictions.
Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said the law not only hampered the jurisdiction, but left marks of “injustice” against the majority-Black jurisdiction.
However, the majority-white Frederick County based its ethics bill on those in Prince George’s and Howard counties. Additionally, Frederick County’s law prohibits attorneys, engineers and other representatives from a particular firm from contributing to campaigns when current projects are under review.
Other State Legislation
Meanwhile, Lewis and other county lawmakers said the session presented benefits for Prince George’s.
For instance, the annual $3.8 billion Blueprint for Maryland’s Future education plan includes an estimated $2.9 billion from the state and $864 million from the 23 counties and Baltimore City through fiscal year 2030.
Figures project the county to receive the most in state aid at $724 million and contribute nearly $184 million. Previous estimates showed the county payment at $361 million, the highest in the state.
The county has 45 community schools, which would provide more counselors, mental health providers and other resources in those areas with high concentrations of poverty.
Lawmakers also passed the $2.2 billion public school construction bill, the Built to Learn Act of 2020.
Prince George’s would get its share of state funding through a public-private partnership (P3) to help speed the process. The county became the first jurisdiction in the nation to use the P3 model for school construction with at least five schools slated for completion in three years.
Del. Erek Barron (D-District 24) of Mitchellville said in an email Saturday, March 21 the county would receive $25 million annually for 30 years “to supplement local funds for our unique P3 initiative that will boost our school construction and renovation projects.”
One bill Barron plans to bring back next year focuses on establishing an independent Office of Inspector General for Health. Currently, the inspector general is a unit within the state Health Department.
The bill he presented as a lead sponsor passed the House with a 130-3 vote March 17. However, it reached the Senate Finance Committee on the last day of the legislative session March 18.
“The health department, which oversees 33 percent of the state budget, has been plagued with problems include the procurement and services to our more needy,” he said. “An unleashed watchdog will provide much-needed oversight.”