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Friday Five

Dec. 8, 2023 | This week's latest on Maryland business and government

1 — Sparrows Point Alliance launches to support economic growth in Baltimore region

Sparrows Point Alliance, a nonprofit grassroots organization of Maryland community groups, business organizations and labor unions, officially launched Wednesday to support the continued revitalization of Sparrows Point, and specifically the completion of the proposed Sparrows Point Container Terminal project (SPCT). The Maryland Chamber is among the alliance's inaugural member organizations.

The goal: The construction of SPCT is a joint venture between Tradepoint Atlantic and Terminal Investment Limited (TiL), a MSC affiliated company and represents a once in a generation opportunity to grow the Port of Baltimore and deliver more than $1 billion in new investment and thousands of good paying jobs to the region.

2 — Transportation commission to consider recommendations on tolls, vehicle fees

New fees for electric vehicle owners and increases in tolls are on the table as part of a set of interim recommendations due later this month from the Transportation Revenue and Infrastructure Needs Commission. The blue-ribbon panel, of which Maryland Chamber President & CEO Mary Kane is a member, will consider at least three recommendations made by the commission’s chair, Frank Principe. States are facing the pressure of growing transportation needs and dwindling revenue. Maryland Transportation Secretary Paul Wiedefeld acknowledged a $100 million deficit in the coming fiscal year, and the gap over the next six years is expected to top $2.1 billion.

Current considerations: Included in the set of proposed recommendations is a call to authorize the state Motor Vehicle Administration to assess new fees on owners of electric and hybrid vehicles, another recommends that lawmakers require the Maryland Transportation Authority to adjust toll rates to maximize toll revenue, and a third calls on the state Department of Transportation to overhaul the process for setting a rolling six-year list of road and transit projects that local leaders and advocates and even some lawmakers say is often opaque, byzantine and increasingly antiquated. Of note, Governor Moore has also proposed roughly $3.3 billion in wide-ranging budget cuts to transportation spending.

3 — Light rail services to be suspended starting today

Maryland Transit Administration officials revealed that Light Rail services will be suspended effective today. Announcing the suspension in a press conference yesterday evening, officials cited issues with high voltage conduits on vehicles that have been punctured. The MTA also found problems with the cables that connect each Light Rail car.

The problem: Thousands depend on the Light Rail to get to and from work, school and other daily activities. State Senator Cory McCray of District 45 released a statement on the matter, saying that "news of the suspension of MTA Light Rail Services comes less than 72 hours after the Maryland Department of Transportation announced $3.3 billion in proposed budget cuts as part of its Maryland Consolidated Transportation Program Overview. This news further exacerbates the fact that we need to invest more in our public transit system due to failing infrastructure — instead of taking away from it."

4 — Economist calls for growing state population to grow economy

Maryland needs to grow its population as part of an effort to grow its economy and pull itself out of a budgetary morass, according to one economist. A state economy over-dependent on jobs tied to the federal government is not firing on all cylinders as some employers, including state government, struggle to fill open positions, said Daraius Irani, an economist at Towson University. “I would argue the only way we can do this successfully is to grow our population and grow the number of businesses,” said Irani. “If we don’t do that, we’re just going to shrink. And that’s going to be the end of the investment challenge.”

Why it matters: This message comes just weeks before lawmakers head to Annapolis next month facing a series of difficult budgetary decisions as federal pandemic aid dries up. Do we make cuts, increase taxes, or grow the population?

5 — Maryland Stadium Authority seeks to separate Camden Yards lease, development rights

The Maryland Stadium Authority confirmed Tuesday that it is seeking to separate the team’s lease to stay at Oriole Park at Camden Yards and a deal to develop land around the stadium, ending weeks of speculation about what was still holding up a signed agreement. The state, stadium authority and Orioles are under the gun after announcing that a deal had been reached on the Camden Yards jumbotron during a game in late September. It turned out to be premature.

What's next: The clock is ticking for the Orioles and the state to agree on a new lease. The current lease deal expires Dec. 31, but that does not mean the team will be kicked out of the ballpark on New Year's Day. If the deadline passes, the Orioles can stay on at the stadium on a monthly basis. The team and state leaders should come to a suitable agreement soon to ensure that this Maryland institution — and economic asset — has a home for generations to come.

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