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Here's a vote against raising the tax on gasoline

February 13, 2011|By TIM ROWLAND

There’s a very good argument for raising the tax on gasoline and a very good argument for banning construction of new septic systems. Excuse me for not making either of them.

The best I can do is take a pass on the notion that the agenda of state, Baltimorecentric government is a full-blown attack on rural counties and country living.

But it is difficult not to feel put upon when the lawmakers seem to treat Western Maryland as one big bed and breakfast, where people go to sip tea and enjoy the flowers — and where no one has to drive a healthy distance to work every day, or has to worry about a trifling little thing like housing costs.

I have no issues with any of the reasoning behind a gas tax: It discourages driving, conserves energy and fights climate change. These are serious concerns.

But here’s another: We have a lot of people out here for whom driving is not a choice. They are not wasting fuel or going on Sunday joyrides. To them, every mile is precious, because it takes them to one or more jobs that are crucial for their ways of life.

This isn’t the city or Montgomery County, where distances between destinations are short, public transport is plentiful and driving is as often as not tied to recreation. A gas tax is a major hit to many people’s budgets, especially at a time when gas prices are on the rise.

I can’t speak for how it would work in urban areas, but here it would almost certainly throw people into the folds of public assistance, which of course would, at least to some extent, defeat the purpose of increasing taxes.

The other burr under my saddle is that we out here on a per-capita basis do a disproportionate amount of the driving and the motor-fuel tax paying, but receive next to nothing in return. Every time we bring this up, the state pats us on the head and says, “Oh, but we widened that Dual Highway intersection for you.”

Oh goodie. For perspective, the Intercounty Connector is costing $2.6 billion. We get a lousy turning lane and they act like we’ve just been awarded a bullet train to Frostburg.

As for the septic tanks, this is an issue that’s a little harder to parse, particularly because the Chesapeake Bay is such a major, and unspeakably fragile, resource. There is sense in Gov. Martin O’Malley’s concerns about large subdivisions near the bay or major tributaries. A septic system is a bad idea if we’re considering a 30-home subdivision on a sandbar of the Choptank.

So far, that seems to be what O’Malley is talking about.

But ... when groups such as Tea parties and the NRA and other organizations that treat any government sneeze as an outbreak of Black Death, this is what they are afraid of. I would almost guarantee that the day the State of Maryland bans one form of septic system, the days of any new septic system are numbered.

Out here, that’s a problem. Certainly, you will be hearing plenty of talk about the negative effect this would have on economic development. But there is another concern: We might just be headed down a path where only the wealthy will be able to afford a house in the country.

This is basic economics: If there are to be no new traditional septic systems (in other words, no new rural homes) then suddenly the value on the ones in existence will skyrocket beyond the means of the average family.

This is the dark side of sprawl containment. If you are concentrating stores, restaurants and offices into a central location, that’s one thing. But I believe it to be a serious problem when we start herding people of limited resources into tighter and tighter confines.

I don’t expect anyone from the city to understand — but I wish there were state grants for people who wanted to build shacks up on the mountain with broken down porches and a pile of firewood out back. They are owned by some of the more refreshing people you will ever meet; I hate the thought that they would one day be priced out of the market.

Generally speaking, people with septic tanks can stand it if the guy next door has a junk tractor in the yard. They don’t need an edger to make sure the lawn is 1.5 inches from the walk. People should have the right and the financial ability to choose this lifestyle, and not be shut out by septic-system regulations.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 6997, or by e-mail at timr@herald-mail.com. Tune in to the Rowland Rant video at www.herald-mail.com, on antpod.com  or on Antietam Cable's WCL-TV Channel 30 evenings at 6:30. New episodes are released every Wednesday.

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