Updated at 1:30 p.m. Feb. 15: The story was modified to clarify that Del. Jheanelle Wilkins of Silver Spring is waiting to see the Amazon bill in its final form before making a decision on supporting it.
Not long after Gov. Larry Hogan’s announcement last month that he would propose a $5 billion package of incentives to attract Amazon’s second headquarters to Montgomery County, County Executive Ike Leggett met with members of the local state legislative delegation to urge support of a bill to enact major elements of the governor’s plan into law.
According to sources present, Leggett also asked any Montgomery County legislators inclined to oppose the bill to refrain from going public for the time being—while the situation in Annapolis surrounding the giant economic development offer plays out, pending adjournment of the Maryland General Assembly’s 2018 session in mid-April.
Leggett’s efforts at political diplomacy appear to have worked: When the Amazon incentives legislation was formally introduced in both the state Senate and House of Delegates last week, 26 of the county’s 32-member legislative delegation had signed on as sponsors. This included 19 of Montgomery County’s 24 House members and seven of its eight senators.
And while the half-dozen local legislators who did not add their names as sponsors said they have questions and are still considering the bill, they stopped well short of voicing criticism of it.
Among them was Del. David Moon of Silver Spring. “To be clear, I think having the 50,000 jobs here will be a positive for the economy,” Moon said in an interview, referring to projected employment at a second Amazon headquarters—for which Montgomery County is among 20 locations being considered. Montgomery emerged from an initial round of nearly 240 applications by jurisdictions around the country; a final decision by the online retailer is expected later this year.
Before making up his mind about the legislation, Moon said he had “asked the county to provide me with some of the projections that were made available to them when they themselves were discussing a package. The direct costs are known, but they haven’t provided us with what the projections are for all the indirect [costs].”
He added in an interview, “These things are important to me because they get to inform what the actual benefit of this expenditure is. The price tag is big enough that I just wanted to take a look [at] these numbers.”
However, Moon, who in the past has been critical of other corporate incentive packages—notably state legislation in 2013 that gave Lockheed Martin a tax break related to a training center it operates in Bethesda—made clear that he viewed the Amazon legislation differently.
“Because it’s net new jobs, it’s unlike many of the other incentive packages we’ve seen … in recent memory,” he said. “Most of the ones we’ve seen is just moving a company from one part of the state to another, or paying to retain jobs.”
Among the provisions of the Amazon legislation is a state income tax credit for each new qualifying headquarters job for a 10-year period. Jobs that qualify are those created within the first 17 years of the project that pay between $60,000 and $500,000 in annual salary.
State legislators from Montgomery County including (from left to right) Sen. Roger Manno and Dels. David Moon, Jeff Waldstreicher, Al Carr and Andrew Platt said they were interested in finding out more information about the incentive package. Credit: Maryland General Assembly photos
The county’s only member of the state Senate not to sign on to the Amazon bill, Sen. Roger Manno of Silver Spring, also has been critical of past economic incentive packages. Manno was the only member of that chamber to vote against a Hogan initiative last year to provide tax breaks to companies that create manufacturing jobs in high unemployment areas; he was quoted by the political news website Maryland Reporter at the time deriding the measure as “a steak dinner for big business and a chicken box for the workers.”
Asked about the Amazon legislation Tuesday, Manno—who has close ties to organized labor—signaled that his support is contingent on maximizing workers benefits as well as unionization opportunities.
“I am eager to see Amazon headquartered in Maryland, and am hopeful that any taxpayer-funded package includes guarantees of top-tier salaries, benefits, and union representation for all operational and construction jobs,” Manno said in a phone interview.
Manno is leaving the Maryland Senate to pursue a run for the Democratic nomination for the District 6 congressional seat of departing U.S. Rep. John Delaney. Another candidate for the Delaney seat in the June Democratic primary, Del. Aruna Miller of Darnestown, is among the members of the county delegation who has signed on to sponsor the Amazon bill.
Del. Jeff Waldstreicher of Kensington, who is seeking the seat being vacated by Sen. Richard Madaleno—a candidate for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination—was among two District 18 delegates to opt not to sponsor the legislation. Del. Al Carr of Kensington also declined to sign on, while Madaleno is a sponsor of the bill.
The site of the former White Flint mall—said by sources to be the location that the county is offering for the Amazon headquarters—is located in the district represented by Madaleno, Carr and Waldstreicher.
“I’m in listening mode. This is a very big bill, and so I just needed more opportunity to learn the details,” Waldstreicher said. He called the prospect of attracting Amazon “an exciting opportunity,” but added that he felt an obligation to vet the measure with particular care because “my understanding of the site being offered to Amazon is that it’s in my legislative district.”
Both Carr and Waldstreicher said they are awaiting details of infrastructure improvements that will be used to attract Amazon along with the tax breaks contained in the recently introduced legislation. Most, if not all, of the infrastructure enhancements are expected to be offered through existing funds and programs not requiring new legislation.
The “transportation infrastructure improvements have not been shared with us—so it’s a little hard to take a position on the legislation without seeing the whole [proposal],” Carr noted. “I would be interested in learning more about the entirety of what is being proposed before making up my mind.”
He added: “Yes, we want to have a new large employer come to the area, but at what price? What are we giving up in order to do that? And will we be able to keep up with the infrastructure demands on our transportation network and on our schools? So there are some unknowns.”
One of the legislators who did not sponsor the bill, Del. Jheanelle Wilkins of Silver Spring—who shares representation of District 20 with Moon—said she supports the aims of the measure.
“I do support Amazon and providing incentives for Amazon to come to Montgomery County,” Wilkins said. “I’m in full support of it.” But Wilkins said she is waiting to see the legislation in its final form before making a decision on whether to back it, adding, “I’d like to see how the bill shakes out.”
Del. Andrew Platt of Gaithersburg, who recently announced he would not seek re-election, is the remaining county legislator to decline to co-sponsor. “I want to see how it develops a little bit more,” he said.
A major question surrounding the bill’s prospects in the coming weeks involves whether several powerful legislators from outside Montgomery County—notably state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller of Prince George’s County and House Speaker Michael Busch of Anne Arundel County—will buy into Hogan’s Amazon proposal. One source close to the Montgomery County delegation noted that Miller and Busch have their own big-ticket priorities.
“It’s a tough pill to swallow,” said Busch, who was quoted last month by The Baltimore Sun in response to the proposed Amazon deal. “It’s hard to talk about $5 billion when you’re behind on school construction, behind on health care.”
Miller, while saying he backed a deal to attract Amazon, at the same time criticized Hogan’s latest budget for not including money for recovery projects in troubled Baltimore city and a new hospital in his Prince George’s County home base.
“First, we have to take care of the needs of the state, then we can focus on attracting a world-class company like Amazon,” Miller told reporters after Hogan’s Amazon proposal was announced.