Annapolis: Democrats Blast Hogan Silence on Bay Cleanup Cuts as Administration Fires Back

Democrats in Annapolis Thursday railed against Republican Gov. Larry Hogan for not doing enough to protect the Chesapeake Bay under the Trump administration’s proposed cuts to the Bay cleanup plan and under a new EPA administrator historically hostile to environmental regulations.

“The Bay can’t speak for itself obviously and needs a spokesperson,” said Senate President Mike Miller, leading a press conference of House and Senate Democratic leaders. “Obviously the person in the highest office in the state is not speaking out for the Chesapeake Bay, so we’re here to say this Bay is ours, it’s the largest estuary in the world…and we’re going to protect our Chesapeake Bay.”

(The world’s largest estuary, where fresh water combines with saltwater from the ocean, is at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River, according to numerous sources. The Chesapeake is the largest in the U.S.)

Miller, whose home overlooks the bay at Chesapeake Beach, said progress has been made to bring back the canvasback duck and rockfish populations and establish oyster sanctuaries “and we’re not going to retreat,” Miller said.

Conspiracy of silence

Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s, said the Hogan administration has been guilty of a “conspiracy of silence” since the federal budget came out last week with $73 million in proposed cuts to the Chesapeake Bay cleanup program, which was enacted in 2010 to put the Bay on pollution diet to reduce nutrients flowing into it.

“The program, the resources and the oversight…have been cut and not a word from the second floor,” Pinsky said. “It is a conspiracy of silence and it is guilt of omission.”

“Without that program we are going to slide backwards not only losing that $73 million but the oversight and push from the federal government. Without that we have a major problem,” Pinsky said.

Pinsky said Hogan’s support of a bill to weaken penalties on oyster poachers and the firing of scientists, had become an act of commission. He was referring to the recent firing of Brenda Davis, blue crab fisheries manager at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources who spent 28 years at the agency.

She was supposedly fired for setting limits on the size of crabs that could be harvested after July 15 every year to 5 ¼ inches.

Lawsuit compelled enforcement

Maryland’s Bay cleanup plan was the result of a lawsuit won by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in 2010 that compelled the EPA to enforce the 1972 Clean Water Act. Under a consent decree, states in the Chesapeake Watershed, from New York to Virginia, were required to implement plans to reduce nutrient pollution, bringing the Bay into compliance with the Clean Water Act by 2025.

Kim Coble, the foundation’s vice president for environmental protection and restoration, said the “bay is improving” because of a 35-year state and federal partnership that started with President Ronald Reagan.

“Our ‘State of the Bay’ report this year has the highest reporting level we’ve ever had,” Coble said. “We have improved water clarity and the [population] of oysters and crabs and underwater grasses are coming back. And all of this is at risk.”

Administration pushback

The administration answered the Democratic leadership with a little sarcasm and it defended Hogan’s record on the Bay.

“With two weeks left in the session, we wish that the majority leadership would focus on doing their jobs here in Annapolis instead of focusing on Washington, D.C. partisan politics,” the statement said. “The governor has already made it clear that he will always fight for the Chesapeake Bay and that he opposes hypothetical cuts at the federal level.”

“Our administration will continue to support the Bay at record levels in the state budget, which has included over $3 billion for the Bay since taking office. We are happy to see that the presiding officers have seen the light on Bay restoration funding, given their support for the past administration raiding over $1 billion from restoration efforts.”

“President Miller and Speaker Busch promised that their entire focus this session would be on Washington politics; at least that’s one promise they’ve delivered on.”

Rep. Andy Harris, the only Republican left in the Maryland congressional delegation, said last week: “The Chesapeake Bay is a treasure, and as a member of the Appropriations Committee, I am committed to working with the administration to prioritize programs within the Environmental Protection Agency that would preserve Bay cleanup efforts.”

By Dan Menefee

Mid-Shore Political Organizations Ask Andy Harris to Expand Town Meeting Beyond One Hour

Numerous 1st District constituent organizations are demanding that Rep. Harris extend the Town Hall scheduled for March 31 beyond one hour. The Town Hall is scheduled from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m. on Friday, March 31, at the Todd Performing Arts Center at Chesapeake College in Wye Mills.

“It is clear that one hour will not begin to give Harris’ constituents the opportunity to ask questions and voice their concerns,” said Mike Pullen, a leading member of Talbot Rising, a group of concerned citizens from the Mid-Shore area. “So many of us on the Eastern Shore are worried about how congressional actions will affect us and feel that Rep. Harris has not represented our interests well.”

“His constituents deserve answers and a fair chance to voice their concerns,”Emily Jackson, from Together We Will – Delmarva, says. “Regardless of whether we voted for him or not, as constituents of his district it is important to feel that he is serving our best interests, and how is that
possible if he only allows interactions with him in such limited capacities as his very moderated
conference calls, and this constricted town hall?”

James Sweeting, of the African American Democratic Club of Maryland, weighed in as well. “Harris has co-sponsored or supported bills that many people oppose such as HR 610, which takes funding away from elementary and high schools, eliminates nutritional standards for school children, and virtually eliminates special education programs. Rep. Harris is cosponsoring HR 637 which amends the Clean Air Act to allow dangerous polluting chemicals to be released into our environment. These are important issues that need to be fully and openly discussed. Rep. Harris owes his constituents a fair chance to do
that.”

Another burning issue Harris’ constituents want to discuss with him is healthcare. The Affordable Care Act expanded coverage to millions of Marylanders, reducing its uninsured rate by a third, and its repeal will cost Maryland $2 billion per year. The State will be forced to raise that money or eliminate healthcare delivery services. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that approximately 18 million people will lose coverage next year and that those numbers will increase over time. “If Congress passes the bill before it, which includes eliminating Planned Parenthood, where will women on Medicaid receive healthcare and birth control?” asks Joyce Scharch, President of the Talbot County Democratic Women’s Club. “Whatever form it takes, we want assurance from Harris that he will fight for his constituents to have affordable access to the healthcare they need.”

The American Medical Association, American Hospital Association, AARP, and many other organizations are openly opposing adoption of the current bill before Congress.

“Congressman Harris has consistently overlooked the Eastern Shore and his constituents in terms of economic development, infrastructure improvements, failing to provide for adequate healthcare and now as part of the Trump team he states he will prioritize funding for Chesapeake Bay’s cleanup knowing the EPA’s budget is being slashed,” said Dorotheann S. Sadusky, President of the Democratic Club of Queen Anne’s County.

Attendees plan to gather outside afterwards to raise further questions for the congressman if the town hall is not extended. “People have questions and concerns, and they need a forum in which to voice them. If the Congressman isn’t going to give them that, they’re going to find their own space in which to do it,” Jackson said.

This release was distributed by the following organizations: Talbot Rising Together We Will – Delmarva Democratic Club of Queen Anne’s County Talbot County Democratic Women’s Club African American Democratic Club of Maryland

Governor Calls for Ban on Fracking in Maryland

According to the Washington Post, “Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) called Friday for a ban on hydraulic fracturing in the state, adding a new twist to a legislative debate over whether to prohibit the controversial gas-extraction method or extend a moratorium on it for another two years.

Hogan has said in the past that he would support the practice, commonly called “fracking,” in Western Maryland if he believed it could be done in an “environmentally sensitive matter.” At a hastily called news conference Friday, he said he did not think there was a way to frack safely, and therefore would support a bill to ban the practice altogether.”

For the full story, please go here.

Trump bid to Axe Bay Restoration Funding draws Fire

President Donald Trump’s budget outline proposing to defund the Bay Program and slash other programs aiding the Chesapeake restoration drew expressions of dismay this week from those engaged in the long-running effort, along with vows from members of Congress on both sides of the aisle to resist such deep cuts.

Trump’s proposed spending plan, if enacted, would eliminate funding for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Bay Program Office — from $73 million last year to nothing in fiscal 2018. It would be part of a recommended 31 percent reduction in the budget for the agency, with only the State Department targeted for deeper cuts.

The White House’s budget blueprint also called for sharp decreases in other departments and offices that have contributed to the Bay restoration effort, without giving details of how those might play out in specific programs or initiatives. The administration is planning to release a more detailed spending plan in May.

Environmentalists promptly denounced Trump’s fiscal plan, warning that it could cripple the Bay restoration effort and reverse the gains seen in recent years.

“If this program is eliminated, there is a very real chance that the Bay will revert to a national disgrace,” said Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William Baker, “with deteriorating water quality, unhealthy fish and shellfish, and water-borne diseases that pose a real threat to human health.”

Earlier this year, driven by improvements in blue crabs and other fisheries, underwater grasses and water quality, the Bay Foundation gave the estuary’s ecological health a grade of C-minus, the highest score given in nearly two decades. The CBF report card mirrored recent assessments of modest progress reported by the Bay Program and the University of Maryland.

While the Trump budget has alarmed some Bay advocates, many have noted that Congress, not the president, has the final say on federal spending. They said they hoped that lawmakers would reject the proposed cuts.

The federal government’s support of the Bay cleanup over more than three decades has helped to develop a “world-class expertise” in managing large ecosystems, which in turn has inspired and guided other restoration efforts, said Donald Boesch, president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

“It’s just unconscionable that Congress would let that all slip away by terminating it,” Boesch said in a telephone news conference arranged by the Bay Foundation.

Several members of Congress representing portions of the Bay watershed pledged to fight to maintain the Bay Program funding. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-MD, called Trump’s proposal to eliminate it “wrong and outrageous.” And he questioned how that squared with Trump’s campaign pledge to build the nation’s economy and create more jobs.

“The Chesapeake Bay creates $1 trillion in our economy,” Ruppersberger said, across the six-state watershed. “These are jobs in fishing, farming, boating and tourism.”

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-MD, a member of the Senate’s Budget and Appropriations committees, issued a statement saying the proposed cuts “seriously damage our efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay — and threaten the jobs that depend on a healthy Bay ecosystem.”

And Sen. Ben Cardin, D-MD, one of the Bay’s staunchest advocates in Congress over the years, called on the body to “quickly reject” Trump’s budget “before the absurdity of his cuts . . . causes ripples of uncertainty and fear across the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed economy.”

Members of Trump’s own party joined Democrats in challenging the Bay Program cuts, though generally with less saber rattling. Reps. Andy Harris, R-MD, whose district borders the Bay, and Rep. Scott Taylor, R-VA, whose district covers portions of Hampton Roads and the Virginia Eastern Shore, indicated that they would try to keep federal funds flowing to the restoration effort. Both had joined three other Republicans and 12 Democrats from Bay watershed states in a letter to the White House more than two weeks ago urging it to keep the current funding of $73 million next year.

“We do not support reductions in the cleanup,” said a spokesman for Taylor. A spokeswoman for Harris issued a statement saying he would work with the Trump administration to “to prioritize programs within the Environmental Protection Agency that would preserve [the] Bay cleanup effort.”

Their support for the Bay restoration effort is significant because both sit on the House Appropriations Committee, which in coordination with the Senate panel on which Van Hollen serves, will draw up the actual federal spending plans.

Even so, Trump’s spending blueprint presents a challenge, as it calls for the federal government to back off from environmental efforts like the Bay restoration. “The Budget returns the responsibility for funding local environmental efforts and programs to State and local entities, allowing EPA to focus on its highest national priorities,” explained a summary of the president’s budget that was posted online.

Also targeted for elimination was federal funding for restoration of the Great Lakes, Puget Sound and other compromised watersheds.

That view of the federal role in the Bay’s restoration represents a radical shift from the stance taken by every president since Ronald Reagan, who in 1984 declared the Chesapeake a “treasured national resource.” Reagan called for a sizable boost in the EPA’s budget, in part to begin “the long, necessary effort” to clean up the Bay. The Bay Program, which operates as a partnership between states and the federal government, was created the year before, when the EPA administrator signed the first of several agreements pledging to work with the Bay watershed states and the District of Columbia to deal with pollution degrading the estuary’s water quality and fish populations.

Funding for the EPA’s Bay Program Office has ticked up or down from year to year, but has increased overall since then. Along the way, Congress wrote the Bay Program into law, spelling out the EPA’s responsibilities to coordinate the efforts of other federal agencies and of the states in reducing pollution and restoring the estuary’s living resources. Jon Mueller, the Bay Foundation’s vice president for litigation, said he thinks that the federal government can’t legally walk away from its statutory obligations to support the Bay Program. But he acknowledged that other legal experts believe Congress can’t be compelled to fund programs like this, even if supposedly required by law.

The White House’s proposed elimination of Bay Program Office funding comes despite praise that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt lavished on it during his Senate confirmation hearing in January. Under questioning from Cardin, Pruitt called it “something that should be commended and celebrated.” He pledged to enforce the Bay pollution reduction plan EPA had worked out with the states, and to see that the effort continued to get federal resources.

Asked how Trump’s budget blueprint squares with Pruitt’s Senate testimony, an EPA spokeswoman emailed a statement saying it “reflects the President’s priorities of preserving clean air and water as well as to ease the burden of costly regulations to industry. Administrator Pruitt is committed to leading the EPA in a more effective, more focused, less costly way as we partner with states to fulfill the agency’s core mission.”

The loss of $73 million for the Bay Program would be significant in itself, but the impact of Trump’s overall proposed EPA budget cuts would go far beyond that, as the agency spent an additional $121 million on other water-related grant programs in the watershed last year, some of which may also face cuts. The largest of those is the EPA’s Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund, which made $102 million in low-cost loans to states last year for projects that improve water infrastructure.

While not facing outright cuts, the revolving loan fund would likely have less money to spend in the watershed. The Trump administration would end a $498 million grant program under the U.S. Department of Agriculture that pays for improvements to rural communities’ water and wastewater infrastructure. Instead, the budget would have rural areas compete for the EPA funds — so the money available for water infrastructure would effectively be spread among a larger group of communities.

Although the most severe cuts would fall on the EPA, other federal departments that play a role in Chesapeake Bay restoration also face double-digit reductions. Altogether, federal agencies provided $536 million for Bay-related projects in 2016, helping to fund everything from wastewater treatment plant upgrades and farm runoff controls to oyster reef construction and wetland restoration.

In the budget plan, though, the U.S. Department of Agriculture faces a 21 percent cut, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 16 percent, and the Department of the Interior 12 percent.

In many cases, the budget provides little detail about how hard various programs would be hit, but the Interior Department’s land acquisition money, which has been used to help purchase sensitive areas around the Bay in recent years, would be slashed.

At the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, $250 million would be cut from grants supporting coastal and marine management, research and education. Among the areas slated for elimination is NOAA’s Sea Grant program, which provides about $4 million annually in Bay-related research and education efforts.

In that context, the EPA’s Bay Program funding accounts for just about 14 percent of the annual federal spending on the Chesapeake. But the Bay Foundation’s Baker called it a “linchpin” of the overall restoration effort. Roughly two-thirds of the $73 million in this year’s budget goes to state and local governments in the form of grants to aid their cleanup efforts. The rest supports things such as water-quality monitoring to measure the efficacy of cleanup efforts, computer modeling to help inform cleanup plans, and the activities of nonprofit groups to encourage public engagement in the restoration. (A portion of Bay Journal funding comes from a Bay Program grant.)

Environmentalists said cuts in EPA funding would hurt the ability of states to carry out a wide range of environmental programs, including those related to the Bay.
“Essentially they are saying they are going to turn over more authority to the states, and then cut the amount of money for the states to do it,” said Scott Slesinger, legislative director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection echoed that concern in a letter it sent to Pruitt on Thursday, which said the state agency relies heavily on federal funding to implement air and water pollution control programs.

Cutting the EPA Bay Program funds, the DEP said, would hurt the state’s ability to pay for pollution control efforts on Pennsylvania’s farms, where the state has tried to focus its lagging nutrient control efforts.

“These budget cuts do not reduce any of the responsibilities that DEP has to the people of Pennsylvania, but does decrease the resources available to fulfill those responsibilities,” DEP Acting Secretary Patrick McDonnell wrote. “These cuts, if enacted, would harm businesses seeking permits, and harm residents’ clean water, air, and land.”

CBF’s Baker said he’s worried that the loss of federal funds may result in a loss of “political will” in state houses and city halls to increase spending. And UM’s Boesch noted that much of the federal largesse for the Bay restoration effort comes in the form of matching grants.

“If the federal funds go away,” Boesch said, “the thought that we could go back and get state governments to double or triple investments is just naïve, given the budget issues they’re dealing with.”

Even if, as many expect, Congress dismisses Trump’s budget as too extreme, environmentalists said they worry it could give lawmakers cover to slash environmental programs much more than they have in the past.

“The real danger here is not that Congress will approve these numbers, it’s clear that they won’t,” said David Goldston, director of government affairs with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The danger is that people start taking it seriously as a point of negotiation.”

Timothy B. Wheeler is managing editor and project writer for the Bay Journal. He has more than two decades of experience covering the environment for The Baltimore Sun and other media outlets. Bay Journal editor Karl Blankenship contributed to this article.

Save the Date: Rep. Andy Harris to Host Town Hall Meeting at Wye Mills March 31

After reaching his constituents through last month’s “tele-town” hall meetings, Rep. Andy Harris (R-Maryland) will now be hosting in person a brick-and-mortar town hall on the Mid-Shore on Friday, March 31 to discuss Congress’ new plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, known as the American Health Care Act (AHCA).

In the congressman’s most recent “Happenings” email, Dr. Harris has indicated his preliminary support of the AHCA. A copy of the current bill can be found here.

Date: March 31, 2017
Time: 6:00 – 7:00 PM
Todd Performing Arts Center
Chesapeake College,
1000 College Circle, Wye Mills, MD, 21679

Maryland has a Budget Problem — but No One can Agree on Why

Despite Maryland’s apparent prosperity, the state has a perennial budget problem.

Maryland is in the top 10 for average annual wage and an unemployment rate a half-percent below the national average.

But it also has a structural deficit expected to reach $1.2 billion by fiscal year 2022.

And on Thursday, the state’s Board of Revenue Estimates announced that their projections for the current fiscal year have been reduced by $35.32 million — from about $16.62 billion to nearly $16.59 billion.

Board of Revenue Estimates Director Andrew M. Schaufele said some taxpayers may have shifted any income they could to later tax years to take advantage of lower federal taxes promised by the Trump Administration and the Republican-controlled Congress.

If so, Maryland would see a decline in reported income in fiscal year 2017, but a corresponding increase in reported income in 2018.
The board on Thursday also indicated long-term challenges presented by the federal government’s hiring freeze, which will eventually mean fewer jobs, lower total wages, and less spending in Maryland — all of which contribute to a decline in revenue.

But no one can seem to completely agree on what is causing the perennial problem.

Some believe that mandated spending is the primary issue for the budgetary problems, while others argue that lagging state revenues are causing the issues.
Senate Budget and Taxation Committee Vice Chair Sen. Richard Madaleno Jr., D-Montgomery, said he believes the problem is a combination of “generous” projections in the way state spending is calculated, and underperforming state revenues.

Maryland Secretary of Budget and Management David Brinkley contends that legislative mandates have pushed spending too high, to the point where spending growth is outpacing revenue growth.

These mandates — spending that is written into law by legislators — must be included in all future budgets proposed by the governor.
Brinkley and Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, argue that Maryland’s increasingly expensive mandated spending — created in large part by the Democrat-controlled legislature — is a key contributor to the structural deficit.

Currently, Maryland’s revenues are increasing at a rate of 3 percent annually, a number that Brinkley said “would be the envy of all states.”

But mandated spending is growing at a rate of between 4 and 5 percent each year.

“The problem is when we have statutory requirements that say spending shall go up (at a rate higher than revenue growth),” Brinkley told the University of

Maryland’s Capital News Service. “That gap is the structural gap.”

About 83 percent of Maryland’s annual budget is set aside for mandated spending or entitlement programs.

If everything that required funding could be included in that 83 percent, there would be no issues. But the rest of the budget “is not mandated but still might be very attractive” to spend, Brinkley said.

Money from this unmandated 17 percent, over which the governor has more control, is spent in areas such as public safety, university funding and state police.

“Maryland’s budget ballooned by 39 percent in just 10 years due in large part to mandated spending,” said Christopher B. Summers, the president of the Maryland Public Policy Institute, in a January press release. “As a result, our state government has accumulated nearly $2,900 in debt per every Maryland resident. We encourage Maryland legislators to turn off autopilot and exercise greater discretion over taxpayer money.”

The institute said one fix would be to align mandatory spending with revenue increases, so if revenue increases by 2 percent, mandated spending can only increase by 2 percent.

The institute also supports “a policy in which any new mandatory expenditure must be countered with a repeal or reduction of existing mandates.”

“It’s a decent thing for the governor to have some discretion, in things he’d like to be able to do,” Brinkley said. “So that’s our challenge.”
Madaleno agreed that some of the projected spending has been “generous,” such as assuming each state employee gets an annual raise, but said that wasn’t the only problem.

One problem both sides seems to agree on is the way that tax revenues are projected and included in the state’s budget.

“Our ongoing expenditures are greater than our ongoing revenue the last, close to, decade,” said Sen. Edward Kasemeyer, D-Howard and Baltimore counties.

Last fiscal year, the Board of Revenue Estimates projected a modest surplus; however, in September 2016, the board announced that those predictions had fallen $250 million short of actual revenues, putting the state in a hole.

Lawmakers are “used to that now,” said Sen. Roger Manno, D-Montgomery.

They are told they have “x dollars,” and spend “x minus 10” when in reality the amount of revenue is “way south of what we’ve been told,” he said.
Projecting tax revenue is notoriously difficult, Madaleno said. He has heard it compared to driving a car using only the rear-view mirror, and projections are often incorrect.

Tax from income other than wages — such as capital gains and dividend income — has been targeted as a key contributor to the state’s budget problems.

Projecting non-wage income tax revenues is difficult because they are extremely volatile. This volatility is caused by a small percentage of the state’s population paying a majority of these taxes.

The top 1 percent of the state’s population pays between 68 and 73 percent of the extremely volatile non-wage income taxes annually, Brinkley said.
Additionally, under the state’s progressive tax structure, the top 1 percent of the state’s population pays about 21 percent of all income taxes.

Maryland is one of 10 to 15 states where high-income earners play a major role in the outcome of state tax collections, according to Arturo Perez, a fiscal analyst with the National Conference of State Legislatures. As a result, revenues in these states can be more susceptible to stock market forces.

Two bills, heard by the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee in February, present similar plans to protect Maryland from overestimating these mercurial revenue sources.

Both bills try to “smooth out peaks and valleys,” by essentially taking this unpredictable revenue off of the table for revenue projections.
Democrat lawmakers and the Republican administration of Gov. Larry Hogan each proposed bills, and the two are largely similar.

The primary difference is their treatment of the state’s “rainy day” fund, which is where the state places surplus money after balancing the budget.

Under current law, if the fund totals less than 7.5 percent of general fund revenue, $50 million is deposited into the fund. If the fund is at less than 3 percent of revenue, $100 million is deposited into the fund.
Under the Democrats’ bill, proposed by Manno, the $50 million would be deposited if the fund is less than 10 percent of the revenues for a given year.

“The hope is that we will have additional money at the end of that year,” Manno said. The goal is to “build a robust and solvent ‘rainy day’ fund.”
After the “rainy day” fund reaches 10 percent, any surplus money would then go to “underfunded priorities.”

Manno’s bill would also change the way Maryland builds budgets and funds all critical projects, he said.
Hogan’s bill would require the money that is taken off the table be spent on “one-time things,” which will not later count on volatile revenue as a steady funding source, Brinkley said.

To do this, the bill would establish a Fiscal Responsibility Fund. The money can be used for things like pay-as-you-go capital projects and pension funds.
Money would only be placed in the Fiscal Responsibility Fund if the balance of the “rainy day” fund exceeds 10 percent of revenue.

If the balance does not exceed 10 percent, any extra revenue must be placed in the “rainy day” fund.
Had the cap proposed by both bills been in place last year, the state would have been at a $6 million surplus after the session, state analysts said.
Kasemeyer has assigned both bills to a work group that will take the best parts of each, he said.

The group will then amend one of the bills to provide the best solution for the legislature and the state.

Although Madaleno said he does not know which bill he expects to receive a favorable report from the committee, he, Kasemeyer and many other prominent Democrats, including Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr. D-Calvert, Charles and Prince George’s, are cosponsors of Manno’s bill.

Both bills this week were still being studied by the work group, but lawmakers indicated that some version of the legislation is likely to pass this session.

By Jake Brodsky. Jacob Taylor contributed to this report.

Annapolis: New Septic Bill Struggles in the Senate

A bill to require Best Available Technology (BAT) for all new construction on septic everywhere in Maryland is struggling to survive in the Senate.

The bill, SB266, sponsored by Sen. Joan Carter Conway, D-Baltimore City, would establish a 2012 regulation issued under former Gov. Martin O’Malley into law that required BAT systems for all new construction on septic, even beyond the critical areas.

Gov. Larry Hogan killed the O’Malley-era regulation last summer and limited BAT system requirements to the critical areas only. Hogan told the Maryland Association of Counties that the regulation “created a cost-prohibitive burden for Maryland homeowners and businesses” outside the critical area. BAT systems can cost up to $7,500 or more per home than conventional septic systems.

Critical areas are considered to be within 1,000 feet of the Bay or coastal areas.

Vote falls short

On Thursday a 22-23 vote fell short of advancing the bill, but it was brought back to life moments later when Sen. Ulysses Currie, D-Prince George’s, asked to reconsider the vote, although he did not change his vote.

Currie’s motion to reconsider cleared the way for Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton on Friday to offer floor amendments that would prioritize BAT requirements based on available funding in the Bay Restoration Fund. The amendment would have allowed conventional septic systems outside the critical areas if funding was unavailable.

The amendments failed 20-26.

Shortly after Middleton’s amendment failed, Sen. Edward Reilly, R-Anne Arundel, offered amendments to revert back to requiring BAT systems in the critical areas only. Those amendments were laid over until this week.

“It makes no sense to put an enhanced nutrient removal system in the middle of a farmland 25 miles from any critical area in the state and require [homeowners] to pay any more than necessary,” Reilly said. “This focuses the efforts and the money on the most important parts of the state.”

Senate President Mike Miller originally voted against the bill on Thursday but had a change of heart Friday after Reilly’s amendments were laid over. He asked the body to reach a compromise.

“Let’s pass the bill,” Miller said.

Flush tax money

The measure, if passed, would provide funding, if available, from the Bay Restoration Fund — where the “flush tax” goes — to subsidize the cost difference between conventional and BAT systems, currently estimated at $7,500, according to a legislative analysis.

An $8,000 fine would be levied for any home not using a BAT systems where required.

O’Malley put the regulation in place just weeks after signing the controversial Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2012, which put tighter limits on septic in subdivisions but preserved some local control over septic use.

Rural lawmakers and local governments reeled at the time and said it would put too many restrictions on development and was an affront to property rights of farmers and landowners.

The Act established the size and scale of major developments using septic systems as a way to encourage development closer to priority funding areas that could be served by sewage treatment plants.

by Dan Menefee

Governor Hogan Pushes for Redistricting Reform  

At a press conference Friday, Gov. Larry Hogan sought to rally support for a bill that would set up an independent, non-partisan committee to handle the redistricting process.

Hogan called the state’s current partisan redistricting process “disgraceful” and lambasted the legislature for not acting to implement reforms.

Hogan has made passage of the Redistricting Reform Act of 2017 one of his primary goals ahead of the 2018 gubernatorial election. The governor wants to remove lawmakers’ power over redistricting and hand the process over to an independent commission.

Such reforms are strongly opposed by Democrats, who owe some of their dominance in state politics to the party’s power to favor itself when drawing legislative districts.

However, Hogan acknowledged that gerrymandering is common across the country, by both Democrats and Republicans in states where they control the process. Maryland Democrats often cite gerrymandering in other states as a reason for not changing the process in Maryland, as doing so would hurt Democrats at the national level.

Gerrymandering works by spreading friendly voters out to get a simple majority in as many voting districts as possible, and concentrating opposition voters into as few districts as possible.

Maryland is considered to be among the most gerrymandered states in the nation. About two-thirds of the state’s registered voters are Democrats, and nearly a third are Republican, yet both U.S. senators and seven of Maryland’s eight U.S. representatives are from the Democratic Party.

The winner-take-all method of determining electoral victory in the United States means that it is far better for a party to be able to win 55 percent of the vote in 10 elections than for it to be able to win 99 percent of the vote in five elections, even if the total number of votes cast is the same. This principle is part of what enabled Donald Trump to win the presidency in 2016; more votes were cast for Hillary Clinton, but they were concentrated in too few states.

Hogan gained an unlikely ally in his push to address gerrymandering when his predecessor, former Gov. Martin O’Malley, D, has recently come out in support of ending the practice.

State Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr., D-Calvert, Charles and Prince George’s, told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service that he thinks the proposal “is largely politics on the part of the governor, he sees his numbers dropping and he knows this is popular with the people.”

A Democrat-sponsored bill is currently moving through the legislature that would move the state to an independent redistricting process only if New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Pennsylvania and North Carolina pass similar reforms by the end of 2020.

One of the major obstacles to independent redistricting, in Maryland and elsewhere, is the dominant party’s fear that leveling the playing field will put their national party at a disadvantage to their opposition elected from still-gerrymandered states.

The five states mentioned in the Democrats’ bill and Maryland currently send a total of 44 Republicans and 43 Democrats to the U.S. House of Representatives.

The idea is that this nearly even split makes it less likely that reform will give either party an immediate advantage at the national level. The dominant parties in those states would surrender the advantage that partisan redistricting gives them in exchange for neutralizing that advantage in another state where their party is in the opposition.

Alexander Williams, a former judge, spoke in support of reform at the Friday press conference, saying that cases challenging gerrymandered maps are creating a “litigious mess” in the courts. He predicts that courts are going to start imposing their own solutions to the problem, which he worries judges are not capable of doing effectively.

Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously said of pornography in 1964, “I know it when I see it.” Likewise, gerrymandering is easy to spot but extremely difficult to prove.

The practice often produces odd-looking voting districts that squiggle around established population and geographic boundaries.

The Supreme Court has acknowledged that partisan gerrymandering could be so extreme in certain cases that it might violate the equal representation clause of the Constitution. The problem is that the Court has yet to find a reliable test to determine how much gerrymandering is too much.

The Supreme Court is expected to take another look at gerrymandering in 2017. In 2016, Wisconsin’s state assembly maps were ruled unconstitutionally gerrymandered. The case relies on the results of the 2012 and 2014 elections, where Democrats won the majority of the statewide general assembly vote, but Republicans still won 60 of the 99 seats in the assembly. That case has been appealed and is scheduled to be heard by the Supreme Court in 2017.

By Jacob Taylor

Maryland’s Veteran Crab Manager Fired after Watermen Complain to Hogan

Maryland’s veteran manager of the state’s blue crab fishery was fired this week after a group of watermen complained to Gov. Larry Hogan about a catch regulation that they contend hurts their livelihood — but that scientists say is needed to ensure a sustainable harvest.

Brenda Davis, crab program manager for the Department of Natural Resources and a 28-year state employee, said she was informed Tuesday that her services were no longer needed.

In an interview Wednesday, Davis said DNR Fisheries Director Dave Blazer gave no reason for her summary dismissal. But it came after Hogan met last week with about a dozen Dorchester County watermen who had been pressing Davis and the DNR for a change in a long-time regulation setting the minimum catchable size for crabs.

“I was totally shocked. It was totally unexpected,” Davis said yesterday. “I was really surprised and a bit disappointed, given my time there, that re-assignment wasn’t an option, because I think I’m going to be short on being able to do full retirement.”

A spokeswoman for the governor declined to comment. A DNR spokesman likewise said officials would not comment on a personnel matter.

For the last two years, a small but vocal group of Maryland watermen in lower Dorchester County have been asking DNR managers to allow the catch of smaller male crabs. The department has the flexibility to change regulations if conditions warrant, and they rely on an annual winter dredge survey of crabs to determine the size of the crab population and how much fishing pressure it might sustain.

The smaller crab size is part of a suite of restrictions in effect since 2001, Davis said, when managers sought to reduce the crabbing effort by 15 percent because the population was showing strain. During the first part of crabbing season, watermen can legally harvest male crabs if their pointed shells are at least 5 inches across from tip to tip. That minimum size is in effect from April 1, when the season opens, until July 14. On July 15, the minimum catchable size increases to 5 ¼ inches.

That seemingly slight increase gives male crabs more time in the water to molt and grow. It also significantly increases their chances of mating with female crabs so they can sustain the Bay’s population of the iconic crustacean, according to Tom Miller, a crab scientist who is director of the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

Blue crabs are the Bay’s most valuable fishery, and landings by Maryland watermen — which reached 26.7 million pounds in 2015, the most recent year for which figures are available — have a cumulative dockside value of tens of millions of dollars.

But in 2008 the crab population and harvest dipped so low that the federal government issued a disaster declaration for the fishery, and Maryland and Virginia regulators alike imposed tighter catch limits, aimed primarily at protecting females so they could reproduce and rebuild the stock. Crab numbers have rebounded to more sustainable levels, and some of the restrictions have been eased.

Dorchester watermen have lobbied both the DNR and the governor’s office for the change to 5 inches change. Davis said the Dorchester contingent said it was willing to negotiate, but the likely harm to the crab population from easing the rule was deemed so great that the options for offsetting the impact — closing the crab season early or starting later — were “not attractive.” The Dorchester watermen were not interested, Davis said.

When Hogan met with the group of about a dozen watermen last week, they again expressed their disappointment. Scott Todd, a leader in the Dorchester County watermen community and second vice president of the Maryland Watermen’s Association, attended the meeting. He said the watermen told the governor that the DNR, and Davis in particular, were not willing to meet them even part way.

Todd said the male size regulation was “devastating” to watermen in Dorchester County, because smaller crabs are the only ones running in their area that time of year.

He said they had offered to accept some sort of compromise, such as letting watermen continue catching 5-inch crabs for another six weeks, until the end of August. And then they dropped the request to just four weeks. Again, Todd said, the answer was no. It was, he said, just one “bang-your head-meeting [after] another.”

Todd said the governor seemed surprised about the rancor, but “he just said, ‘I’m listening.’”

Hogan, a Republican, had run on a pledge to end what he called his Democratic predecessor’s “war on watermen,” and he has made changes in the past based on their concerns. Responding to watermen’s call for change, the Hogan administration shook up the DNR, reassigning the manager of the department’s oyster fishery and restoration efforts and firing the fisheries director. Watermen had complained about both.

Then in late 2015, three watermen met with Maryland Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford to complain about a federally funded oyster reef restoration project in the Tred Avon River on the Eastern Shore. Natural Resources Secretary Mark Belton subsequently asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to hold up the project while DNR staff reviewed it and other restoration efforts. After a year, the project was eventually restarted.

Todd said in an interview that he thought that the Dorchester watermen had offered reasonable compromises.

“I never had anything personal against Brenda,” Todd said. “I don’t want to see anyone fired, but if she had to go to make the lives of 4,000 or 5,000 people a little bit better, I don’t see that we didn’t have a right to complain about it.”
The DNR has not announced any changes to the minimum size limits.
Charles County crabber Billy Rice, who chairs the DNR’s Tidal Fisheries Advisory Commission and has been involved in blue crab policy for decades, said the data from the annual winter dredge survey showed that changing the minimum catchable size would harm the crab population, and would not bring watermen any overall economic benefit. Many watermen like harvesting larger crabs, because they fetch better prices and more income.
The DNR’s Blue Crab Industry Advisory Committee, which includes watermen, recommended against the Dorchester-based pleas to change the rule because the conservation givebacks required to make up the difference were so extreme they would have harmed the whole industry, Davis said.

In an interview Wednesday, Rice said he sent an email to Hogan’s deputy chief of staff, Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio, expressing his “great disappointment” at Davis’s firing. He said Davis went above and beyond to help commercial watermen and processors.

“Brenda was a great person, and a great employee, and this was a simply a case of shooting the messenger,” Rice said.

Thomas O’Connell, the fisheries director who was fired in 2015, said in his experience at the DNR, any decision on whether to change crabbing regulations would have to be approved by Davis’s supervisors, including the current fisheries chief, Blazer, and the DNR secretary.

O’Connell said Davis “brought an incredible level of transparency to blue crab management.” The winter dredge survey numbers don’t come out until April, which is late to make changes for the season because it begins April 1.

So, he said, Davis would begin to meet with the industry while the survey was progressing, and ask them what they would like to see if the population reached certain targets. It allowed them to manage based on their preferences should there be an abundance, within reason, and prescribe the pain that might be coming if there was a shortage. On the table were issues such as size, gear and length of day. It took a lot of time and required a lot of night meetings and occasionally long drives, O’Connell said, but Davis was always willing to do it.

“I have observed her commitment and sacrifices over the years to ensure that Maryland blue crabs are managed sustainably,” O’Connell said. “And then a couple of watermen can have a meeting with the governor and turn around and really screw up her life.”

Asked about her greatest accomplishment in 28 years at DNR, Davis said it’s been the relationship she helped build with the crabbing industry through the dredge survey and data-sharing.

“That survey put us on the watermen’s boats, and we have fostered a much better relationship with the industry. They have a much better understanding of what we do, and we have a much better understanding of what they do,” she said.

Of the minimum crab size rule, she added: “It was a department decision. I just got to be the person to say it.”

Bay Journal staff writer Rona Kobell is a former reporter for the Baltimore Sun.

Rural Homelessness Is Real on the Mid-Shore

Homelessness is real on the Mid-Shore. As we sit snugly in our homes this winter, there is another population not quite so fortunate who might be “couch surfing” with family or friends, sleeping in cars, or even living in makeshift tents on the outskirts of our towns.

According to Julie Lowe, Executive Director of Talbot Interfaith Shelter (TIS), “Rurally, homelessness looks very different than in urban areas. Here on the Mid Shore, it can go unnoticed because it doesn’t look like the people we may see with signs asking for money on the streets in our cities.”

Lowe goes on to explain that many people hear the word “homeless” and it strikes fear in their hearts as they think of urban stories about people being robbed or hurt by people in the cities which might have mental illness or substance abuse. She adds that the reality in rural areas is that more of the people who become homeless have fallen on bad luck – lost jobs, illness, accidents, or divorce or changing family status.

Lowe adds, “The people who are homeless on the Mid Shore can go unnoticed because they want to be unnoticed. There is a stigma attached to homelessness. People judge you because they don’t understand how your situation happened.” She adds, “Many of these people are trying to piece it all together themselves and don’t want people to know their struggles. It is often a crisis, like cold weather, that has them coming to the doors of our shelters.”

Haven Ministries - New Space Sleeping

Haven Ministries – New Space Sleeping

Krista Pettit, executive director of Haven Ministries of Queen Anne’s County, adds that it is difficult to know the true number of homeless individuals on the Shore because the population is dispersed in a rural area. Funding for homeless programs are greater in the metropolitan areas where the numbers are more concentrated. According to Pettit and Lowe, because funding is limited in rural areas, partnerships with community organizations are crucial to meeting the needs, in particular, the role of the church community in meeting the needs.

Lowe adds, “The church model is how the Shore originally dealt with the homeless population in the winter months. Through a rotating seasonal shelter, communities were able to offer shelter in the evenings for people in need in area churches.”

Talbot Interfaith Shelter was a rotating church model for six years, rotating during the winter season between seven to 10 churches and the Synagogue, before finding a permanent shelter location in Easton two years ago. Haven Ministries Shelter has also operated as a church model for the past 12 years, utilizing Kent Island United Methodist Church in Stevensville as its seasonal shelter location. Both TIS and Haven Ministries still utilize churches to provide funding, meals, and volunteers to help run their shelters.

Lowe comments, “There seems to be more acceptance of the church model and more stigma associated with a permanent shelter.”

Pettit adds, “Churches are shelters for the shelter.”

Both Lowe and Pettit agree that the neighborly feeling in rural areas contributes to the communities taking care of their own. Many people have grown up volunteering in the church shelter model, but as a new generation comes of age, many have never had the experience.

Pettit adds, “There is now need to educate the next generation about how they can volunteer and help with this issue.”

The issue today with homelessness can be complex. According to Lowe and Pettit, people don’t realize how hard it is for people with children to get jobs because of the issues around child care in our rural areas. Other issues involve the availability of mental health treatment/counseling, and getting proper documentation (birth certificates, Social Security numbers, and driver’s licenses). With the Shore’s immigrant population, there can also be language barriers and an insular community to contend with.

Jeanine Beasley, Continuum of Care Manager at Shore Behavioral Health, the core service agency for behavioral health in the five counties on the Mid Shore, comments, “Like most rural areas, there are limited resources to deal with the issues surrounding homelessness. In the area of mental health treatment/counseling, it can take a while to be seen by a mental health provider. Talbot Interfaith Shelter and Haven Ministries both have partnerships with area outpatient mental health providers – For All Seasons and Corsica River Mental Health – which can help address these issues more quickly.”

In addition to mental health issues, Beasley points to the lack of affordable housing and sustainable employment as other issues facing our communities today. She adds, “There is a lack of awareness about this issue on the Mid Shore. Most people don’t understand the reasons people find themselves in these difficult situations. Not everyone has a safety net of family and friends to help them when a crisis happens. Both TIS and Haven Ministries are trying to help their clients build that safety net to help them get back on their feet.”

Pettit states, “Year to year, the age of clients in our shelter can vary. Because you have to be 18 or older to stay alone in a shelter, there are issues with youth homelessness in our county. We are now exploring ways to address this.” She adds, “There are also issues with the elderly due to financial and health issues, being disconnected from family, and having no support systems.”

The goal of both TIS and Haven Ministries is to get shelter clients stabilized through case management services so that their clients can transition into housing of their own. Both communities face challenges in finding affordable transitional housing. Talbot Interfaith Shelter partners with the Housing Commission of Talbot to provide apartments to their families transitioning into their own housing.

According to Carlene Phoenix, Deputy Director of the Housing Commission of Talbot, “Although Talbot County is one of the wealthiest counties in the state of Maryland, we need more affordable housing units for our workforce. Specifically, we need more income-based units for our minimum wage earners.”

Phoenix explains that although The Housing Choice Voucher Program (formerly Section 8 Program) can help provide rental assistance for housing for eligible families, the program’s federal funding is not at a level to meet the needs in Talbot County.

Until some of these changes occur, individuals and families on the Mid Shore face the reality of quietly piecing together resources to meet their changing needs when crisis happens – often going unnoticed in our communities.

For information about how you can help with rural homelessness by volunteering, partnering, or donating to either Talbot Interfaith Shelter in Talbot County or Haven Ministries in Queen Anne’s County, call Julie Lowe (TIS) at 410-310-2316 or Krista Pettit (Haven Ministries) at 410-739-4363.