Amid a quiet protest on the steps of Montgomery County’s legislative home Thursday, Patrick McCann leaned back to belt out his own twist on a familiar television jingle.
“My name is Lockheed Martin and I need a grant now,” the Rockville resident, military veteran and teacher sang, to the tune of financial services firm J.G. Wentworth’s commercial for quick lump-sum payments.
McCann was parodying a proposed $900,000 Montgomery County grant to Lockheed Martin that would rebate the Bethesda-based company $900,000 for two years of its county hotel-motel taxes.
One of about a dozen residents gathered at the County Council building to protest the proposed appropriation, McCann also was one of about seven who testified against it during the council’s public hearings on County Executive Isiah Leggett’s (D) fiscal 2013 budget proposal.
At issue is a single line-item in Leggett’s economic development fund: “Add: Lockheed Martin Room Rental Transient Tax Rebate Payment for FY12-13 for Expedited Bill 44-10...$900,000.”
The company pays about $450,000 in annual lodging tax for the Center for Leadership Excellence, or CLE, company spokeswoman Jen Allen wrote in an email to The Gazette. Opened in March 2009, the 300,000-square-foot CLE has 183 guest-rooms, eight large classrooms, and 20 conference rooms as well as a full service restaurant, fitness center and 248-seat auditorium.
Allen said the corporation has 123,000 employees worldwide.
Although the CLE has conference and lodging facilities, a commercial hotel tax is not appropriate, company spokesman Christopher Williams wrote in a separate email to The Gazette.
“Regrettably, the CLE is being treated for tax purposes as if it were a commercial hotel, and it is not,” he wrote. “It is a corporate training facility used by our employees who travel to Bethesda for business meetings.”
Williams said Lockheed Martin sought relief from the tax through whatever means the county deemed appropriate.
Leggett said that because the CLE only is used by employees and contractors of the company, subjecting it to lodging taxes is unfair.
“This tax was never meant to apply to in-house lodging facilities such as that operated by Lockheed Martin that are not open to the public,” Leggett wrote in a letter to those opposed to the grant. “It is time we right that wrong. It’s the right thing to do — and it’s the smart thing to do.”
In October, Lockheed Martin will host the Strategic Organization Design Workshop at the CLE, according to information from the University of Southern California Center for Effective Organizations, Marshall School of Business.
County residents, aware of the upcoming workshop, questioned the corporation’s claim of being unfairly taxed, testifying to the County Council that the event registration form made it clear the CLE is used by those other than Lockheed Martin employees.
On the form, attendees are asked to identify their organization and can select to stay at the Center for Leadership Excellence or an off-site hotel.
When asked about the workshop, Alice Yee Mark, program coordinator for the Center for Effective Organizations at USC, wrote in an email to The Gazette that the event is hosted by Lockheed Martin, is not open to the public, and is restricted to human resources professionals and those in related disciplines.
“Non-Lockheed Martin attendees will be making offsite lodging arrangements for this workshop, consistent with Lockheed Martin’s policy,” Mark wrote.
Rick Sullivan of Fund Our Communities, testified to the council that Lockheed Martin using its center for internal and profitable use is “normal and reasonable.”
“What does not seem reasonable is exempting Lockheed Martin from the hotel tax,” Sullivan testified.
“I think it is totally inappropriate at a time when our property taxes are increasing ... but also the fact that [Lockheed Martin] is a huge part of the war machine,” said protester Ruth Poulin of Kensington.
Of all the budget considerations asked of the council during five public hearings last week, not granting a tax break to Lockheed Martin is an easy ask, Councilman George L. Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park said.
“I don’t think there is a single member of this council that will support that appropriation,” he said.