Farmers and other landowners are profoundly disappointed to see that Maryland’s proposed 2015 budget eliminates any new funding for Program Open Space. Since 1969, this program has created state and local parks, preserved irreplaceable rare species, and protected farmland and historic sites.
We have significant need to protect and conserve the lands and waters of the Eastern Shore and Maryland’s coastal bays behind Ocean City and Assateague for both present and future generations. The state’s tourism trade rests squarely on the back of clean water. And few things protect water quality better than undeveloped land.
Residents of Maryland pay a half a percent real estate transfer tax specifically to allow landowners to voluntarily protect their land from future development. This year that transfer tax generated approximately $156 million, but none of these funds will be applied to their intended purpose of land conservation. This violates the public trust.
Ironically, these draconian cuts to land conservation come after a Maryland State Parks Economic Impact and Visitor Study found that State Parks have a $650 million estimated annual economic benefit to local economies and the State. For every dollar the State invests, visitors spend $25.56 locally during their State Park visits.
These resources, both the parks and tourism revenues, are vital to our region. Likewise with every development right sold, the state is relieved of the future tax burden of cleaning up pollution caused by septic systems, impervious surfaces, and toxins.
While the proposed budget includes some bonds to pay back funds removed in previous years, funding for this program should be restored.
We think that giving farmers and other property owners the option of voluntarily selling development rights is a better way of protecting the environment than regulating them into oblivion. We hope that Members of the General Assembly can find a way to restore these funds in this year’s budget.
Maryland Coastal Bays Program