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Bill eases path for public-private partnerships

ANNAPOLIS — Businesses seeking long-term deals to run day-to-day operations and pay for capital improvements at state facilities would be subject to special procurement rules under legislation passed on Monday by the General Assembly.

The public-private partnerships legislation, House Bill 560, received a 117 to 18 vote in the House of Delegates on the final day of the legislature’s regular 90-day session. The House decided to concur with minor amendments approved by the Senate, which passed HB 560 by a 46 to 1 vote last week.

State officials say the special rules would add greater certainty for businesses, which could enter into lease agreements of as long as 50 years in exchange for making capital improvements. Businesses can currently enter into such deals — two are already active in the state, at the Port of Baltimore and two Interstate 95 travel plazas — but the new procurement rules are supposed to streamline the award of a contract.

The bill took on greater importance after the legislature approved a dramatic increase in gas taxes and transit fares to pay for transportation projects. Public-private partnerships are seen as a possible tool to develop multibillion-dollar mass transit projects in Baltimore and suburban Washington.

Businesses can also pitch their own ideas to the state, rather than waiting for a state agency to solicit interest. The bill was backed by Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration, with Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown running point. Brown said in February that 6 to 10 percent of Maryland’s capital projects could be paid for through public-private partnerships with the new rules.

Invest Maryland

Also on Monday, the General Assembly approved changes to the state’s signature venture capital program.

The Senate agreed to concur with clarifying amendments the House of Delegates made to Senate Bill 70, then passed the bill 46 to 0.

The legislation relaxes restrictions and makes technical changes to the $84 million InvestMaryland venture capital program. The bill was requested by the state Department of Business and Economic Development after private venture capital firms balked at investing state money in early-stage technology companies under current rules.

While $25 million has been given to private investors, only $5 million of that money has been invested in Maryland companies. DBED officials said changes were necessary to break that logjam.

InvestMaryland was O’Malley’s signature economic development initiative in 2011.