Credit: Photo By Steve Bohnel

Next week, lawmakers in Annapolis hope to override Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of a bill that includes $2 million to help businesses hurt by construction of the Purple Line light-rail project.

The Purple Line will be a 16-mile, 21-station light-rail system, with stops from Bethesda to New Carrollton in Prince George’s County.

Along Bonifant Street, east of Georgia Avenue, in downtown Silver Spring, construction has begun. Elected officials and others said in a news briefing Monday that this work has been disruptive to small businesses in the area and elsewhere along the Purple Line route.

On Tuesday, the Montgomery County Council introduced $231,000 for a business grant program.

Up to 10% of the fund would be used for administrative costs. The remaining money — at least $207,900 — would be distributed in grants of up to $5,000 to eligible businesses.

State lawmakers said Monday that they aim to override legislation that Hogan vetoed last year, which would, among other things, offer another $2 million in grants to help businesses affected by Purple Line construction in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

The money would be split between fiscal years 2023 and 2024, according to the legislation.

Businesses that qualify for the grant program would receive up to $50,000. A business must have no more than 20 employees, be independently owned and operated, and “not dominant in its field of operation,” among other requirements. 

The bill also proposed front-loading money that would be allocated to the state’s Transportation Trust Fund over the next six fiscal years.

The fund “was created in 1971 to establish a dedicated fund to support the Maryland Department of Transportation ” and allows state officials to pay for various transportation and infrastructure needs, according to the state’s website.

Currently, in fiscal years 2023 and 2024, at least $361.880 million and $414.9 million is proposed for the fund. The bill would raise those amounts to at least $402.0 million and $502.1 million for those fiscal years. It would then decrease the allocations in the outer years.

In his veto letter in May, Hogan stated during that the coronavirus pandemic, the bill would have caused him to lay off workers. He was concerned about the shifting of money in the Transportation Trust Fund, and how that would affect Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) employees and transportation projects.

“Had this legislation been in place as the pandemic hit, MDOT would not have had the flexibility to shift funds and would have been forced to lay off valuable employees and/or further delay and even cancel critical projects across the state,” the letter stated.

On Monday, county and state elected officials accused Hogan’s veto of being an anti-business decision, despite running with a pro-business platform in both 2014 and 2018.

Mike Ricci, a spokesman for the governor, wrote in an email that the governor just allocated $500,000 for businesses affected by the construction, including the aforementioned $231,000 for Montgomery County.

“The $2 million was jammed into an unrelated mandated spending bill in a way that it wouldn’t even be available until sometime later in 2022,” Ricci wrote about the legislation that Hogan vetoed. “If it’s so urgent, why did they do that? This is where partisan grandstanding gets it so backwards. If you care so much, then find a way to help rather than making it a political issue about who’s ‘pro-business.’”

But Del. Jheanelle Wilkins (D-Silver Spring), one of the elected officials at Monday’s news briefing, said in an interview Friday that state lawmakers have aimed to “wall off” $2 million elsewhere in the state budget for the grant funds for businesses affected by Purple Line construction.

“We have worked to do this in a number of different ways. The main point, and what I called on the governor to do, is to work with us on solutions. … This bill is just the latest effort,” Wilkins said.

She added that the $500,000 the governor allocated is not enough, as businesses along the Purple Line have had to both deal with construction and economic challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Wilkins hopes the state legislature overrides Hogan’s veto during next week’s special session, when newly drawn redistricting maps will be the main topic of debate.

The Maryland General Assembly is scheduled to convene Monday at 10 a.m.

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com