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Partners for Open Space
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by Kelly Carneal | 2008

Nothing is more beautiful than a crisp fall day in Maryland: the sun shimmering on our beautiful Chesapeake Bay; the red and yellow leaves of our rich forests; the long views of crop and pastureland; and the gentle murmur of rivers and streams running through our landscape. No wonder Maryland is known as “the land of pleasant living.”

Nothing is more beautiful than a crisp fall day in Maryland: the sun shimmering on our beautiful Chesapeake Bay; the red and yellow leaves of our rich forests; the long views of crop and pastureland; and the gentle murmur of rivers and streams running through our landscape. No wonder Maryland is known as “the land of pleasant living.”

Maryland’s nationally acclaimed land conservation programs are big reasons why the state has retained its natural beauty and provides so many recreational opportunities for residents. Partners for Open Space is a statewide coalition of over 155 groups seeking to secure and protect Maryland’s land conservation programs. Its vision is that today, tomorrow, a decade from now and beyond, Maryland will be a stunningly beautiful and healthy place.

Since 1969, the Maryland real estate transfer tax has been the foundation of Maryland’s land conservation programs. A small fraction (0.5%) of the tax on each real estate transfer is supposed to go toward land conservation. The statutory scheme anticipated that, as real estate values increased, the amount of tax collected and the amount available for land conservation would increase, allowing the state and counties to keep up with the rising costs of preserving land. Because of this statutory scheme, Maryland has been able steadily to preserve working farms and forests, protect critical wildlife habitat, conserve lands that protect the Chesapeake Bay, and ensure that local governments can protect open space and provide recreational opportunities for their residents. And the reverse is true: as real estate values decrease, the number of dollars available for conservation follows suit.

Each year, after the real estate transfer taxes have been collected, the legislature passes a Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act (BRFA), which overwrites all existing laws and can allow any dedicated funds in the state budget to be redistributed as needed. Unfortunately, for several years before 2006, the BRFA redirected funds that should have gone to Program Open Space, the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation, and the Rural Legacy Program. The almost total diversion of dedicated land conservation funding sent a wake-up call to the conservation, parks and recreation, agricultural preservation, and land trust communities.

Last year, Governor O’Malley and the state legislature fully funded land conservation. Marylanders should make a trend of this full funding so that conservation programs will have a stable source of financial support. Full funding is even more critical now that the state’s real estate market, real estate transfer tax, and the 0.5% for land conservation are all bottoming. While Maryland faces serious economic challenges, preserving and expanding our parks, forests and farmland are critical investments that will pay dividends for current and future residents.

Marylanders need to ensure that all these funds will be used for their intended purpose of land conservation. Previous diversions of funds have seriously set back the progress of conservation programs.

Partners for Open Space exists to educate citizens and the state legislature about the importance of protecting land and water resources. It envisions a healthy and scenic landscape, a patchwork quilt of large natural areas connected by wildlife and river corridors—a beautiful region interspersed with well-planned agricultural, residential, and commercial development that supports the people of our region now and forever.

Two-thirds of Maryland is neither developed nor preserved. What will the state look like in the future if we no longer have funds to preserve our open spaces? Hopefully, we can preserve one acre of land for every acre developed, and, to accomplish this goal, Program Open Space needs to be fully funded this year and every year.  

 

Kelly Carneal is the Director of Partners for Open Space.

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