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December 3, 2008

Maryland buys land amid budget crunch

Today the governor is announcing a batch of land purchases through the state's preservation program -- expected to total between $60 million and $70 million. That's coming at the same time that the governor is talking about the need for major budget cuts and likely the first furlough of state employees since the early 1990s. Talk about awkward timing!

The budgetary answer for why this isn't completely nuts is that the land preservation funds come from a dedicated pot of money generated through real estate transfer taxes, and the cuts and furloughs are meant to address an expected shortfall in the general fund. Moreover, it makes sense to buy land when real estate prices are dropping. Nonetheless, I can already imagine the Grinch-who-stole-Christmas press release coming out of the legislature's Republican caucus.

So why go forward with the land purchase when the state's in so much financial trouble?

Whatever the short term political hit, it does contribute to a very conscious effort by the O'Malley adminsitration to address problems differently than the Ehrlich administration did. During its tough budget times, the Ehrlich administration raided state open space funds (and transportation funds and whatever other funds they could find) as part of an effort to avoid at all costs raising the income or sales tax. Beyond not buying new land, Ehrlich famously (and unsuccessfully) attempted to sell off some of the land the state already had.

O'Malley sharply criticized Ehrlich for those moves during the 2006 campaign, saying his Republican predecessor was robbing Peter to pay Paul in an effort to avoid hard choices. O'Malley, on the other hand, appears to take some perverse pleasure in cultivating an image of someone who tackles problems head on, whatever the cost. Thus, using open space funds for something other than open space is not the kind of thing he'd do.

In 2006, back when things were going relatively well, Maryland voters picked O'Malley's approach over Ehrlich's. How things will look in 2010 is anybody's guess.

Posted by Andy Green at 10:51 AM | | Comments (21)


Not only is O'Malley robbing Peter to pay Paul in the transportation fund, but the state is barely raising the same amount of money as the prior year because of raising taxes into a recession.

Governors from Schaefer to the incumbent don't blink at eye when raiding the State's supposedly "dedicated" Transportation Trust Fund to offset General Fund shortfalls, so the "analysis" presented here as to why similar treatment not accorded revenues dedicated to land preservation about as deep as a cookie sheet.

Someone who tackles problems head on? You mean like the city-financed hotel? Or maybe the smoking ban? You must mean his leadership on slots? Maybe his tackling of the death penalty?

Lay off the emerald Kool-aid

He is using the money for projects that it was intended for - that is his job.

Andy, why don't you just start wearing a "I (Heart) MOM" button?

Just to clarify, I don't intend to pass judgment on whether O'Malley DOES tackle problems on head-on but to say that's the image he's trying to project. If I worded that inartfully, I apologize.

Does O'Malley really want to be elected? Not on State Workers votes. Why do we have furlough days when we don't spend any money from the Trust Fund, but some of us put money in there? What a joke! And when are his furlough days, and how many does he get?

Buying land at this time is foolhardy. The budget deficits are going to worsen. Land purchase is a LUXURY. How many families would buy unneccessary real estate when they can't pay their current bills?

Who's pockets are going to be lined by this purchase?

Hey Andy what does OMalley eat for breakfast!
How about some unbiased coverage of
our governor for a change?

How much of his salary is he giving up? As a state worker I don't know why I have to pay the price, it should be shared by all MD residents.Or better yet, cut back on the handouts. I see people in the grocery store buying steaks, sodas, luxury food products and paying with those state issued foodstamp cards,

Is MOM nuts, oops, that's right, it's okay to put it to the little guy.....but let's buy some land.

Today, 12/3, state workers got told there would not be any medical, prescription or dental deductions from our paychecks on Dec 10th. Same day he proposes this furlough plan. Why not just keep the deductions and not do the furloughs? And why buy something the state can't afford? Real estate? Give me a break.

Why not simply raise taxes further and buy more land if it's such a good time for the state to do so?

The furlough / land buy is indefensible, and pales in comparison to anything Ehrlich tried to do.

Great!!! That's why I voted for O'Malley. It's vital that we make the environment a priority, and it's good to see a politician have the nerve to do what's right even when it's not easy. Buying land when it's cheap is very smart.

I very much doubt that most of the others negatively commenting here have ever supported O'Malley anyway. ;)

Watch future issues for reports of sales of this land to developers. The state just wants control of this land. We have zoning codes to determine proper use of property.

Jobs, not squirrels.

Squirrels, not GMan.

Remember Gov. Ehrlich bought a lot of land under Program Open Space too. Only he sat out the buyer's market early in his term and bought in a mad frenzy in 2005 and 2006 when real estate prices skyrocketed.

Our dollars would have gone further if Gov. Ehrlich had Gov. O'Malley's wisdom to acquire open space in a soft real estate market.

Gov. O’Malley is wise to buy now when the market is soft and the Program Open Space fund, which has nothing to do with general fund revenue, is flush.

Andy: If there is money to purchase property I need to sell my house now that I can't afford it any longer. I am looking to move out of state since its getting too expensive to live here. O'Malley needs to understand that he is spending OUR money not his. I think you need to grow up and stop drinking the Kool-Aid.

This makes no sense at all. And the MD veto proof legislature could surely change the laws to grab this pot of money temporarily until times get better!

At this time of ecomonic pore health, I believe the priorty to purchase land over maintaining salaries is out of order.

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About the bloggers
Annie Linskey covers state politics and government for The Baltimore Sun. Previously, as a City Hall reporter, she wrote about the corruption trial of Mayor Sheila Dixon and kept a close eye on city spending. Originally from Connecticut, Annie has also lived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where she reported on war crimes tribunals and landmines. She lives in Canton.

John Fritze has covered politics and government at the local, state and federal levels for more than a decade and is now The Baltimore Sun’s Washington correspondent. He previously wrote about Congress for USA TODAY, where he led coverage of the health care overhaul debate and the 2010 election. A native of Albany, N.Y., he currently lives in Montgomery County.

Julie Scharper covers City Hall and Baltimore politics. A native of Baltimore County, she graduated from The Johns Hopkins University in 2001 and spent two years teaching in Honduras before joining The Baltimore Sun. She has followed the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pa., in the year after a schoolhouse massacre, reported on courts and crime in Anne Arundel County, and chronicled the unique personalities and places of Baltimore City and its surrounding counties.
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