I’ve been quiet on White Flint financing now for a month or so, relying on people to work things out in “stakeholder meetings” and so on. But maybe there’s something on the horizon?
We’ve been waiting for months for the County Executive to propose a financing plan for the White Flint Sector Plan. Discussions started last year, with the County Executive telling the Montgomery County Planning Board that White Flint was a wealthy area and funds should not be reserved for helping the wealthy when there were greater needs in other parts of the County. The Executive hired an expensive outside consultant to figure out financing ideas, rejecting the careful compromises worked out by the Planning Board and development community (in which, by the way, the developers agreed to tax themselves to pay for needed infrastructure, even before they began building).
Then the Executive’s staff held a series of meetings with the County Council. Those meetings were notable for looking at a variety of “options,” most of which made no sense, and would never be used. The consultant didn’t seem to produce anything of note.
Then, we waited, and waited, and waited. We got pledges that legislation would be drafted by the end of July. And it was. (Not introduced, but someone worked on it.) The legislation wasn’t bad, but it had some pretty enormous holes as well. Most notably, it was completely open-ended on the amount of taxes. And some of the comments suggested that the Executive was thinking of taxing current residents. Can’t let those wealthy people get away scot-free, I guess. But then cooler heads prevailed, and Diane Schwartz-Jones, the lead staffer for the County Executive, announced that current residents wouldn’t be taxed after all.
Fast-forward to last week. Diane Jones appears at the Chamber of Commerce meeting. Asked about White Flint financing, she said “this is a complicated and expensive Plan.” And then she stopped. [Blink.] What? Waxing poetic on Science City, but on White Flint . . . ?
So, let’s review the bidding: we have a big White Flint Plan. Will generate, by the Executive’s own numbers Seven BILLION dollars in new tax revenue (that’s not counting taxes on current residents). A lot of the infrastructure will be provided for free by developers. Developers worked out a comprehensive financing package, including self-taxation at a reasonable level, so long as part of the money was used in White Flint to generate that $7 billion. A schedule was even agreed to, with specific infrastructure needs laid out. Everybody happy, right?
Um, nope. Now we hear that the County Exec’s “soak the wealthy” plan is back. Let’s double or even triple the taxes on White Flint. That’ll work, and we know somebody else needs the money, right?
Who are they kidding? This Plan has always been vulnerable to one thing: fear. Fear that Montgomery County would not keep its promises. Happened before. Apparently happening again. This triple tax nonsense will simply kill the Plan. As we know from past discussions, those massive parking lots and strip malls in White Flint are currently making money; that’s why rents are so high here (higher than in renovated Bethesda). You can’t triple taxes and expect people to give up on-going businesses to pay much much more. Especially if MoCo itself isn’t willing to even work on the preliminary planning phase.
I guess there’s a reason companies won’t relocate here. And there’s a reason East County gets starved. Montgomery County apparently is willing to give up billions in new tax revenue for something . . . else? Why can’t we all realize that White Flint is potentially an economic engine that can fund a lot of future benefits for a ton of people throughout MoCo? Why do we have to use it as an economic scapegoat for something else somewhere else?
Anyway, on Tuesday, the Council will get yet another briefing from the Executive’s staff on White Flint Financing. 11AM in the Council Building in Rockville. Who knows what wonderous messages we’ll get this time?