Ehrlich trumpets Chesapeake Bay Restoration Act
Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. made a campaign stop on the shores of Back River in Essex today to champion his administration's Chesapeake Bay Restoration Act -- and to criticize Gov. Martin O'Malley for using money from the act's bay fund to help balance the state budget.
It marked the first time the two candidates have sparred over the environment, a diversion from a gubernatorial race that has largely been focused on the economy, jobs and how government taxes and spends.
But the "tax and spend" issue loomed over the event because the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Act is more commonly known as the "flush tax." Ever since Ehrlich, a Republican, signed the act into law in 2004, homeowners have paid a $30 annual fee into a fund used for sewage treatment upgrades that reduce bay nitrogen levels.
The campaign event, Ehrlich said, was not tied to any specific time element. Rather, he said, it was "to remind everybody of this historic achievement."
He noted that once all of the bay restoration act's sewage treatment plant upgrades have been made, they are expected to reduce pollution in waterways by 7.5 million pounds per year.
Ehrlich, who is seeking to oust the Democratic governor, said that because of his bay restoration work "these waters will be cleaner for the future of our kids." He said the governor should not have raided such an important fund.
O'Malley used $200 million that was earmarked for bay cleanup to shore up the state's general operating expenses. He then backfilled the bay fund with $125 million from the capital budget -- which is mostly funded by borrowing. His aides said the bay fund will be fully restored next fiscal year, though it is unclear if the money will come from the flush tax or from more state-issued debt.
Such fund transfers have long been common -- both O'Malley and Ehrlich have used them in tough times.
The O'Malley campaign issued a statement calling Ehrlich "out of touch" and moving into another environmental topic: Program Open Space.
"It was actually Bob Ehrlich who diverted $420 million in Program Open Space funds and tried to sell off publicly-owned lands to the lowest bidder after imposing his flush tax on every Maryland family," the O'Malley campaign said in a statement.
Ehrlich accused the governor of "whining" and "making stuff up." He did not say what O’Malley was making up."We're not going to get into the 'he said, she said,'" Ehrlich said. He said his administration "restructured" Program Open to focus on strategic land purchases that help the bay.
"Just buying land for the sake of buying land doesn't make sense," Ehrlich said.
Asked which governor has the better record on the environment, Ehrlich replied, "I would put our environmental record against anyone's, anytime."
The Maryland League of Conservation Voters issued a statement saying that O'Malley "has done a better job of addressing environmental needs during his four years as governor."