Opinion: Hogan reverses raids on open space funds

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By Greg Kline

For MarylandReporter.com

With all the negativity and hyperbole going on in national politics these days it is easy for an important development in Maryland government to be ignored by the media. The reality, though, is that these decisions have far more impact on the day to day life of Marylanders than daily horse race of national politics.

Take, for example, the signing into law this week of HB 462, which restores and protects state funding to transfer tax funded land conservation, preservation and recreation programs such as Program Open Space.  This new law comes the same week that the Maryland Board of Public Works announced that it was keeping the state’s property tax rate the same.

If you follow most local media outlets you probably did not hear about these events and you almost certainly would not have understood why the are so important. These two decisions, however, show a marked difference in how our state, under Governor Hogan, has found a way to promote and protecting preservation of our state’s open spaces without raising our state’s property tax.

Raiding special funds

During the O’Malley administration, monies set aside for various special funds, including programs like Project Open Space, were seized and diverted into general fund spending.  These funds, despite scores of tax and fee increases, were never replenished during O’Malley’s tenure. In fact, the state started issuing bonds to continue to fund open space spending raising the specter that the property tax, used to fund Maryland’s debt payments, would itself need to be increased by the next administration.

Despite leaving this oil slick of poor fiscal management behind, in November, 2014, at one of is last Board of Public Works meetings, Governor O’Malley insisted that “the next administration will not be in favor of open space”.  The Daily Record reported the comments in full under the headline “O’Malley: Larry Hogan Hates Open Space.” This criticism came during the approval of a sweetheart land deal for a major donor to O’Malley and state Democrats.

It is hard to imagine a more concrete example of the cynical, partisan leadership Marylanders endured for eight years under Martin O’Malley.

Protecting open space

Despite the partisan hyperbole of former Governor O’Malley, the reality is that Governor Hogan, rather than hating open space, has done far more than his predecessor in protecting the program and its dedicated sources of funding.  The new measure, passed with wide bipartisan support and signed by Governor Hogan this week, provides $60 million in new funding for programs such as the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Fund, and Rural Legacy and Program Open Space.

It also allocates funds for state land and park development, maintenance and recreation, including several parks in Baltimore City. The law also requires that the transfers under the O’Malley administration, totaling $90 million, be repaid with the state’s general funds and that additional repayments, totaling $152 million, be appropriated starting in 2021.

The law prevents a repetition of the abuses under the O’Malley administration by establishing new procedures for all future appropriations, reimbursements and transfers.

This is hardly the act of an administration that hates open space as Governor O’Malley so petulantly claimed. Moreover, Governor Hogan’s fiscal leadership has enabled this replenishment of open space funds without any increases in the property tax rate or other tax increases.

Limiting state borrowing

In fact, Governor Hogan for the last two years has limited state borrowing to under one billion dollars thereby reducing the difference between property tax proceeds and the amount from the general fund needed to cover debt payments.

It is a shame that this is not a bigger story. Governor Hogan has managed to turn the state’s fiscal ship around and in the area of preserving our state’s open space managed to fully fund programs without the need for higher taxes.

Governor Hogan has adopted the obvious balance between protecting taxpayers and environmental preservation that Martin O’Malley eschewed and did it in a bipartisan way that demonstrates his commitment to solving problems rather than scoring partisan political points.

Greg Kline is a founder and senior editor of RedMaryland.com as well as the general manager of the Red Maryland Network.  Greg is also an attorney practicing in Severna Park.  He can be reached at Gregory.Kline@gklinelaw.com or 410-541-6384.

  • charlie hayward

    O’Malley’s POS raids belied his support for the program to the extent monies removed from the program (with acquiescence of the legislature) weren’t repaid. O’Malley’s criticism of Hogan, while hypocritical, was supportable because Hogan wanted to cut the base or the rate of the transfer tax which is the source of POS funding.

    • HangFire

      Supportable, maybe, but ultimately wrong.