Chris Shank not taking anything for granted

September 09, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

Four years ago, Chris Shank was the giant-killer, playing David to Bruce Poole's Goliath, and even though the margin of victory was just 247 votes, a win is a win.

Now Shank's the incumbent delegate facing a challenge from Dave Russo, a local pharmacist, for the District 2B seat in the Maryland General Assembly. But this week he seemed confident of victory in November because he said he's kept many promises he made four years ago.

On the issue of farmland preservation, Shank said the delegation got $6 million for that purpose during the last four years, adding that the money farmers get can be used for the purchase of new equipment or other investments.

But Shank said that while the state is doing a good job preserving farmland, it still needs to work on preserving the viability of agriculture as an industry.


In the 2002 session, Shank said he got a bill through the House of Delegates to streamline the nutrient-management regulation passed in the wake of the pfisteria scare. In the next session, he said, he'll work to convince "our Senate colleagues of the need to preserve agriculture."

Another benefit for farmers came in the form of a tax break, which he said provides that those who sell a land-preservation easement get relief on the capital gains tax.

Other efforts he proposes include lobbying federal lawmakers to approve the Northeast Dairy Compact, a price-support system for milk and overseeing the Right to Farm ordinance.

"We need to make sure the County Commissioners implement it," he said.

Shank also said the state needs to help farmers develop what he called "niche products," or features that add value to already existing crops.

"One thing I'm big on is ethanol production. We've preserved all this farmland, so now we need to get something growing in those fields," he said.

"By developing this as an alternative fuel, not only do we help the farmers, but from a national security perspective, we don't have the same dependence on foreign oil," he said.

The state wouldn't be in the ethanol business, but would act as a catalyst, Shank said, bowing out when it was up and running.

Shank says his interest in farm preservation goes beyond looking out for farmers to saving the area's views and vistas to build tourism.

"I like tourism so well because it involves a minimal cost and ultimately the people leave, but they leave their dollars here and we don't have to build schools for their children," he said.

That's what's behind his persistent opposition to large cell phone towers and D.M. Bowman's proposed traveler's plaza.

"I know I've ruffled some feathers," Shank said, "but I'm going to do what's good for the county. We live here too and I'm not approving these various projects that are detrimental to our way of life."

Speaking of ruffled feathers, Shank has managed to tick off the county commissioners a couple of times. Once, when the county board was too slow in approving money for a fire company substation in Rohrersville, he put in a bill forcing them to do it.

On the hotel-motel tax bill, he and state Sen. Don Munson, R-Washington, inserted a provision the commissioners objected to that forced them to use some proceeds to pay down the county's sewer debt.

"We have a system of government that works very well, with checks and balances. Do we always agree? No," Shank said.

Shank and the commissioners also disagreed on a proposed real estate transfer tax, which he said he opposed because it would hit all buyers of local property, even those moving from one neighborhood to another. A better option is an excise tax, which would be paid by developers on new construction.

"Do I want to cut off growth and slam the door? No, but we want to avoid the mistakes of Frederick County and Montgomery County, which allowed growth to occur without the infrastructure in place," he said.

Asked about House Speaker Cas Taylor's call after the last session for a look at new revenue sources to meet the state's growing needs, Shank said he felt seeking revenues first is the wrong approach.

"Over the past four years, (Gov. Parris) Glendening has grown the state budget by 60 percent. You can't build the budget based on these years of economic growth that's not there now," he said.

Instead, Shank said, he favored giving the Committee on Efficiency of Government a chance to find some duplication to eliminate.

"We've got seven different land preservation agencies. We only need one, one that works right," he said.

Shank said little about his opponent during the interview, but he's prepared for the challenge. He noted that four years ago Russo, now a Democrat, told a forum that there were "too few Republicans in Annapolis..."

As to claims by Russo and others that the delegation's not bringing home enough "bacon," Shank quoted from the Major Issues Review of the Department of Legislative Services, noting that during the past four years, Washington County's portion of state aid has gone up 23 percent for operating funds and 63 percent for capital grants.

Shank has no primary opponent Tuesday, but appears to be taking Russo as seriously as he took Poole. If Russo does claim victory, it won't be because Shank assumed a second term was in the bag.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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