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Shank, others may use bay plate renewal as leverage for ag tags

February 03, 2000|By LAURA ERNDE

ANNAPOLIS - Controversy is brewing in the Maryland General Assembly over a seemingly harmless move to renew the state's Chesapeake Bay commemorative license plate.

A group of legislators who favor a new commemorative plate to benefit agricultural education may try to use the bay plate renewal as leverage.

The clash between the bay plate and the ag tag will play out in the House Commerce and Government Matters Committee.

Committee member Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said he doesn't plan to vote for the bay tag renewal unless the committee also supports the ag tag.

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Other delegates from rural areas of the state may feel the same way, he said.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation Executive Director David Mingis testified this week in favor of renewing the Bay tag, which has raised $9 million for bay education since 1985.

Del. Barry Glassman, R-Cecil/Harford, asked Mingis what the foundation thinks about the proposal for a commemorative plate for agricultural education.

Mingis said the foundation wouldn't oppose an ag tag, but he would expect to see a drop-off in people buying bay plates.

"Over time, the benefit of having that focus and concentration is watered down," he said.

But ag tag supporters don't think the two plates will compete with each other.

Del. Barry Glassman, R-Cecil/Harford, said he hoped the committee wouldn't vote on the Bay plate renewal until hearing more about the ag tag proposal.

But Committee Chairman Del. John F. Wood, D-Calvert/St. Mary's, said he plans to call for a vote next week. Committee approval virtually ensures its passage by the House of Delegates. The Senate passed the renewal the second week of the session.

Wood said he likes the idea of ag tags, but is concerned that if the state issues a second commemorative plate, other organizations will want the same thing.

"If you put a crack in the door, let somebody else in, where do you stop?" he asked.

Organizational plates are available for groups that want to display them but don't generate revenue.

The bay plates brought in $580,000 last year, Mingis said. The organization also got about $470,000 through a donation program on state tax forms. The foundation has a balance of $8.7 million, on which it earns interest of about $400,000 a year.

Del. David R. Brinkley, R-Carroll/Frederick, said the bay foundation should be able to pay for its programs without the help of the plates.

But Mingis said the interest goes toward the foundation's overhead, allowing it to spend donations on education.

Del. Norman Conway, D-Eastern Shore, who is sponsoring the ag tag bill, said he hopes the legislature will approve both commemorative plates.

Money raised through the ag tag program would allow the Maryland Farm Bureau to sponsor education programs in the schools.

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