Hefty price tag for Western Maryland secession

As we appear to be in a public-comment period regarding the proposed secession of five western counties from Maryland, I have a few additional observations to offer. But let me start with a summary of reasons for the separatist movement provided in dozens of emails from thoughtful people, many of them self-described libertarians, who support the establishment of the state of West Maryland:

Residents of Carroll, Frederick, Washington, Allegany and Garrett counties are sick of the tyrannical rule of smug, liberal, socialist-leaning Democrats who live in central, urban-suburban Maryland, who support the welfare state, abortion and gun control, who raise taxes and fees or finagle federal funds for things that have nothing to do with Western Maryland while ignoring the needs of rural counties and running businesses out of the state.

Also, a recurring complaint in letters from pro-secessionists concerns the way Maryland's leading Democrats gerrymandered the 6th Congressional District to deprive Republicans of a seat in the House of Representatives. (Note: Sixty-four percent of voters across the state approved of all the new district maps, including the one for the 6th, in a referendum last November; it was Question 5 on the ballot. A majority of the voters in three of the Western Maryland counties supported the measure. Partisan redistricting is troubling, but not a trend unique to Maryland or to Democrats.)

And, oh, one other complaint: The Maryland Department of Natural Resources doesn't allow hunters to kill enough bears in Garrett County.

I think those three paragraphs concisely but adequately capture the views of supporters of the Western Maryland Initiative, the group that wants the Western Maryland Five to declare independence and form the 51st state.

Let me just restate my personal views on this: I think we, the taxpayers of Baltimore and all other Maryland jurisdictions, should do all we can to keep the western counties. It would be a shame to lose them; they are such nice places to visit and they complete Maryland's claim to be "America In Miniature." If Republicans and conservatives feel underrepresented in state government, they should push voter registration and persuade more independents to join the GOP.

Herbert Smith, veteran political science professor at McDaniel College in Carroll County and co-author of "Maryland Politics and Government," a book about the state's political identity, goes further. He calls the proposed secession of Western Maryland "one of the stupidest political ideas of the 21st century."

Even so, the Western Maryland Five have every right to pursue independence.

But, just one thing deserving thought: It might get a little pricey.

The five counties have a lot of state assets — that is, stuff the rest of us paid for. They can't just have it.

The people of all Maryland, not just the western counties, paid for Deep Creek Lake and own it. In any divorce settlement, West Maryland would have to buy it back from the state at fair market value. The same goes for all the state parkland in those counties, which generate thousands of jobs and millions in tourism dollars. The Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development will be happy to quantify it for the divorce lawyers.

Maryland taxpayers must be compensated for the state's part in Interstate 68, an enormously expensive undertaking to integrate Western Maryland into the regional economy. The highway cut at Sideling Hill was part of that, and the state paid another $7.3 million for the exhibit and visitor center there.

Canal Place in Cumberland? That originally rolled out as a $45 million project, part of a larger redevelopment plan split evenly between public and private investments. The state put millions into it.

And what of Rocky Gap State Park? You can have it and the casino for a price — or a hefty percentage of gambling proceeds in perpetuity.

With Garrett and Allegany counties gone, the state's snow-removal budget will be cut significantly. Snow removal on state highways is paid with the gas tax the secessionists complain about. You won't have revenue from Maryland's other 19 subdivisions to subsidize your snow-removal bill, but I'm sure taxpayers in Frederick and Carroll counties will be happy to make up the difference for the three westernmost (and snowy-most) counties.

Something for rail commuters in Washington and Frederick counties to consider: If you become part of another state, why would the Maryland Transit Administration keep the MARC Brunswick Line?

Oh, and the prison complex at Hagerstown, and the one in Cumberland — we'd probably have to transfer all Maryland inmates elsewhere. Or maybe West Maryland could buy the buildings from Maryland and do a lease-back deal.

The people who support secession should consider all the consequences of its success.

If your children or grandchildren want to attend, say, College Park or some other Maryland university, they'd have to pay out-of-state tuition. They'd pay more than undocumented immigrants pay under the Maryland Dream Act. Ouch!


Dan Rodricks' column appears each Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He is the host of "Midday" on WYPR-FM.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad