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Senate budget panel approves $2M grant for Aquarium

ANNAPOLIS — The National Aquarium in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor would receive $2 million from the state under a capital budget plan adopted Friday by a Senate budget panel.

The appropriation, which was not in Gov. Martin O’Malley’s original $3.6 billion capital spending plan, would help pay for infrastructure improvements at the aquarium. Messages left for aquarium officials Friday afternoon were not returned.

The Budget and Taxation Committee approved SB 151, the capital budget, in a swift voting session. The spending plan must still be approved by the full Senate.

Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, D-Baltimore County and Howard, who chairs the Senate panel and is a member of the capital budget subcommittee, said the money for the aquarium came from multiple appropriations given in previous years that were either delayed or were less expensive than the committee expected. That money came back to the committee and was earmarked for the aquarium project.

The capital budget bill adopted by the Senate committee also included a $2.5 million allocation to the Maryland Stadium Authority, which will use the money to fund the preliminary planning and development of a $900 million project to expand the Baltimore Convention Center and build a hotel and arena adjacent to it.

Baltimore City and the state would be on the hook for $400 million of that money, with $500 million being covered by private sources. The committee voted to adopt amended language in the appropriation that would freeze the $2.5 million until the state Department of Budget and Management, Baltimore City and the project’s developer enter into a memorandum of understanding.

The memorandum would have to include preliminary agreement on the management and ownership structure of the convention center project and how much money each party intends to spend on it.

The memorandum would then be subject to review within 45 days by the legislature’s budget committees.