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Senate minority leader briefs lawmakers on 'war on rural Maryland'

Discussion includes septic systems, water improvement plans, property rights and gas drilling

January 26, 2012|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com
  • Maryland Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin, R-Caroline/Cecil/Kent/Queen Anne's, briefed members of the Rural Caucus on Thursday on issues that he said are part of a "war on rural Maryland." Del. Andrew A. Serafini of Washington County is at right. Del. Neil C. Parrott is next to Serafini.
By Andrew Schotz, Staff Writer

Discontented lawmakers gathered Thursday for a briefing on the perceived “war on rural Maryland” — and to redouble their commitment to combat it.

Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-Caroline/Cecil/Kent/Queen Anne’s, the Senate minority leader, briefed about 15 legislators, focusing on PlanMaryland, the state’s new effort at managing growth.

The discussion moved to topics such as septic systems, water improvement plans, property rights and gas drilling, as lawmakers aired their dissatisfaction with what they see as unfair urban-centric governance.

This year, as chairman of the Western Maryland delegation, Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany, also is chairman of the Rural Caucus.

The group was scheduled to also hear a presentation by Del. Andrew A. Serafini, R-Washington, on the state’s pension system, but as the growth and development discussion grew, Serafini’s talk was postponed.

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Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, is proposing to double the average flush tax and curtail the use of septic systems as Chesapeake Bay preservation measures.

He has talked about increasing revenue for the state Transportation Trust Fund, presumably by raising the gasoline tax.

Pipkin and other Republicans have accused the O’Malley administration of trying to usurp local land-use decisions through PlanMaryland.

Pipkin called Richard Hall, the state’s secretary of planning, “the land czar of Maryland.”

Later Thursday, at a briefing with the House Environmental Matters Committee, Hall described PlanMaryland as merely a compilation.

“At its core, the plan is nothing more and nothing less than a coordination of policy documents, strategy documents, for existing state smart growth-related programs,” Hall said.

He told the committee that he’s puzzled by skeptics who speculate what PlanMaryland might create, but have no specific criticisms of what’s in the plan.

Pipkin said at the caucus meeting that if there really were nothing new to worry about in PlanMaryland, it should go before the Maryland General Assembly for review as a bill.

Hall told the Environmental Matters Committee that he doesn’t expect PlanMaryland to go through a legislative committee that reviews state agency regulations.

“We don’t envision any regulations or laws coming out of the plan,” he said.

Washington County has joined Allegany, Carroll and Frederick counties in a coalition to lobby against PlanMaryland.

Rural Caucus members also talked about whether septic-system users are being disproportionately taxed and why a gasoline-tax increase would hurt their districts.

Del. Mark N. Fisher, R-Calvert, said that in his county, people who get a grant for a septic system must sign an easement agreement giving the state permission to inspect the property, which he characterized as “extortion.”

Del. Anthony J. O’Donnell, R-Calvert/St. Mary’s, noted that the Maryland Court of Appeals just ruled that Allstate can stop offering insurance in rural areas, which he called “a bad decision” the legislature might have to address.

The Rural Caucus is scheduled to meet twice in February to talk about redistricting, rural septic systems and other topics.

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