A Shore method of hearing from the Left

You’ll probably recall, as part of my coverage of the recent Delmarva Chicken Festival, that I brought up a new group called Let’s Be Shore. It’s a project of the Maryland Humanities Council, explained the nice lady manning (or would that be womanning?) the tent, and they’re looking to create a dialogue about our way of life.

Well, the other day I received an e-mail from Michelle Baylin, who’s the Communications Manager of the Maryland Humanities Council. It read in part:

I was writing to ask if you would consider additional posts and wanted to let you in on an update:  we are planning our first panel discussion, during the Chesapeake Folk Life Festival on July 28th at 3pm, with some of our video portrait subjects participating.  We’ll also have a Sharing Station tent at the festival as well.

Let’s Be Shore seeks, through the use of the humanities, to bring people with divergent perspectives together for respectful dialogue, offering a platform for residents to express views on the issues of land use, agriculture, the economy, and water quality along Maryland’s Eastern Shore.  Conservative views are an important component to presenting a balance of opinion! (Emphasis in original.)

Well, let’s add up the score: you got at least one additional post and I definitely have conservative views. But I knew nothing about the Chesapeake Folk Life Festival until I looked it up – it’s held in the quaint but picturesque town of St. Michaels. There’s nothing farther down the Shore just yet, so this partial effort at a response will have to suffice for now.

As always, I’m a little suspicious of these attempts at “dialogue” and togetherness because my experience has been that those who gain control of the group tend to also want to control a lot of other activities – case in point, the Wicomico Neighborhood Congress, which eventually devolved into an agenda-based group that seemed to screech most loudly against developing new neighborhoods (which, ironically enough, would be potential new members.) They eagerly climbed aboard the “growth is bad” bandwagon personified by this guy.

On the other hand, the tendency of conservatives to just want to be left alone by big government also means they’re not going to speak out as forcefully and we all know the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

But insofar as the quality of Chesapeake Bay is concerned, of course I’d like it to be clean as well. Yet I’m quite aware that to get it as pristine as it was when the only things which moved around here were a few Indians and plenty of wild game is not very realistic. To think otherwise is a pipe dream only a non-profit or government agency which would like to assure itself a perpetual slice of the taxpayer revenue pie would think up.

More importantly, if we ever got it back to that state the Chesapeake Bay Foundation would have no more reason to exist, so do you think they’ll ever give the Bay an “A” for cleanliness? I doubt it, because they’ll continually move the goalposts and we’ll be lucky if they get it above a “C”. In fact, the stated goal of the CBF is to restore the Bay to its state when first discovered, but there are several million people who would have to be forcibly relocated for that to occur. Not that the CBF seems to mind.

Instead, they advocate policies which will make growth more difficult and expensive in the entire Bay watershed, with a little bit of indoctrination thrown in:

Education will serve as a means to citizen engagement and behavior change…Drawing on the beneficial results of CBF educational efforts, we will engage adults and young people in a campaign to see that good laws and regulations are developed, introduced, passed, and enforced.

So that’s what we on the pro-growth side are up against, and it wouldn’t surprise me to eventually find the CBF’s hand (or money) in this effort at “dialogue.”

Speaking of money, as of last year the Maryland Humanities Council derived the bulk of its income from the National Endowment for the Humanities, with a smaller portion coming from various state departments. It’s worthy to note as well that the National Endowment of the Humanities requested over $154 million of your tax dollars for FY2013. Thus, you and I are paying for this.

The question is whether they’ll actually listen to conservative voices of reason who would like nothing better than securing a cleaner Bay without sacrificing the vast potential this area still has.

Harris hosts Lower Shore townhall

The locale was a familiar one, but there were still nearly 100 people in attendance this afternoon as Congressman Andy Harris took time to meet with his Lower Shore constituents. Originally slated as an hour-long event, Harris spoke for about 20 minutes on a couple topics and spent the last hour fielding questions.

Initially, Andy showed this chart, one which illustrates the upward climb of gasoline prices over the last few years. The “pain at the pump” we were feeling was a sign that America needed to change its energy policies.

Another point Andy made in his gasoline presentation was that 80 percent of the cost of a gallon of gas came from the crude oil, 10 percent from distribution and marketing, and 12 percent from taxes. Refining was being done at a 2 percent loss currently. Yet Martin O’Malley was advocating a 6 percent sales tax on gasoline, which would add perhaps 20 cents per gallon, phased in over three years. It compares to the state’s “Blue Ribbon Commission” recommendation of a straight 15 cent per gallon increase (also phased in over three years) along with the Simpson-Bowles federal recommendation of a 15 cent per gallon increase.

The next chart he showed illustrated where the federal gasoline taxes were now going.

Perhaps it would make more sense if I showed the slide Andy had beforehand, which was a full pie showing all the highway money went to roads. That’s how it was in 1980, but thirty years later only 47% goes to roads, while 17% goes to mass transit, and the rest is either in earmarks, beautification, or other flexible projects. Andy believed there should be no increase in the federal gasoline tax until we get back to the pre-1980 condition of spending it all on highways.

However, Andy also discussed the new highway bill, H.R. 7. It would replace a bill which had run its course three years ago; a bill which had been extended three times. Andy claimed that it would streamline the process of getting new highways completed and that potentially 100% of funds could go to highways, if the state opted to spend the funding that way. The gasoline tax wouldn’t be raised to cover the spending; instead a new fee would be applied to domestic oil and gas exploration. (The Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2012, as this is known, is still pending in the House.)

If anything about the bill bothers me, it’s that we can’t cover all it wants to spend with the existing gasoline tax. Why should energy companies – an industry we’re desperately trying to keep in the country to pursue our own abundant natural resources – have to help pay for highways?

Meanwhile, Andy pointed out that the state of Maryland has also raided its Transportation Trust Fund a number of times since 2003, to the tune of nearly $1 billion. Almost $680 million has been taken since 2010.

In essence, that was the extent of Andy’s message. He then opened the floor to questions, and ended up taking about a dozen. One of the most interesting ones came in regard to the tax holiday which Andy voted against last week. It was the “wrong way to do business,” said Andy, who then asked “will we ever stop the payroll tax holiday?”

Instead, something Andy suggested was giving people a choice – take the 2% reduction now and retire a month or two later, or maintain retirement age and pay the 2 percent. That seems like a valid suggestion to me, but Andy “didn’t think Congress is ready to be honest with the people.”

Another tax question Andy took was regarding a House bill which mandated a 1% fee on financial transactions sponsored by several Democrats. Andy said that bill was “not going anywhere in this House.” He pointed out that whenever taxes were increased, each dollar of new revenue was spent, along with 30% more.

Yet Harris also noted that all that saves us from being Greece was the fact we have the world’s reserve currency. Because of the strength of our dollar, interest on $15 trillion in debt is only $221 billion. But if we paid the same interest rates Greece is forced to pay, we would spend more on debt interest than we do on Social Security.

Naturally as part of the fiscal questions, someone asked Andy about the bonuses he gave to his staff. Andy defended the bonuses, saying that he paid his staff less than the average amount and once it became clear they would return money to the Treasury, he helped to bring them closer to the average pay scale through the bonus. To him, though, it was a good incentive to work more efficiently.

A couple questioners mentioned the defense cuts proposed by President Obama, particularly in our nuclear arsenal. Andy believed in “peace through strength” because “I don’t really trust the Russians or Chinese” but also made it clear that “I wish there was world peace…but we have real enemies.” A large and bipartisan group in Congress believed the drastic proposed cuts by Obama were “unacceptable” so they likely won’t happen.

Several people took it upon themselves to ask Andy about his environmental stance, in particular cleaning up Chesapeake Bay.

They asked about the Bay Restoration Fund, which was supposed to be bankrolled by the 1-cent sales tax increase of 2008. But that funding was stripped away the next year to balance the budget. (Never mind that this sales tax increase netted the state around $600 million.)

Yet the questioners pressed Andy on what he would do, one whining that he’s heard the same rhetoric for thirty years. Harris couched it in the terms of improving the economy, because the money wasn’t there to clean up the Bay. “We have to restore prosperity,” he said. Yet we’ve done a lot to help the environment, Andy continued, giving the example of removing 90% of the airborne mercury. Yet to get it to 99% removal, we would have to endure a 28% increase in our electric bills. The EPA didn’t do a good job in studying the benefits of what’s already been done, added Andy.

As for cleaning up Chesapeake Bay, Harris reminded those who questioned him that other states need to be involved as well. Yet a state like Pennsylvania has no real incentive because they’re not bordering the Chesapeake. We also need to partner with affected industries.

Just in my humble opinion, these environmentalists are representative of a group which won’t be satisfied until we’ve returned to the conditions found in pre-Colonial days. After all, if the Chesapeake Bay Foundation ever gives the Bay an A+ grade, what reason do they have to exist anymore? There’s no sense of balance given, nor credit for what’s been done thus far at great expense to our farmers and industry. Instead, the EPA is “confrontational” with the states.

There was one thing about which I didn’t care for when Andy said it. The question was raised that, okay, let’s say the economy is better. Then what will you do about the Bay? (These people were insistent.)

As part of that response, Andy said, “if you don’t want the federal government to have a say, then don’t take federal money.” That’s a little disingenuous because there are a number of areas where the federal government is supposed to perform tasks within states. I’d be very happy if Maryland didn’t take federal education money, for example, but would the federal government get off our back with various requirements? I doubt it.

And then there was the budget deficit. A questioner asked where the controls were, and Andy basically said there are none – “both parties are absolutely to blame…they can’t control themselves in Washington.”

“It’s too easy to come up with an excuse in Washington to spend money.” But Andy was fully supportive of the Ryan budget proposal last year, and likely would be again this year. “Stop attacking those who want to start the conversation,” he pleaded. If politicians don’t have ideas on how to address this, they should be thrown out of office, Harris added. After all, this was a group which approved a budget item of $1 million to Chinese factories to help them improve their energy efficiency. (That’s going to create jobs here.)

Speaking of being thrown out of office, one of the final questions dealt with term limits. Andy is a co-sponsor of a term limits bill already in the hopper, but promised to serve no more than 12 years himself. We should have a citizen legislature, Harris said, and he believed that most of us in the room would be just as qualified to be a Congressman as the ones who are there as long as we have some common sense.

Well, I have no plans to run for Congress – perhaps that’s evidence of the common sense he speaks of – but the hour and 20 minute session was quite informative. I doubt everyone went away happy, but the dialogue was quite compelling.

Media coverage was pretty good. Insofar as I know I was the lone blogger there, but WMDT-TV (Channel 47) was there as was a print reporter and photographer, presumably from the Daily Times.

The McDermott notes: week 2

If you missed it two weeks ago, my intention is to spend time on Sunday evening reviewing local Delegate Mike McDermott’s weekly field notes. I find them a fascinating look into the workings of the Maryland General Assembly.

I skipped last week, but this edition of the General Assembly session seems to be settling into a familiar routine: a few bill introductions and hearings, with Mike sitting in on the Judiciary Committee hearings. Tonight I’ll do a review of week 2 based on Mike’s observations and tomorrow afternoon I’ll catch up with week 3.

To begin week 2, Mike commented on the celebration of Martin Luther King Day and remarks from former football player and Delegate Jay Walker, but concluded by reminding readers that MLK was a Republican and the civil rights movement seems to have both forgotten this and the fact Republicans helped get civil rights legislation passed despite the efforts of southern Democrats.

On Tuesday of that week, Mike helped to pass the very first bill to make it through the whole legislative process this year. SB46, which changed Somerset County’s legislative districts, passed as an emergency bill with the only dissenting vote cast by Anne Arundel County Delegate Don Dwyer.

But there’s an interesting sidelight to this particular bill. SB46, sponsored by Democrat Senator Jim Mathias of Worcester County, was passed through the legislative process. The crossfiled bill in the House, HB50, was sponsored by Republican Delegate Charles Otto of Somerset County but didn’t proceed past first reading. So who do you think will get credit and who will be cast as not doing his job?

The remaining time that Tuesday was spent reviewing bills on elder abuse, increasing penalties for malicious destruction of property by graffiti, and the release of mental patients found not criminally responsible. Obviously this can make you an expert on a lot of mundane, picayune items. But the Judiciary Committee only hears its portion of the bills before the entire General Assembly so one has to assume Mike does a lot of talking with fellow Republicans on other committees to hear their take on other bills which will be voted on later this session.

On Wednesday Mike spent the day in a hearing on out-of-court settlements, which brings me to the point above. It’s not clear whether this is germane to a bill already in the hopper or one being considered.

Thursday brought the Israeli Ambassador to the United States before the General Assembly as well as hearings on bills mandating the members of the Baltimore County Orphans’ Court be members of the Maryland Bar, abolishing some of the immunity enjoyed by members of the General Assembly, and expanding the harassment statute to add in items like text messaging and social media.

I suspect the Baltimore County bill is a trial balloon by the Maryland Bar Association to eliminate the possible competition for Orphans Court judge around the state. It’s the only judicial position a lay person can hold, and reducing the pool of people who can run allows attorneys a crack at another cushy judgeship.

Week 2 ended on Friday with the meeting of the Eastern Shore Delegation. Mike describes the speakers they heard from: Department of the Environment Secretary Robert Summers, Susquehanna River Basin Commission Director Paul Swartz (no relation), and the nine school superintendents on the Shore. Obviously he had many more questions than they could answer, but Mike brought up salient points regarding all three.

I happen to agree with Mike that the Eastern Shore takes an inordinate share of the blame for the Bay’s problems. We only contribute a small amount of the nitrogen that finds its way into the Chesapeake, but our farmers have to jump through hoops regardless. Soon they’ll be joined by those who will see the “flush tax” doubled if Governor O’Malley and Annapolis liberals have their way. Meanwhile, we can’t do much about the pollution which comes to the bay via the Susquehanna River – Mike uses the analogy of having a swimming pool with a hose connection to the neighbor’s septic tank. Obviously that would mean Pennsylvania and New York have to help us out, but they don’t really have to deal with the problem.

And as for the third meeting with the superintendents, it seems to me that any time Memo Diriker is brought into the conversation taxpayers need to watch their wallets. Somehow he always seems to advocate the most expensive solution, and I’d love to see the calculations that Diriker uses to claim each dollar spent on public education creates $1.90 in return. If that’s true, building Bennett Middle School should make next year’s Wicomico County budget a snap.

I’m not holding my breath.

Also on Friday of week 2, Mike introduced bills dealing with the criminal justice system, HB112 and HB119. Both will have a hearing Tuesday afternoon. Compared with some of the other bills I’ve read, these are very simple changes in the law. I’m not sure what fate HB112 will have, since I’m betting the ACLU and other similar groups will press hard against the measure, but HB119 has a fighting chance for success: it allows law enforcement officers in the field greater latitude to use their judgement on whether a misdemeanor offense deserves a simple citation or more intrusive action and has a small but bipartisan roster of co-sponsors.

During week 2 Mike also penned his thoughts on Martin O’Malley’s budget, where he chastises the governor who “lifts his eyes to Pennsylvania Avenue.” I agree with Mike: the 2016 campaign is already underway for Martin O’Malley, and my guess is that state Democrats have already been given their marching orders to try and make that happen.

I’ll look at Week 3 tomorrow, and try to get back to a Sunday evening routine afterward.

And yet they blame farmers?

There was a story in yesterday’s Baltimore Sun by Timothy Wheeler which was brought to my attention, a story which documented the troubles both Baltimore City and County are having with a sewage infrastructure which, in some cases, is over a century old. Between the two municipalities over 160 million gallons of untreated sewage has leaked into the watershed this year alone.

Obviously this is a situation which is slowly being addressed, as the story points out over $2 billion is being invested into repairing the system over the next decade. Certainly that’s a legitimate function of government, and I have no objection to local tax dollars being used in such a manner.

It’s the unfortunate tendency of farmers and rural interests getting the blame for a problem that occurs because of urban areas like Baltimore City and County which bothers me the most.

Continue reading “And yet they blame farmers?”

A pair of follow-ups

Just to update a couple stories I’ve featured recently…

You likely recall the story about the Hudson farm in Berlin and their trouble with environmentalists determined to extract their pound of flesh from this chicken growing operation. I received a note from former Maryland GOP head Jim Pelura which noted this sort of problem isn’t new, and farmers shouldn’t bear the brunt of the blame. He forwarded to me a copy of a letter he wrote to Kim Coble of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation back in 2005, part of which I excerpt here:

Thank you for your letter and brochure outlining the CBF’s position on agriculture’s part in the over-nutrification of the Chesapeake Bay. It was well written and concise.

However, I must take exception with the underlying premise that Maryland agriculture (both animal and crop) is the major cause of pollution in the Bay.

By using the Maryland Department of the Environment’s own figures, a major cause of Bay pollution is malfunctioning sewage treatment plants. I would even go so far as to suggest that sewage treatment plant malfunctions are the major cause of nitrogen and phosphorous pollution of the Bay.

According to the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), close to 700,000,000 gallons of raw or minimally treated sewage was dumped into Maryland waterways in 2004. So far in 2005, there has been nearly 400,000,000 gallons of raw or minimally treated sewage that ended up in our streams and rivers. (Additional 3 million gallon spill in Arnold, Maryland this week).

As an advocate for Maryland agriculture, I have been following this situation for some time. The Maryland Department of the Environment has been aware of this situation, and in 1995 realized that antiquated and poorly maintained sewage treatment plants were a major cause of Bay pollution. (Emphasis in original.)

So the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and their environmentalist allies should know what the problem really is – but it’s more difficult to sue a city or other unit of government than it is to pick on farmers or big bad agribusiness in general. As the Hudson family is finding out, being the little guy makes it much easier to pick on you. Thanks to Jim for the update.

I also heard from Laura Mitchell of Salisbury City Council, both in person at the Winter Wonderland of Lights unveiling last night and on her Facebook page this evening. It seems she’s not giving up on her dogged fight against a city charter change:

Tomorrow night at 6:00pm in the Salisbury City Council Chambers, I will ask the Council to consider a Resolution to put the recent Charter Amendment on the 2013 ballot for a non-binding referendum vote.

More than 2,300 people signed the petition asking that the Council give the decision to determine the structure and operation of their government back to the voters. I heard that message loud and clear and I hope that my colleagues will as well. If you would like to help deliver the message of strength and unity and the desire for an inclusive City government in Salisbury, please join me at the meeting at 6:00pm.

You may speak during public comments if you wish, but there is no requirement to do so. Your presence will speak volumes. Please join me in turning up the volume of our message to a level that demands recognition.

I hope to see you there!

While I don’t support the Charter change because it’s a case of the legislative branch usurping the power of the city’s executive, I’m not sure a non-binding vote is the way to go; after all, the Charter change will go through regardless. The only reason this could be relevant is the timing – one of the three who voted for the change (Debbie Campbell) will be on the ballot, while the other two offices up for grabs will be that of Mayor Ireton (who will presumably be seeking re-election) and Council member Shanie Shields, who said at the beginning of this term that it would be her last. So there would be a new member in her place as well.

Having said that, though, the prospect is there of a different 3-2 configuration tossing out the Charter change 18 months from now and taking us back to the old way. Obviously 2300 people (including myself) were interested in preserving the system in place and that would be a significant chunk of the electorate with a vested interest in the 2013 race.

I will have another piece of news tomorrow morning concerning state politics – those who follow me on Facebook already know what it is. Tonight I’ll put the finishing touches on those tasks I need to do on this site to accommodate the new feature.

Input on Bay input

And we’re not talking the pretty input of a mountain brook, either – it’s more like overflow from a clogged commode.

This is something I didn’t know about Jim Pelura; he has a little more than a layman’s grasp of the controversy behind septic systems here in Maryland. Let’s just say that there’s a far greater cause of Chesapeake Bay pollution not being addressed.

Pelura wrote in an e-mail to me:

The pending legislation centered around septic tanks is another example of Annapolis putting emotions ahead of science in lawmaking.

To listen to Governor O’Malley and his supporters in the Maryland General Assembly, one would think that septic tanks are the major contributor to Bay pollution.  They have consistently ignored actual data from the Maryland Department of the Environment concerning the cause of over-nutrification (pollution) of the Chesapeake Bay.

In 2005, as a Trustee of the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation, I explained in a letter to Ms. Kim Coble of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation that,  according to the Maryland Department of the Environment, close to 700 million gallons of raw or minimally treated sewage was dumped into Maryland waterways in 2004 and over 400 million gallons in 2005.  I also indicated in that letter that the Maryland Department of the Environment has been aware of this situation, and in 1995 cautioned that antiquated and poorly maintained sewage treatment plants were a major cause of Bay pollution.

While the situation is improving, unfortunately this trend continues to today, with sewage treatment facility malfunctions being the major source of pollution to the Bay.  

The recent numbers for sewage spills due to malfunctioning treatment plants are: 20 million gallons in 2008, 98 million gallons in 2009, and 97 million gallons in 2010.

According to the Patuxent Riverkeeper, the Dorsey Run Waste Water Treatment Plant in Anne Arundel County (just one example) had 24 violations between 2005 and 2010.  Records show that, between July 2003 and June 2009, problems at this facility and in the sewer pipes leading to it caused sewage spills totaling about 2.2 million gallons of raw sewage.  A further 11 million gallons of partially treated sewage were discharged when the plant failed in October 2007.  According to the Riverkeeper, “there are a potpourri of buggy, outmoded and troubled industrial facilities and wastewater plants that exist by virtue of state-issued permits that are regularly violated and that the State rarely enforces.”

It is up to all of us to insure that our waterways are kept clean and free of contaminants, including sewage. 

We can do this by insisting that our elected officials from both parties promote legislation based in fact and on science instead of popular opinion.

Blaming those folks with septic tanks is not only wrong but indefensible. (Emphasis in original.)

Yet what is the solution the state desires? Hooking future developments up to new or existing sewage treatment plants!

We have a situation in Salisbury where the wastewater treatment plant still isn’t performing properly, even with expensive upgrades that local ratepayers remain on the hook for. Obviously adding to the problem by hooking up even more homes and businesses isn’t going to help fix the problem, so apparently the solution is to not have new development at all. (Sorry, biology won’t permit us to address the root cause. We all have to eat.)

There are times I suspect that the true aim of these radical greenies is to depopulate large rural areas of the state so the creatures of precious Gaia can move about freely, and eliminating the prospect for development can accomplish that goal through attrition. Imagine the economic chaos which would ensue here if Perdue moved away – aside from the area immediately around the university, Salisbury could well look like Detroit if that were to occur. They couch it as ‘farmland preservation’ but in driving around the area I see a lot of rural places where crops aren’t grown – it’s either stands of forest or wetlands.

To those people who fear our area looking like MoCo or the Baltimore suburbs, I assure you we have a LONG way to go before we even come close to that density. It ain’t happening in my lifetime.

So Pelura’s right: before we start taking development rights away from our area of the state as well as rural areas around the bigger cities, perhaps the state should address the problems with the system in place. Adding development and jobs to the state will help in that respect by bringing in revenue that could work to fix these treatment plants; sadly the General Assembly seems more intent on making the state even less business-friendly and spends far too much effort debating unimportant issues like gay marriage.

I realize that upgrading the system will cost billions and maintaining it on an ongoing basis will cost even more. But it’s a relatively legitimate function of a state or local government to treat wastewater and combat the spread of disease, as long as they keep the process and regulation as simple and basic as possible to achieve desired results. Cleaning up untreated sewage shouldn’t require multiple volumes of rules and regulations to do a basic task: filter out the solids and neutralize harmful bacteria.

As it turns out, Mother Nature has a pretty good method for doing this on its own – otherwise we would become violently ill simply by drinking well water. As someone who has drank well water for much of his life, I think I’ve made it through without adverse effects so the rest of us can too. There’s no need for reinventing the wheel just to get rid of less than 1/10 of the problem when Pelura identifies a much more target-rich environment.

The war on rural Maryland

In response to legislation prohibiting septic systems in rural developments, State Senator E.J. Pipkin and Delegate Michael Smigiel created a website called The War on Rural Maryland.

It’s no secret that people in Maryland care about Chesapeake Bay. I’ve noted before that any legislation deemed to be “for the Bay” would likely pass in Maryland regardless of its merits – even the mythical Chesapeake Bay Legalization of Murder Act of 2011 might get the support of rabid environmentalists if they could kill off the right people – after all, it’s “for the Bay!”

(For all you high-strung progressives and PC police types, yes, I’m only kidding. Sort of. Somewhere in this state I’m sure a Jared Loughner type is lurking and he or she may just take up that type of offer if presented.)

But when septic systems in Maryland create a relatively small portion of the problem, the effect on rural development may be akin to taking a sledgehammer to an ant. It’s not like Wicomico County is growing by leaps and bounds, despite what the Census may have said – I’d wager most of that population growth occurred before 2006. Since that point, planned residential developments such as Aydelotte Farms and the Village at Salisbury Lake (a.k.a. the Old Mall) have built up slowly, if at all. The building slump also affected commercial plans such as the Hobbs Road development I was involved in. Overall, the number of building permits issued is well off its mid-decade peak.

While it’s true that other counties in Maryland may be developing faster, the idea of the ban is simple and can be summed up in two words: “smart growth.” (To me, it’s more of a “so-called” concept because who’s to say what is smart for us here on the Eastern Shore? Certainly not some faceless planner locked in an Annapolis or Washington office building.) In other words, under “smart growth” you will develop property where we (the government) tell you to, and if you happen to own property outside that area you may want to build on sometime down the road, well, you’re shit outta luck. We need to preserve those wildlife corridors and wetlands for mother Gaia’s creatures.

The state moved in this direction several years ago with the “flush tax” and accelerated the process last year by requiring nitrogen removal on new septic systems – but they only could cover a portion (if any) of the additional costs incurred by hapless homeowners forced to switch to or install these units.

A hearing on HB1107 is slated in front of the Environmental Matters Committee on March 11 at 1 p.m.

But even if we can stave off the ban for a year or two – you know O’Malley and his environmentalist buddies are going to keep knocking on this door until we finally tire of the fight and relent – we Maryland drivers also have the prospect of an additional gas tax hanging over our heads.

Now, the argument on this one is that we’ve not raised the gas tax in nearly twenty years and we need to make sure there’s money in the Transportation Trust Fund. (Of course, that’s until the fund is raided by a certain governor – who shall remain nameless – to balance his budget.) One bill which would make the pilfering more difficult but raise gas taxes 10 cents a gallon now AND provide for automatic increases in the future was introduced by Western Shore Democrats in the House and Senate. Another bill which would force Eastern Shore drivers to subsidize mass transit used across the bay via a 4% sales tax on gasoline is SB451. The House bill will be heard March 1; the Senate bills on March 9.

In general, we on the Shore drive a lot. It’s not uncommon for a resident to put 20,000 miles a year on their car or truck and if they get 20 miles from a gallon of gas the extra dime a gallon would cost them $100 a year. That may not seem like a lot, but for those who make their living on the road and pile on even more mileage it’s a serious dent placed on their finances. This provision also puts in place a permanent tax hike each year, meaning the state takes more and more out of your wallet.

If I didn’t know liberals as well as I do I’d be perplexed that they can back the state getting another dime of pure revenue out of a gallon of gas through taxation yet bitch and moan about the oil companies who actually do the work of extracting, refining, and delivering the gasoline to the pump for your use making a nickel a gallon profit. But I know them so I just shrug my shoulders at their hypocrisy. I’m used to it.

(And yes, I bitch and moan about the state of the roads, too. My suggestion for improvement: stop subsidizing mass transit that no one rides and start filling potholes. Oh, and get rid of that “living wage” crap while you’re at it so we can save a little bit on road construction labor costs.)

But if you’re tired of the state always trying to take, take, take, you may be interested in a brand new website called stopthegastax.com. (Frankly, I’m amazed they got the domain name considering there’s always someone in some state trying to gouge motorists.) There’s still a little construction to do there but you can sign a petition against the gas tax and vent your frustration.

Instead of raising the gas tax, the alcohol tax and income tax rates for the upper crust, why not prioritize what we have and live within our means for awhile? That’s what the private sector has been forced to do.

Celebrating achievement

I’ve blogged about this a couple times before, but tonight Americans who have no life and still believe in the discredited radical environmental movement will sit in the darkness and gloom to “celebrate” the so-called “Earth Hour.” The Competitive Enterprise Institute poked fun at this last year by creating Human Achievement Hour and putting out this video.

As has been tradition around this time, I engaged in the enjoyment of being there last night while thousands of watts of amplification and lighting was expended to boost the local economy of Ocean City and the personal fortunes of dozens of starving artists who are better known as musicians. (Most people call this Skip Dixxon’s Spring Luau.) My point is that it takes energy to grow an economy, but apparently those who want to curtail our usage and bring us back to a 20th or even 19th century lifestyle consider that offensive to their earth goddess.

Needless to say, I stand foursquare against those who would use the force of the state to infringe upon our freedom. Granted, Earth Hour is voluntary (for now) but even exhibiting the mindset of following like lemmings gives them the illusion of popular support and the desire to make what are now suggestions into laws.

In Maryland, this sort of thinking is leading us into even more restrictive stormwater regulations, which only curtails the production of jobs and ironically may reduce the urban development so-called “Smart Growth” advocates desire. At one point there was a compromise reached by the General Assembly which would allow existing projects to continue under the old regulations but that is now out the window – much to the displeasure of those who help to provide private-sector economic growth.

Instead, developers may have to go back to the drawing boards, instituting needless and unnecessary delays and the costs associated with them; yet the benefits are dubious and difficult to measure. Let’s face it – is Chesapeake Bay ever truly going to be clean enough for the radical environmentalists without depopulating the entire watershed? I doubt it, because solving the problem of Bay pollution would put them out of business and the lobbyists and lawyers who depend on their patronage would have to find more honest work.

So I’m going to do my part and celebrate Human Achievement Hour in some way – it may be as simple as leaving a couple extra lights on around our place – and I encourage all of you to do the same. Yes, it’s a little wasteful but the point made is that with progress comes energy demand, and that’s a fact we can’t avoid.

For the record, the state of Maryland is participating in this idiocy, along with the cities of Baltimore, Frederick, Gaithersburg, and Greenbelt; as well, Baltimore and Frederick counties. Governor O’Malley noted in a statement on the Earth Hour website:

“Maryland is an official Earth Hour state, and Katie and I will be turning off our own lights in support of this global movement. By joining us, our fellow citizens will save energy, reduce their carbon footprint and demonstrate to the nation and the world the commitment and leadership of Marylanders on this critical issue.”

So I encourage all right-thinking residents of those areas to instead participate in Human Achievement Hour, and demostrate a call for economic leadership through progress, not regressing back to the Dark Ages.