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Preservation was purpose of land transfer

I write to do what no one else has yet done -- put forward the facts about the proposed St. Mary's County land deal and let the public make up its own mind.

The facts are as follows:

Notwithstanding the veil of secrecy around the St. Mary's land deal, as far as I knew the transaction was openly discussed with dozens of public officials and was no secret at all. Communications with all public officials and lawyers were open and non-confidential from the start ("Hackerman says secrecy about deal wasn't his idea," Dec. 8).

The state said it wanted to purchase the 836-acre Salem Tract only if it could find the necessary funds. When the Board of Public Works authorized the purchase of that property in late 2003 for approximately $2.5 million, it was told that the state was then in discussion about the property's resale "not for development" but that the buyer might "donate [part of the] property to school sites."

As I wrote to both Maryland senators at the time, I wanted to reserve the right to develop at most a "relatively few farms."

While I could not contractually obligate myself to donate the remaining development rights (because of tax law constraints), I never would have "developed" any of the Salem Tract except the "relatively few farms" and the donated school site. I confirmed that my will would give all remaining rights to the state upon my death.

The state told me that immediately after closing on its purchase, the property would be resold for what the state paid for it. The subsequent delay in completion of the transaction was caused by the state.

The economics of this transaction for me have been grossly distorted by the repeated reports that I could expect $7 million or more in "tax breaks."

What these accounts overlook is that $7 million in tax deductions translates into a tax savings of approximately $2.9 million -- spread out over a period of time, which approximates the value of what had become a $2.7 million purchase price expected of me.

Those who have objected to the donation of a school site should know that I was encouraged to make such a donation by the state school superintendent and local officials. When I ultimately withdrew from the transaction, I offered to contribute $1 million to St. Mary's County for this purpose.

Overlooked in all the negative accounts is the reputation for generosity and integrity that I have enjoyed over the years. I have a reputation for philanthropy, having been responsible for tens of millions of dollars in contributions over the last several years to more than 600 mostly local charitable organizations.

Less well known is my recent donation of development rights for an extraordinary piece of property in Baltimore County. I rescued the property from potential sale to developers by purchasing it and making development-rights donations to the Maryland Environmental Trust.

The St. Mary's County transaction would have resulted in the following public benefits: The land would have been preserved; the state could have kept my $2.7 million or used it to preserve another tract of land and St. Mary's County would have been able to build badly-needed schools.

This controversy has been a very painful experience arising out of what was an act designed to help the environment. I have been unfairly punished by the onslaught of negative publicity fueled by those who callously tried to harm my reputation for political and other purposes.

Willard Hackerman


Adoptees deprived of knowledge of past

Michael Olesker wrote a very touching column about a 69-year-old man who was abandoned in a cornfield at birth and continues to long for some knowledge of his roots ("Haunted by a past that remains unknowable," Dec. 7).

What Mr. Olesker did not include in his article is the fact that every other adoptee born in Maryland -- abandoned or not -- is in this same situation. Adoption records are "sealed" to all adult adoptees who were relinquished under our closed adoption system.

This means they have no hope of finding their genetic roots either, unless they break the law or get incredibly lucky.

New Hampshire just became the sixth state to open adoption records to adult adoptees. Some awareness of this injustice in The Sun might help Maryland become the seventh.

Ann Hege Hughes


Taxing consumption penalizes the poor

While Thomas Sowell uses lots of fancy language, he just can't disguise what he is really saying ("'Debt crisis' means you better hold onto your wallet," Opinion

Commentary, Dec. 3).

Yes, it almost sounds fair, doesn't it, to "stop taxing productivity and start taxing consumption."

What that really means is do away with income tax (which is progressive and places the burden equally on rich and poor) and institute a national sales tax (which is regressive and places the majority of the burden on the poor).

That's been the fat-cat billionaire's dream since the age of the robber barons.

What this ignores is the fact that without exploiting countless poor people, the billionaire wouldn't exist.

Wealth doesn't exist in a vacuum. For one person to become obscenely rich, thousands must suffer. That's simple economics. And it's the responsibility of the government (of all the people) to make sure every citizen has an equal chance to succeed in life.

For all its faults, our system of progressive income taxation is by far the most fair system.

What really needs to be changed are all the loopholes that allow some billionaires and big corporations, not to pay any taxes at all.

William Smith


Time to get serious about national debt

I found Thomas Sowell's effort to downplay the national debt a clichM-id effort that ignores the need for fiscal responsibility from our federal government ("'Debt crisis' means you better hold onto your wallet," Opinion

Commentary, Dec. 3).

With our annual national deficit at $445 billion and a total national debt of more than $7 trillion, we can hardly say that it is insignificant.

Further, despite the deficit the administration has enacted tax cuts to reward driving gas-guzzling SUVs and shipping jobs overseas.

These tax "cuts" are more like tax postponements as both we, and our children, will have to pay down the deficit.

With Republicans in firm control of the Congress and presidency, no new taxes will occur, we will continue fighting battles overseas, the economy will continue to grow slowly and the debt will rise. At some point there will be negative ramifications from the debt on our government as investors begin withholding loans.

Instead of waiting for that day, we should acknowledge the problem.

This means controlling spending, eliminating corporate welfare and finding the funding to support our domestic and international needs.

Mike Herrmann


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