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Letters to the Editor – 11/18/11

As the two chief volunteer officers of The Arc Baltimore, we share the concern, indeed the outrage, over the news that the Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA), reverted unspent funds to the state general fund.  (“Maryland disabilities agency leaves $38M unspent,” Nov. 9). As an advocacy organization, we represent families on waiting lists who desperately need community services and we seek to keep those needs in the forefront of the state administration’s and legislature’s priorities. At the same time, as a service providing agency, we have struggled to find and keep direct support staff who earn meager wages as the result of years of stagnant and even reduced funding from DDA. On both counts, the news that budgeted funds went unspent is deeply troubling.

There is, however, a bright light amidst this disturbing news — [Department of Health and Mental Hygiene] Secretary Joshua Sharfstein, along with Deputy Secretary Thomas Kim and DDA Director Frank Kirkland, have taken responsibility for this oversight and are pledged to making things right for the families and the providers. This is especially heartening in that the mistakes occurred before any of their tenures at DHMH yet they have already instituted some of the changes needed to avoid future missteps. We urge them to restore these funds to the current and subsequent years’ state budget.

The Arc also worked closely with a diverse coalition aimed at securing the alcohol tax increase that went into effect this past July 1, a portion of which was earmarked for those on the waiting lists. Lest anyone conclude that these recent developments would have mitigated the need for that tax increase, the reality is that the earmarked funds (while certainly a good thing) will only take care of some of the most critical needs. The alcohol tax increase also provides no funds that underfunded providers could use to improve direct support staff wages. The need for all of these funds, and then some, remains paramount.

James A. List, Esq.

Carla Murphy, Esq.

President and vice president, volunteer Board of Directors of The Arc Baltimore

Despite protests to the contrary from the O’Malley administration, it has been clear for the past few years that the administration’s programs, policies and proposed legislation constitute an assault on rural economies and property rights. Whether the War on Rural Maryland is intentional or not is beside the point. (“Editorial: Stop the war talk,” Nov. 4) The fact remains that implementation of the administration’s policies and legislative proposals, from the proposed septic system ban to higher tolls, taxes and fees will strip rural Maryland of any real opportunity to create jobs and boost its economy.

The O’Malley administration denies that there is a war on rural Maryland by touting the millions of state dollars spent on rural education, school construction, health care, etc. Of course, the state has not completely abandoned rural Maryland. Constitutionally, it cannot.  Nevertheless, it is clear that state funding for rural Maryland is just about last on the administration’s list.

Rural Maryland has been forced to take a back seat in the game of state funding, especially where transportation projects are concerned.  Of the transportation budget, 45 percent is slated for mass transit and $4 billion will be spent on rapid-rail capital projects which rural Marylanders will never ride. The most expensive transportation project in Maryland’s history is the $2.4 billion, 18-mile Intercounty Connector – ICC – that was supposed to be self-supporting. Now, we discover that the ICC needs support from the recent toll increases that hammer rural Eastern Shore residents disproportionately. Of course, the ICC is another transportation project which rural Marylanders will rarely, if ever, use.

It appears that rural Maryland is doomed to be sucked into an endless whirlpool helping to pay the tab for urban Maryland. One of the worst administration policies for rural Maryland is PlanMaryland, which will destroy local government’s authority to plan land use and the property rights of those who live in rural Maryland. And it’s all being done with the stroke of a gubernatorial pen and not by a vote by the people’s elected representatives in the General Assembly.

The administration dusted off a 1974 law that they say gave the state planning department ultimate authority in determining how land was to be used. However, the land use plan was never written. The O’Malley administration has written the plan. And the O’Malley administration claims that no legislative approval was necessary. It should be noted that in 1974, the state planning secretary at the time opposed the legislation for taking too much power away from local officials.

However, according to the administration, PlanMaryland is a collaborative effort with local governments. BUT THE STATE HAS THE FINAL SAY. That’s a strange collaborative effort. It’s something like “heads I win – tales, you lose.”

As I see it, PlanMaryland deals the death blow to local government authority over land use and private property rights. It is an unprecedented intrusion upon local land use control.

It should be emphasized that no governor since 1974 has taken it upon himself to write a land-use plan. They introduced legislation when they sought to limit local land use authority and they sought legislative approval. Specifically the Critical Areas Act of 1984 and the Smart Growth Act of 1988 were subject to legislative approval. In 1988, the General Assembly killed a gubernatorial commission’s recommendation to transfer local land use authority to the state. I have not a single doubt the General Assembly would kill the O’Malley administration’s PlanMaryland if the governor had the integrity and courage to submit it to the people’s elected representatives.

The administration’s protestations that the War on Rural Maryland does not exist are brazen. Is the governor saying, ‘Do you believe me or your own eyes? Well, I don’t believe the governor.

Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-Upper Shore