(The Center Square) – Project Restore, an existing economic development program within Maryland, could be extended through 2027 in a bill that is under review.

As proposed, Senate Bill 0393 would re-up Project Restore through Sept. 30, 2027, by placing the program under the auspices of the Department of Housing and Community Development and target vacant retail and commercial space – namely in communities facing economic challenges.

SB 0393 would provide financial incentives to commercial developers, nonprofit organizations, and small businesses for the revitalization efforts.

The legislation also includes provisions to use Project Restore as a mechanism for establishing and financing rental grants and business operation grants that are awarded through the program.

There are a number of stipulations and conditions for each of the different types of grants.

The business operations grant, for example, would be capped at $250,000 within a 12-month period. The option of renewing the grant is included in the current provisions.

Rental grants also would likely have a set of unique requirements. The bill states rental grants would only be distributed to eligible businesses or nonprofit organizations with 50 or fewer full-time equivalent employees.

SB 0393 currently is in the hands of the House Ways and Means Committee, which held a hearing on the legislation at a meeting on March 30. The panel heard from one speaker – a staffer in Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration.

“Project Restore has already provided millions of dollars to businesses when they’ve needed it the most,” said Jake Whitaker, deputy legislative officer.

If the bill is passed in its current form, Whitaker said, “It will help ensure the state continues to invest in the revitalization and expansion of economic opportunities in underserved communities.”

Thomas Elder, a policy analyst in the Maryland Department of Legislative Services, has weighed in on the bill in a fiscal note.

In the analysis, Elder said the expense side of the ledger would increase incrementally “to capitalize the special fund.”

In the fiscal year 2023, a one-time federal funding contribution would add $25 million to the fund. The state, in turn, also would allocate $25 million of its own finances into the fund annually in fiscal year budgets from 2023 to 2027.

“The governor’s proposed FY 2023 budget includes $25 million in federal funds for the program,” Elder wrote in the fiscal note. “That funding is not contingent on the enactment of this bill.”

In his analysis, Elder also weighed in on the potential impact Project Restore could have in the next five years in communities if all of the provisions in SB 0393 are adopted.

“Although the bill does not directly affect local government operations or finances, the bill may result in an increase in local revenues from increased economic redevelopment in local jurisdictions where businesses and nonprofit organizations are eligible to receive grants,” Elder said.

The Center Square contributor

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