The Maryland Senate has once again voted to cut the state's land conservation programs by $16 million. Not only are we disappointed by the lack of respect for this important, dedicated funding source, but these cuts are disproportionately targeted toward programs, including the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Fund (MALPF) and the Rural Legacy Program, which benefit the farming community.
MALPF and Rural Legacy allow farmers to put conservation easements on large blocks of working land, thus protecting the natural, agricultural, forestry, and environmental resources within the area. These programs work to maintain a viable agricultural industry and reduce sprawl by preserving productive farmland through agricultural easements that forever restrict development on prime farmland and woodland in every county in Maryland.
Rural land conservation is also incredibly important to Maryland's economy. Studies document that investments in land conservation generate significant returns in the form of public benefits, including jobs in tourism, agriculture and forestry.
Farmers are waiting in line for these funding opportunities. In 2012, there were over 200 farmers hoping to put easements on their land through these programs, which is way more than the program could accommodate. These Senate cuts are targeted at our rural residents, while leaving funding for urban and suburban needs in tact. This is contrary to One Maryland approach of working together for the common good of our state, including our farmers.
In accordance with the law, the citizens of Maryland pay a 0.5 percent real estate transfer tax specifically to protect land from future development. For the Senate to take this money from Marylanders and use it for a completely different purpose offends the public trust.
We hope that the House of Delegates will reject the Senate's cuts in conference by continuing to support Gov. Martin O'Malley's budget proposal to fully fund all our land conservation programs.
Dan Colhoun, Upperco