Monday, February 6, 2012

The Capital: Time to Flush Bay Fund Transfers

Via the local Annapolis paper The Capital written by Chris Dollar...

Everyone wants a cleaner Chesapeake, particularly those who play and earn a living from it. Finding enough money to pay for the massive cleanup has been a decades-long struggle. So when then-Gov. Bob Ehrlich spearheaded the "flush fee" law several years ago to upgrade sewage treatment plants, sportsmen cheered alongside the greens. Effluent from these treatment plants can carry excessive nutrients that breed dead zones, causing fish, crabs and shellfish to suffer.

To date, roughly one-third of the 67 major sewage plants have been upgraded and work has started on nearly 20 more. According to most estimates, however, there won't be enough in the till to finish the job. Maryland and other bay states are on the clock set by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency mandate to have pollution reduction measures in place by 2025 with at least 60 percent of the actions complete by 2017.

Gov. Martin O'Malley has proposed doubling the "flush fee" from $2.50 to $5 a month for the average homeowner to help meet this deadline. A task force and many environmentalists say that still may not be enough, and some are calling for an increase of at least three-fold. The  not-so-dirty secret after the flush fee went live is generated monies were siphoned into the general fund, ostensibly to balance the state budget. The Maryland Legislative Sportsmen's Caucus and Maryland Legislative Sportsmen's Caucus believe that tens of millions of dollars have been diverted to this big pot of cash over the last years, and now, they say, enough is enough.
Last week state Senator John Astle (D) and Delegate Wendell Beitzel (R), co-chairs of the bi-partisan Maryland Legislative Sportsmen's Caucus, announced they want a state Constitutional Amendment to halt any transfer of funds from the bay-saving accounts. In a released statement, Senator Astle said, "Senate Bill 65 would say no more such transfers, the dedicated monies must stay in these Funds for the purposes they are intended."
David Sutherland, chairman of the Maryland Legislative Sportsmen's Foundation, said pollution reducing programs like cover crops and modernizing sewage plants have proven effective.

"Some may seem surprised that sportsmen are united on this issue, but I'm not," he said. "If we don't put all of that money to work we won't see (a full) return on our investment." He added that charter boat captains and guides have experienced a decline in customers due in part to the perception that water quality is poor. From his perspective, it's unfair to the public to divert the money therefore a Constitutional mandate is necessary.

Delegate Beitzel, House chair of the Sportsmen's Caucus, has it right when he asks, "What sense does it make to anyone who wants a healthier Chesapeake Bay to see Bay-oriented tax dollars diverted for non-Chesapeake Bay purposes?"

Taxpayers agreed to the flush tax with the understanding that monies raised would be used to help restore the Chesapeake, not as a rainy day stash to paper over poor fiscal planning. A deal is a deal. For years, recreational fishermen's dollars have been use to prop up a dysfunctional commercial fishery. And now this?

The O'Malley administration and some lawmakers would argue that any dollars taken from the bay fund have and will be paid back through bonds. But bonds aren't free, are they? Interest is charged, right? It's disingenuous to call the bay trust "dedicated funding" when in fact lawmakers can and do divert that money without telling tax payers exactly what they're spending it on.

Public confidence in competent government across the board is in very short supply. The sportsmen's bill gives political leaders like Busch, Miller and O'Malley a great opportunity to demonstrate they too think that bay trust fund money should be used for its rightful purpose: A cleaner, healthier Chesapeake.


Feb. 15: MSSA Annapolis Sportfishing Group meeting at American Legion Post 7, 1905 Crownsville. 7:30 p.m. Guest speaker is Dave Smith, MSSA Executive Director.
Feb. 18-19: Twentieth annual Pasadena Sportfishing Group Flea Market. 8 a.m.-2 p.m., $3 each day. Call 410-439-3474 or click
Feb. 21: Angler's Night Out film series. Boatyard Bar & Grill, Eastport. 6 p.m.
Feb. 25: CCA MD 10th annual TieFest, the Atlantic coast's premier fly fishing event.
Feb. 25: MSSA Annapolis Chapter "Saltwater Fishing Expo", Annapolis Elks Lodge, Solomons Island Road. Seminars, discounted tackle and raffles. Admission is $5.
March 6: Angler's Night Out film series. Boatyard Bar & Grill, Eastport. 6 p.m.
March 7: CCA MD Annapolis Chapter Banquet. Visit for details.
March 9-11: Capital Boat Show, Dulles Expo Center, Chantilly, Va.
March 20: Angler's Night Out film series. Boatyard Bar & Grill, Eastport. 6 p.m.


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