Environmentalists and groups of elementary school children delivered 1,300 green plastic piggy banks full of change to the General Assembly yesterday in hopes of persuading the state Senate to enact new fees on development to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.
It was a step that advocates say is the only way for Maryland to meet court-ordered requirements for reducing pollution in the estuary by 2010.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who has previously said the bill has no chance this year, shifted his position slightly yesterday, saying such a landmark bay cleanup needs to pass within the next four years.
But the prospects for the legislation to move in the remaining two weeks of this General Assembly session appear dim amid widespread concern about Maryland's financial situation.
Environmentalists, mindful of the 2010 deadline, said there is no time to waste in enacting the bill, which is designed to reduce runoff from roofs and parking lots into the bay and to raise money to pay for cleanup efforts.
"There's been talk in the Senate about holding this bill over for a year," said Chesapeake Bay Foundation President Will Baker. "Maryland has only gotten about halfway in this decade toward where it needs to be. This bill will get us 80 or 90 percent to the goal."
The House passed the bill 96-41 last week, but a Senate version has yet to get a vote in the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee. Committee chairwoman Sen. Joan Carter Conway, a Baltimore Democrat, said she probably won't bring either version to a vote this year, effectively killing it.
"I love the bill. I'm an environmentalist," Conway said. "But based on the structural deficit and the need for a comprehensive revenue package for the state ... I don't think we'll move in the Senate right now."
Maryland faces a projected gap between revenues and expenditures of about $1.4 billion next year, and the Senate has been reluctant this year to enact any bills that cost the state significant amounts of money or that raise money that would not contribute to a solution to Maryland's fiscal problems.
"You have to pick and choose," Conway said. "Although it's a very important bill for the environment, I don't think an average constituent would appreciate a double or triple tax when we pass a comprehensive revenue package."
Gov. Martin O'Malley supports the green fund, and it sailed through the House with the backing of Del. Maggie L. McIntosh, the Baltimore Democrat who chairs the Environmental Matters Committee and who has been effective in the past at working out compromises on controversial environmental legislation.
But environmental groups sought yesterday to get a boost from the public.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation distributed thousands of small green plastic pigs, which people across the state filled with spare change and returned. Several schools participated, including Bodkin Elementary School, which is near the bay in Pasadena.
Louise Nielsen, a volunteer at the school and the mother of two pupils there, said she launched a project in which students made their own piggy banks out of recycled milk jugs and filled them with pocket change.
"We all live by the bay and we all know it's really dirty and disgusting, so we want to clean it up," said Nielsen's daughter, Anna, a fifth-grader.
The money from the piggy banks will be donated to the Chesapeake Bay Trust. Officials with the bay foundation said they haven't counted the money yet.
Miller, who walked by the pig display yesterday morning, said a dedicated funding source for the bay is necessary.
"The bay is a very important part of our life," Miller said. "Something like this is going to pass, if not this year, then in the next four years."