ANNAPOLIS – The General Assembly would undo environmental progress if it imposes planned “crippling” cuts in the state’s premier conservation programs, Gov. Parris N. Glendening said Thursday.
Speaking before environmentalists, Glendening urged them to lobby their lawmakers against proposed cuts of more than $100 million to land preservation, Smart Growth and Chesapeake Bay programs that would “strike at the heart of Maryland’s overall environmental effort.”
“We have made such incredible progress over the past seven years,” he said at a news conference announcing conservationists’ pledge to protect land in the Chesapeake Bay. “But this progress does not represent victory.”
“If we backside now, we could undo all that progress,” he said.
Legislative leaders are struggling to trim Glendening’s proposed $22 billion budget for 2003 in a tight fiscal year in order to preserve an approved 2 percent tax cut. The governor’s budget cancels the tax cut and draws from reserves to balance the budget, moves that analysts say will create a $1 billion deficit in 2004.
Proposed cuts include $10 million from Agricultural Land Preservation, $26 million from Rural Legacy and more than $32 million from Program Open Space, Glendening said. There are also plans to slash money for the state’s nutrient management program, oyster restoration and environmental enforcement efforts, he said.
Since taking office in 1994, Glendening has made environmental issues a top priority. The state’s Smart Growth program has been the one of the governor’s main initiatives.
The governor acknowledged the state’s fiscal shortfall and said he has already trimmed funds for land preservation programs. But lawmakers’ recent recommended reductions to those programs are unreasonable, Glendening said.
“What is being proposed now, however, goes beyond any fiscally responsible short-term reduction,” he said. “What is being proposed now are crippling cuts that will make it impossible to honor our commitments.”
Programs such as Community Legacy – which provides money for community revitalization – would essentially be zeroed out, said Glendening spokeswoman Michelle Byrnie. Community Legacy, slated to receive $14.3 million under Glendening’s budget, would lose about $13 million.
The proposed decreases to the state’s environmental programs are just recommendations and decisions have not been made yet, said Senate Budget and Taxation Committee Chairwoman Barbara Hoffman, D-Baltimore.
Lawmakers face the tough task of reducing state expenditures and finding enough money for state government operations, Hoffman said.
“You cannot make a $400 million reduction in the budget and not have cuts in all programs,” she said. “We need cash to run the government.”
Glendening has not offered any other suggestions on reducing state’s environmental program budgets, Hoffman said.
“The environmental programs had large growth,” Hoffman said. “And you may have to modify the growth so other parts of state government can function.”
The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee will begin making budget decisions next week.