FCBA: Pollution diet for Bay definitely will increase tax burden

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By Steve Seawright

A recent posting by Kim Coble of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) asserts that Maryland’s implementation of a pollution diet for the Bay can reduce Maryland’s tax burden, whereas the opposite is true.

The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) estimates that implementation of the state’s Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) will have a direct cost price tag between 2012 and 2017 in excess of $11 billion and a study by Sage Policy Group, commissioned by the Maryland State Builders Association and completed under the direction of economist Anirban Basu, simply observes that the MDE direct cost estimate likely is low.

The Sage Policy study, however, concludes correctly that the direct diversion of $11 billion from the state’s economic resources solely into WIP implementation also will result in the loss of 65,000 jobs, indirectly shrinking the state’s economy by an additional $10 billion. The $21 billion sum of both direct and indirect costs breaks down to an average cost of $913 million for each of Maryland’s 23 counties or, on a more personal level, a cost of $9,750 per Maryland household.

Whether one considers only direct costs or all costs, Frederick County’s Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) understands that the success of a pollution diet dependent upon this degree of gobbling up of county and household resources is a “when pigs fly” solution to Bay cleanup needs. Such a “solution” is an economic and political non-starter.

Rather than criticizing the Frederick BOCC for addressing the reality and impractically of the WIP program, the CBF would better serve a mutually shared objective for Bay cleanup by advocating that the state itself, “get real” and re-structure a cleanup program that has buy-in and is deemed realistic by at least a majority of all who must pay the bill.

The “when pigs fly” nature of the present WIP program is simply illustrated by the recent effort of Frederick County to use MDE’s MAST computer modeling program to understand what activities, without regard to cost, would have to be initiated by the City of Frederick, Maryland’s 3rd largest municipality, to comply with its WIP requirements. There was no solution that worked, even without regard to cost, until the assumption was made that the City of Frederick would convert half of its existing impervious surface to forest lands. Then and only then did one have a WIP solution that worked on paper, but only on paper and not in any world we live in, economic or otherwise.

Each member of the BOCC, every member of the Frederick County Builders Association (FCBA), every member of CBF and likely every resident of the state agrees that continued, cost-effective progress in Bay clean-up is vital to our state and its quality of life.

Yet, Bay clean-up is not being approached by MDE with any recognition as to local resource limitations or the state of the economy or any concern whatsoever for prioritizing WIP requirements and expenditures in order of cost-effectiveness. In fact, Maryland is pushing a WIP program structured so that the least cost-effective measures for affecting Bay clean-up appear to be given the greatest impetus.

At the same time there is recognition in Frederick County and numerous other counties that much of what is being advocated as “Bay cleanup Smart Growth” represents a scarcely concealed grab for state control over local land use and zoning decisions. Is the Frederick BOCC correct in taking a stand sharply critical of the presently constituted WIP program? FCBA says, “Yes! Absolutely!”

While the CBF post in Center MD implied that curtailing the extension of roadways into areas not meeting its definition of “smart growth” would save $15 billion in tax expenditures, such savings are a fiction because the claim is based on myth. The myth is that public infrastructure for new development, whether for roadways, utilities, etc., is paid for by tax payer funds.

The reality is that Frederick County, along with most other Maryland counties have Adequate Public Facility Ordinances (APFO’s) which dictate that builders and land developers pay for the incremental public facilities required for the homes and communities they build. There is no public savings when the public refrains from expenditures that it already does not make. The math goes, “0-0=0”.

FCBA member-builders, like every builder across the state, have done much and are prepared to do more in pursuit of Bay cleanup, an essential state priority, albeit not the state’s only priority.

We applaud and support the Frederick BOCC in its opposition to a wholly infeasible, “when pigs fly” approach to Bay cleanup. There should be no doubt that FCBA members, along with county leaders in Frederick County and around the state, will be steadfastly in support of a re-structured Bay cleanup program that is ambitious, yet grounded in economic reality, and is dedicated to insuring that public expenditures for achieving Bay cleanup are prioritized and implemented in order of cost-effectiveness.

Steve Seawright is president of the Frederick County Builders Association.
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