Out-of-town growth uses up our water
While I appreciate The Sun's commending the town of Mount Airy's decision to focus on water sources close to town borders and to create a green buffer at its perimeter ("Reverse field," editorial, June 14), I also encourage The Sun and its readers to recognize that the circumstances surrounding growth in Maryland are not always comparable and that a bigger issue exists in Western Maryland, especially in the Piedmont region.
Most of the towns in the Piedmont region have either reached maximum development or are close to maximizing the development that can fit within the current water allocations from the Maryland Department of the Environment.
But unfortunately, as towns are being shut down with regard to future growth, large homes on large lots are being built on the borders of these towns - using well and septic systems approved by the county governments and MDE.
Not only is this environmentally disastrous, it is also in direct conflict with Maryland's Smart Growth laws.
The Maryland Municipal League has convened a group of municipal officials to discuss this critical issue with representatives from the state Department of Planning, Department of Natural Resources and MDE in an attempt to address the disconnect between the water allocations permitted by MDE and the density requirements of Maryland's Smart Growth laws.
While the issue has yet to be resolved, municipal and state officials hope that by working together, we can identify a practical long-term solution to this regulatory conflict.
The alternative is continued construction of large homes on large lots surrounding these towns, which contributes to sprawl and environmental degradation while drawing on municipal resources without giving towns the benefit of property tax revenues to offset the cost of providing these services.
This practice will eventually choke the economic health of these population centers as it allows sprawl to continue to consume Maryland's farmlands and open spaces.
David E. Carey
The writer is a Bel Air town commissioner and the president of the Maryland Municipal League.
City road plan gives cars too much scope
While Towson moves forward with plans to become more vibrant and walkable ("Footloose and fancy town," June 10), Baltimore is moving in the other direction, with plans to encourage high-speed traffic to cut through Fells Point and Canton.
The city's "Southeast Area Transportation Plan," which calls for taking away parking spaces and widening intersections, is based on highway-oriented traffic models whose chief priority is the free flow of high-speed traffic - which is an inappropriate model for an urban setting.
The plan values the convenience of drivers who are trying to shave a few seconds off their commutes over the safety of pedestrians who are trying to cross our streets.
No one wants to be stuck in traffic. But turning our neighborhood streets into highways isn't a great solution.
People flock to Fells Point and Canton because they can stroll from shop to shop, dine at a sidewalk caf?, walk along the water and live close to work.
Maryland has plenty of places where the car is king and walking is difficult.
So why should we take some of Baltimore's most charming urban neighborhoods and try to superimpose suburban-style highways and traffic on them?
The writer is a board member of One Less Car, a statewide advocacy group for bicycling and walking.
Kaufman campaign merits more respect
I was grateful to read Gregory Kane's column on BUILD's discrimination against mayoral candidates A. Robert Kaufman and Frank M. Conaway Sr. ("Lack of an invite invites rancor," June 13).
But a couple of points need to be clarified.
First, Mr. Kane concludes that Mr. Kaufman's plan to eliminate residential property taxes and replace them with a progressive income tax and a progressive commuter tax "might lead to government officials conducting wholesale raids on the wallets of taxpayers."
However, what Mr. Kaufman and his organization, the City Wide Coalition, have been advocating for decades is that the top 1 percent of American households should be taxed at a far higher rate.
The United States has one of the least progressive income tax systems among the world's industrialized nations.
Mr. Kaufman's plan is to tax that 1 percent that owns more wealth than the bottom 95 percent combined, and reduce the tax burden on the bottom 95 percent.
And while Mr. Kane mentions that Mr. Conaway announced his candidacy, he failed to note that Mr. Kaufman celebrated his 76th birthday by announcing his mayoral candidacy in front of City Hall on March 8.
The following day, The Sun ran a column by Laura Vozzella about the announcement with a photo of Mr. Kaufman holding his "24 theses" for city reform ("There he stands - he can do no other," March 9).
By now, one would have thought that organizations such as BUILD would have more respect for someone like Mr. Kaufman who, at great personal sacrifice and without personal gain, has been fighting for social justice for 60 years.
He has paid his dues and deserves to be treated with the respect owed to an elder statesman.
The writer is the campaign manager and treasurer for A. Robert Kaufman's mayoral campaign.
Feel-good study ignores real world
Common sense suggests that being charitable generates good feelings for those doing the giving ("Doing good feels good, study finds," June 15). There is little need for any government-funded studies to tell us that.
However, the fact that this study suggests that paying taxes creates the same good feeling makes me skeptical of the study.
And reading further shows that the subjects in the University of Oregon study the article referred to were just 19 volunteer female students.
Each student was given $100. The students understood that some of the money given to them would go to pay a random amount of taxes of up to $45.
But since the money used to pay taxes or donate to charity was not the students' own hard-earned money, the study is totally meaningless.
And using only 19 subjects - all female and in college - as opposed to subjects of both sexes who live in the "real" world (who might be married with children, have everyday jobs, mortgages and other debts) is rather foolish.
Let's not equate the good feeling of charitable giving with the pain of paying taxes.
R. W. Kocher
Surgeon general is key to public health
Michael Tanner's column "Can't we eliminate surgeon general's job?" (Opinion
Commentary, June 19) missed the mark.
As the nation faces new public health threats, it is important to have a Surgeon General who understands these threats and will tackle them head-on.
And Dr. James W. Holsinger Jr., who has been nominated to be our next surgeon general, is such a man.
With more than 40 years of leadership and experience in medicine, his qualifications are outstanding.
The U.S. surgeon general serves as America's chief health educator and is trusted by the American people.
Indeed, for more than 200 years, the surgeon general's office has had a distinguished history of focusing our attention on such critical public health issues as the dangers of smoking. In large part as a result of the dedicated and persistent efforts by the surgeon general's office, the prevalence of smoking among U.S. adults has declined by more than 50 percent since 1965.
The surgeon general's important role in advancing the public health of our nation is clear.
I know that if he is confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Dr. Holsinger will serve as a strong advocate for the public health needs of all Americans.
Dr. John O. Agwunobi
The writer is assistant secretary for health for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Private schools save the public millions
More than 35,000 students in the Baltimore area attend Catholic elementary, middle and high schools - with some choosing these schools because of a religious preference but many others attending because their families believe Catholic schools deliver a superior, values-centered education for their children.
Nevertheless, in his criticism of textbook funding for non-public school students, the writer of the letter "No public funding for private faith" (June 16) rallies to the defense of "Maryland taxpayers" who are forced "to devote millions of dollars of our tax money ... to non-public schools."
However, those 35,000 Catholic school students come from almost 15,000 families - and these families also happen to be Maryland taxpayers.
The schoolbook funding program offers a small benefit to offset the millions in taxes these families pay to support public schools they will never use.
The letter writer also failed to clarify that the textbook funding program specifically prohibits using this money to purchase religious textbooks.
The legislature (which, under former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., could scarcely have been called "compliant") and the past three governors supported this textbook purchase program to improve the education of state citizens - all citizens, including those who pay taxes but do not use public schools.
In the letter writer's county (Howard County), there are six Catholic elementary schools with a total enrollment of more than 3,000 students.
Given Howard County's per pupil cost for its public school system ($11,496 a year), Catholic schools saved state taxpayers more than $34 million in school costs for Howard County alone last year.
I wonder if the letter writer has considered what his taxes would be if all of those children showed up at their local public school on the first day of school and demanded to be educated?
P. Marc Fischer
Public schools face much bigger burden
I read with interest the letter "New leader can't fix ills of our school" (June 19), and I was particularly taken with the writer's idea for a cure: "Baltimore needs a free market in education" to enable entrepreneurs to "find the best and most cost-effective ways to educate Baltimore's children."
This is a good sound bite of a sort I have heard used many times to justify such things as vouchers and other ways to allow private schools to feed at the public trough.
However, I would add these caveats to all "entrepreneurs" who wish to vie for these funds. To compete on an even footing with the public schools, your school must:
Accept every child who applies and keep this child for as long as his or her parents wish.
Provide every service mandated by law to every child enrolled, including all special-needs students.
Be held accountable for all student performance using all state-required tests.
Require all teachers and administrators to hold every license and degree required of public educators.
We place heavy burdens on our public schools - ones that generally are not shared by private (or entrepreneurial) schools.
The writer is a teacher in Baltimore's public schools.
Jesuit high fulfilled promises to families
Reports in recent days from The Sun and other local media outlets have significantly increased community awareness of Cristo Rey Jesuit High School. In fact, our phones are ringing off the hook.
Last Saturday, The Sun reported that "Cristo Rey officials quietly decided to open in a new location" ("Jesuit high school's move is a 'letdown,'" June 16).
However, beginning in February, we communicated the temporary location in letters to our students and their families through our electronic newsletter distributed to hundreds of readers and on our Web site.
There was nothing "quiet" about it.
We, too, were disappointed that we could not move into our first choice for our school site.
But we made a promise to our students and their families that Cristo Rey Jesuit High would open this fall.
When we learned that the renovations at the former Mildred Monroe Elementary School could not be completed on time, we found a new, temporary location.
Our students and their families are our priority, and we kept our promise to them.
The Rev. John W. Swope
The writer is president of Cristo Rey Jesuit High School.
Gen. Pace snubbed to scotch scrutiny
I was disappointed but not surprised to read Kathleen Parker's column that somewhat bizarrely suggested that one of the major reasons that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Peter Pace, was not renominated for his post by the secretary of defense is that General Pace had publicly expressed the view that "homosexuality is morally wrong" ("A deeply respected general gets the boot - and one wonders why," Opinion
Commentary, June 15).
The reality of this decision is that the administration did not want to provide our elected representatives an opportunity to question one of the architects of the military strategy the United States has followed in Iraq for the last four years in the Senate hearings that would have been held on General Pace's renomination.
However, our representatives should have had a chance to ask General Pace a lot of important questions about the prosecution of the war.
For example, why are our soldiers still patrolling and dying in Humvees with utterly inadequate armor, despite the fact that senior Marine Corps commanders requested as long ago as 2005 that they be provided with readily available, much safer Mine-Protected Vehicles - vehicles similar to those South African troops have used for more than 15 years?
Our representatives also could have asked why our soldiers' pre-deployment training includes just three days of optional cultural education, when it is so obvious that cultural understanding is critical to our success in Iraq.
If renominated, General Pace also could have been questioned about why the U.S. military did not adopt a new and more effective approach to counterinsurgency until Gen. David Petraeus became senior commander in Iraq at the beginning of this year.
For his part, General Pace deserved the right to seek re-nomination and in the process defend his record, justify his decisions and articulate his plan for the next stage of the war.
The Bush administration did not renominate General Pace because it wanted to avoid having its war strategy come under further legitimate and probably hostile congressional scrutiny.
The country and General Pace deserved better.
The writer is a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute and a vice president of a firm that does public diplomacy work for the Department of Defense in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Slots shift dollars to racetrack owners
Judging by his recent pronouncements, Gov. Martin O'Malley has apparently adopted the racing industry's position that Maryland must have slot machines ("O'Malley sees slots as savior of racing," June 14).
However, the racing industry's position has been contradicted by a number of reputable economic studies that show that giving racetracks slot machines is an unjustified bailout of a failing industry.
While slot machines are sold as a wise fiscal policy, they most clearly benefit the racetrack owners, who have been loudly calling for slots to be approved.
Magna Entertainment Corp., which owns Laurel and Pimlico racetracks, has flipped racetracks in Pennsylvania and in Canada for several hundred million dollars after legislation was passed to allow slots at those tracks.
By selling slots licenses for a fraction of their worth, states have, in effect, transferred hundreds of millions of dollars of economic value from taxpayers to racetrack operators.
A simple auction of gambling licenses, open to all, would quickly determine the real value of slots licenses.
If Mr. O'Malley has his way, Maryland will join the list of states where track owners hit the jackpot while state taxpayers are left to deal with the consequences.
Most legitimate studies predict that the vast majority of slot dollars spent in Maryland would come from within the state of Maryland.
That important economic fact means that the dollars spent on slots would be nothing but a voluntary tax or simply a trade-off of disposable entertainment dollars.
The writer is a former chief financial officer for the Maryland Jockey Club and a former acting chief financial officer for Magna Entertainment Corp.
'Lights out' for Md. film industry?
I'm writing to applaud Michael Sragow's article on Maryland's lack of competitive film production incentives, and to echo filmmaker Barry Levinson's bewilderment at the state's failure to really get in this game ("Action," June 10).
I represent nearly 3,000 Maryland-based professional union actors who have filled all but the major roles in The Wire, The Corner, Homicide: Life on the Street and many other area productions.
And from our perspective, Maryland has a choice to make and little time to deliberate.
The O'Malley administration and the legislature must decide together either to seriously go after the film business and the huge dollars associated with it or pack it in ("Maryland pulls plug on Calif. film office," June 16).
The incentives Maryland offers are, in my view, tantamount to turning out the lights on the state's film industry.
Those of us who have spent time in Annapolis trying to educate Maryland's leaders scratch our heads and say to ourselves, "Why do we struggle year after year to get a paltry budget for incentives, when places like Louisiana and Connecticut, states with no film industry at all, have enacted tax credits that enable producers to write off up to 30 percent of production expenses?"
Is it complacency? Do Maryland politicians believe that the state will continue to attract two to three productions a year and think that's enough? If that's the thinking, they had better think again.
When even loyal Maryland producers such as Mr. Levinson can't afford to come here, we're in trouble.
We heard during this last legislative session about Maryland's crippling deficit, and how that prevented more incentives for film production. Guess what? Serious and competitive tax credits for film production will, I firmly believe, help end that deficit.
Legislators need only look to the experiences of Louisiana, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and other states to see concrete evidence of the economic boom realized as a result of a serious commitment to attracting film production.
And where is the downside? Ours is a nonpolluting and nondisplacing industry.
Enacting an uncapped 30 percent tax credit would mean that the state would have to give back, in tax credits, say, $30 million on a $100 million picture. But the state's economy would gain a balance of nearly $70 million in direct spending and many millions more when you consider the ripple or multiplier effect of this spending.
What about tourism? Just ask Berlin how much tourism revenue the town has realized from visitors to the home of the film Runaway Bride.
Out-of-town film employees get cash per-diem payments that can be spent in Maryland restaurants, at Maryland dry cleaners, in Maryland taxis, etc. These companies rent fleets of cars, fill up floors of hotels for several months at a time and buy office and construction supplies with abandon.
Instead, much of this money is being spent in North Carolina, Connecticut and other places where government gets it and is courting the business.
Wake up, Maryland - before the movie is over.
The writer is assistant executive director of the Washington-Baltimore branch of the Screen Actors Guild - American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.
Barry Levinson's comments could not have been more on point and better stated about the need to increase the motion picture and television production incentives in Maryland.
My union local represents more than 700 motion picture and television technicians who support themselves and their families by working in Maryland's entertainment industry. They are the people who work behind the camera to help bring the creative ideas to the screen.
One production can employ 100 to 250 technicians daily. And this does not include the drivers, actors, staff and local businesses these productions hire.
Unfortunately, Maryland does not have a competitive film production incentive program in place.
Thus members of my local are being forced to relocate to where the jobs are. And that means hundreds of lost jobs and millions of lost dollars for Maryland's economy.
These technicians are losing their ability to support themselves and their families in an industry they helped grow, and to become successful where they live.
My members prefer living and working at home so they can spend time with their families and help support Maryland's economy.
It would be sad to lose such a lucrative industry under the O'Malley administration's watch.
"Action" is indeed long overdue.
Rosemarie M. Levy
The writer is business agent for International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local No. 487.