Monday, January 23, 2006

Robbing Peter to Rob Paul

. . . and you thought the Gov’s magic billion-dollar surplus came from higher tax revenues! Once again the hate-America, rob from our grandchildren Republicans reveal their true colors.


Baltimore Sun

Opinion

Conservation calculation
Originally published January 22, 2006

When Maryland’s Program Open Space was created in 1969, it was envisioned as a kind of automatic savings account for the environment. The idea is simple enough. Each time there’s a real estate purchase, a state transfer tax is assessed. A portion - one-half percent of a property’s value - is then used to buy land, build parks and preserve farms. The beauty of the system is that development would automatically fuel land conservation. Program Open Space wouldn’t have to compete for funds.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t always worked out that way. Governors from time to time have dipped into the program to finance other needs. But no governor in these 37 years has pumped this financial reserve as dry as Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has over the past three. Altogether, he’s taken more than $400 million out of the program to balance the state’s general fund. And unlike the millions he took out of transportation, he’s shown no indication that he’ll ever pay it back.

So it’s surprising that the beset flora and fauna didn’t collectively rise as one out of the Chesapeake Bay to attack the governor last week when he showed up at North Point State Park to announce that he wouldn’t divert money from the program this year. No doubt they were simply overwhelmed by the dazzling display of chutzpah. What oyster has ever seen a fellow with the billion-dollar-plus budget surplus bragging that he’s not raiding the environmental piggy bank (for now)?

True, the governor’s willingness to leave the program alone means $258 million for land conservation. That’s helpful, but we’d be more inclined to ask the question a mortgage lender might pose to a delinquent client who makes a partial payment: What, sir, are you going to do about the rest?

Mr. Ehrlich, whose environmental record has been spotty at best, seems to want to make amends. He’s probably worried that people remember the St. Mary’s County land deal - his effort to sell off 836 acres of forest to a politically connected developer two years ago. The overwhelming public support for a constitutional amendment restricting such deals suggests he’s right. But one year of funding doesn’t balance the governor’s political ledger. Such newfound environmental fervor (particularly such a relatively tepid fervor) seems likely to cool soon enough. Surely, neither crabs nor voters can sit still for that.

Copyright © 2006, The Baltimore Sun

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