Week 3

| February 4, 2011 | 0 Comments

Between the introduction of the Governor’s budget, Environmental briefings, and the Polar Bear Plunge, last week was a busy one.  The Governor’s operating budget is four volumes long.  We’re working our way through it, and finding several items that weren’t spotlighted in Governor O’Malley’s “roll out” press release.  We’ll cover the budget in more detail later, but here are a few basic items to consider in the meantime:

  • General Fund Spending:         $15.6 billion
  • General Fund tax receipts:      $13.6 billion
  • Deficit:                                    $(2.0) billion

General Fund spending increases by 10.6%.  The Governor uses $700 million carried over from last year, “newly found savings”, some spending reductions, and “robs” the Transportation, Chesapeake Bay Restoration, Bay 2010, and Project Open Space Trust funds to “balance” the budget.  The Department of Legislative Services, the General Assembly’s nonpartisan budgeting analysts, literally categorize a portion of the Governor’s budget balancing plan as, “magic”.  Total state spending (General Fund + Special Funds + Federal Funds + Higher Education) is $34.1 billion, a $2 billion increase.  Anyway you look at it, Governor O’Malley’s budget increases spending, even though state tax receipts cannot sustain it, either this year or next year.

Maryland’s budget deficit, and our already high tax burden, loomed over the environmental and education briefings that spanned the rest of the week.  For example, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has mandated a “pollution diet” for the Chesapeake Bay that would significantly improve water quality by 2025.  Governor O’Malley’s more ambitious goal is to achieve the same results by 2020.

I asked Kim Coble, the Executive Director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, how much it would cost to complete Maryland’s “pollution diet” 5 years ahead of schedule, and whether the environmental benefits justified the added financial burden.  Ms. Coble, to her credit, admitted she didn’t know the cost.

But cost matters, especially at a time when people (as well as crabs) are hurting, and real income is falling.  Erik Michelsen, the Executive Director of the South River Federation, estimates that the stormwater management component of Governor O’Malley’s plan will cost $2 billion in Anne Arundel County alone.  That translates into an annual stormwater fee of $1,100/year for every property owner in the county.

I strongly support a national/regional approach to cleaning up out environment in general, and the Chesapeake Bay in particular.  They work far better than solo state efforts.  Maryland simply can’t “fence out” air and water pollution from other states.  Milestones that measure environmental progress in 2-4 year increments are also important.  We’re all tired of politicians formulating goals for a distant future, claiming success, and leaving office without cleaning up anything.  But if we’re finally going to take a regional approach to cleaning up the Bay, with measurable milestones, why is Maryland continuing to act like a solo act?

We all know that environmental progress has costs.  Our challenge is to balance progress and costs to maximize bay cleanup, and minimize or spread out the financial burden on our families.

On the lighter side, I enjoyed an opportunity to go for a quick dip in the Bay during the 15th annual Polar Bear Plunge at Sandy Point State Park.  The plunge raises money for the Maryland Special Olympics.  Participants jump into the Bay, collecting contributions from supporters in exchange for getting soaked to the bone in January.

It sounds crazy, but I had a good time, and of course all the money we raised went to a great cause.  My team, Eastport’s Davis’ Pub, raised over $10,000, and over $3 million was raised in total for the Maryland Special Olympics.

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