In a Baltimore Sun op-ed (2016-03-11), House Appropriations Chair Maggie McIntosh advocated for HB 1464/SB 927, a bill designed to restore funding to Program Open Space and other critical land preservation programs. McIntosh highlighted the role and history of Program Open Space, as well as the significant funding cuts the program has undergone since 2008.
HB 1464 was sponsored by Appropriations Vice-Chair Tawanna Gaines. SB 927 was sponsored by Senate Finance Committee Chair Thomas “Mac” Middleton. MACo and the Maryland Association of County Park and Recreation Administrators (MACPRA) joined a broad coalition of land preservation, agriculture, and natural resources advocates to testify in support of both bills.
From the op-ed:
Since [Program Open Space’s] inception in 1969, the [State] transfer tax has generated millions of dollars annually that has supported many of this state’s greatest land acquisitions, public parks and playgrounds, and farmland conservation. It is so popular that a 2016 poll revealed that 87 percent of the citizens of Maryland support Program Open Space, and 73 percent want the funds to be used only for its intent.
Unfortunately, since Program Open Space was established, its revenues have been diverted to help balance the budget and address other critical shortfalls. In fact, well over $1 billion has been taken from the program and has never been replenished. That should not continue.
HB 1464 does just that. It creates a “lock box” for the Program Open Space Trust Fund where all revenue from the transfer tax would be deposited. As of July 2017, if a governor needs to borrow from the fund during lean times, the money would be repaid from general funds in one-third increments over the next three years. And before the borrowing begins, the governor must present a plan for repayment. …
In the political shuffle of budgets, it becomes easy to believe that other spending takes priority over land preservation. It doesn’t. If our role as legislators is to improve and maintain the quality of life for our citizens, we must recognize the importance of open space to those we represent. Let’s not fail to see the forest for the trees.