Senator Pipkin: O’Malley’s War on Rural Maryland

As soon as he was re-elected, Governor Martin O’Malley began pushing legislation and policies that made it painfully clear his war on rural Maryland had shifted into high gear. As weapons of war, the Governor is using policies to strip property rights, impose higher and unfair taxes and tolls and ride roughshod over local planning and zoning, which will result in killing jobs and economic growth now and in the future.

At the end of his annual state-of-the-state speech this past January, O’Malley stunned rural representatives when he said he wanted approval of legislation to ban septic systems in new housing developments of five or more homes. For the 1.6 million people who live in rural Maryland, passage of O’Malley’s septic ban would spell an end to employment and the devaluation of $1 trillion worth of land, including area farmland. Under the guise of acting to protect the safety and adequacy of well sites or sewage disposal areas on a lot or adjacent lots, the Secretary of MDE assumes the role of Land Czar with the final word. When one considers that septic systems contribute only 1.6% of the nitrogen load entering the Bay, O’Malley’s septic system ban is nothing short of overkill and a shameful assault on property rights.

If a septic system ban doesn’t turn rural Maryland into a mammoth land preserve, O’Malley’s Plan Maryland surely will. Plan Maryland will usher in the era in which the State Planning Department is elevated to a super-high bureaucratic position with the power to veto local zoning or simply refuse to construct the roads and schools to support local zoning plans. The American respect for property rights will become a curious relic of the past. Landowners still will be expected to pay property taxes on their land, but will be stripped of their right to develop it.

Rural Western Maryland is sitting on rock formations of Marcellus Shale where stores of natural gas are trapped. According to the Unites States Geological Survey, the shale formation, which stretches from New York to Virginia contains 84 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas. The use of hydraulic fracturing to drill for natural gas poses some risks which must be addressed. But in the meantime, Pennsylvania and West Virginia are getting the benefit of thousands of jobs created by drilling for natural gas. Governor O’Malley has appointed a state panel to recommend natural-gas drilling regulations. A final report, with recommendations relating to the impact of drilling, is due by August 1, 2014. Critics believe that O’Malley is using the panel to delay investment in the state’s Marcellus Shale. I am one of those critics.

Recently, Governor O’Malley stood by and watched the Maryland Transit Authority (MdTA) approve a sky high toll increase on Maryland’s bridges, tunnels and roads that will further serve to depress the economy of the rural Eastern Shore and stymie job creation. Tolls on multiple axel vehicles were doubled assuring that surcharges will be imposed on deliveries to both small and large businesses. On the Bay Bridge, alone, tolls will nearly triple by 2013. Much of the revenue will be used to pay for the InterCounty Connector (ICC), an 18-mile strip of road joining Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties, on which most rural residents will never travel.

The ICC was touted as being able to pay for itself. We now know that is not true. It should be noted that the ICC is the only Maryland toll facility where the tolls were not increased. The MdTA Board, which increased the tolls is appointed by the Governor and can raise tolls without any approval of the Legislature.

The plan to increase by 15 cents the state’s 23.5 cents per gallon gas tax is another example of the war on rural Maryland. Generally, rural residents drive more miles than urban or suburban Marylanders. Any gas tax increase will impact disproportionately on people who live in rural areas. And to add insult to injury, the increased gas tax revenue will benefit rural people least. Mass transit projects, which rural people do not use, will eat up most of the gas tax revenue. Let’s face it, building urban and suburban mass transit projects, such as the Red and Purple metro lines, have always and will continue to take precedence over road improvement and badly-needed bridge repair or replacement in rural Maryland.

Adding to the assault on rural Maryland, the costs associated with the Watershed Improvement Plan has been dumped on the rural counties. The Plan has a price tag of $11 billion for just Phase I, according to a report April 2011 report by Sage Policy Group, a public policy consulting firm, with billions more as the plan is fully implemented.

Governor O’Malley likes referring to the state as “One Maryland.” At best, that term is a cynical joke. At worst, it is a lie. Governor O’Malley has made it clear through his policies that in his
“One Maryland,” there is no room for rural Maryland.

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