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September 5, 2011

Speeches, plans and power

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

It’s Labor Day, and the week of the big Capitol Hill speech by President Barack Obama. His lackeys and messengers call this the JOBS speech, and it ought to be a whopper, since he needed 10 days in Martha’s Vineyard to concoct it.


The president had asked House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner (R., OH) for the chance to visit the Capitol on Wednesday night to speak to a Joint Session of Congress. Why not? What is more important right now than a speech about putting more American’s back to work in a weakened economy?


Answer: A GOP presidential candidate debate, that’s what. It’s not like we haven’t already heard plenty from Paul/Romney/Perry/Bachmann/Gingrich/Santorum/Cain/Huntsman. How dare Mr. Obama plan a major speech on jobs the same night? Heaven knows the pearls of wisdom this group of bright shining intellects have to offer are more important than a presidential address to a Joint Session of Congress. Right?


So, it appears we’ll have our GOP debate, unfettered by this talk of putting people back to work. Fortunately, those of us who care more about the National Football League season than we do anything President Obama – or the less-than-compelling Republican presidential candidates – have to say will be able to choose between the prez and the Packers on Thursday night.


If these goof-offs (President Obama and Republicans on the Hill) can’t even agree on the night to give a speech on jobs, how do we ever expect them to develop real solutions to these structural problems?


* * * * * * * * *


Shifting focus a bit, we have our own little political kerfuffle here in Maryland, surrounding the new state growth plan.


Gov. Martin O’Malley, chief power broker in a state where his party holds all the cards, has been concerned for some time about local land use planning decisions. Mr. O’Malley’s platform always included a sharp focus on health of the Chesapeake Bay and tidal waters of the Atlantic.


Couple that with a well-established nanny-state view of the role of the government in our lives, and the regulatory outcomes become a source of concern.


State Planning Director Richard Hall is an apostle of former Gov. Parris Glendenning’s Smart Growth strategies, so it should surprise no one that in drafting a state growth plan, Director Hall would reflect that kind of thinking.


Before we go much farther, you should read it if you haven’t already. Here’s the link:


The Maryland Planning Department lists 10 reasons for developing the plan.



Sounds fairly innocuous, right? I mean, really. Who could possibly be against anything sounding so noble?


The real reason for the plan taking the direction it has is that – according to the O’Malley Administration – over half a million acres of land will be “lost” to development by the year 2030.


That choice of words frames the heart of this debate. The O’Malley Administration and green, slow growth advocates view land development as a negative, and the construction of new homes and businesses constitutes a loss. The construction industry obviously takes the opposite viewpoint. They believe that each new home built in Maryland puts people to work and creates economic opportunity. As is normally the case, the truth lies somewhere in-between.


Interestingly, the biggest push back on the crafting of PlanMaryland is not coming from the builders and developers. The most vocal resistance so far has come from local government, more specifically, county governments in Western Maryland.


Counties all belong to the same advocacy group, the Maryland Association of Counties (MACO). MACO lobbies the legislature on behalf of all 23 counties and the City of Baltimore. Normally, MACO holds a good deal of sway over state policy-making.


Some counties don’t seem nearly as vocal in their opposition, likely a by-product of their political allegiance to the governor. Montgomery and Prince George’s counties have the most significant influence, yet neither seems to be saying much about the state’s new plan.


Carroll and Frederick County, on the other hand, have commissions that are comprised of Republican members. Not a single Democrat in sight, although Frederick Commissioner David Gray usually votes like one.


So, maybe it’s not a big surprise that the leaders in the county movement against the O’Malley growth plan come from Carroll and Frederick. The arguments are quasi-legal and totally political, and surround the concept of sovereign rights of local government to control land use planning. The arguments are based upon interpretation of the Planning article of the Annotated Code of Maryland, referred to as Article 66B.


Local governments want to retain the right to make land use decisions unencumbered by the influence of state planners. State planners believe that if local governments are going to make land use decisions that result in fiscal demands being placed on state government, then that same state government should be able to guide and influence those decisions to get the best return on that spending.


Both arguments have merit, yet the environmental movement will dismiss the local government’s worry as completely unfounded while the people who oppose Governor O’Malley will claim this is about diminishing the power of self-determination.


Since this is essentially a power argument, the safe bet is that the governor will prevail, and the local governments that oppose PlanMaryland will find themselves on the short end of the stick.


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