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The ‘funnel cake’ approach to Md. growth

One of the largest dead zones in the Chesapeake Bay in decades has formed.

Maryland has always been a national leader in the planning and implementation of smart growth policies at the state level, especially as it relates to protecting the Chesapeake Bay. But the Hogan administration’s recent release of its state development plan, “A Better Maryland,” makes clear decades of progress have ended — and reversed.

In December of 2011, after years of input and multiple public drafts, PlanMaryland was released during the O’Malley administration, in which I served as secretary of the Maryland Department of Planning. PlanMaryland sought to tie many programs and policies together and to move forward with a well-coordinated overall growth strategy. But it became a lightning rod for those who opposed a state role in these issues and good planning in general. Much of the opposition also had a clear political motivation.

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It was therefore not a surprise that Mr. Hogan announced he was going to kill PlanMaryland and develop his own version at the Maryland Association of Counties conference in August 2017. It also was not a surprise that he announced his new, replacement plan just before this year’s conference a few weeks ago. And it was no surprise that Mr. Hogan’s version of the plan is as substantive as a funnel cake on the Ocean City Boardwalk.

Located on the corner of Third Street and the boardwalk, serves funnel cakes so good you might think it's covered in fairy dust instead of powdered sugar.
Located on the corner of Third Street and the boardwalk, serves funnel cakes so good you might think it's covered in fairy dust instead of powdered sugar. (Baltimore Sun photo by Erik Maza)

What is the difference between the two plans? One document was focused on specific policies and tasks to move forward, and the other is cover for killing it. In a nutshell, Gov. Larry Hogan’s plan is much lighter, shorter and technical assistance focused compared to PlanMaryland. Much of it refers to existing state programs. Those are not bad things, but they are not a plan.

PlanMaryland connected existing programs and assistance to an overall-growth strategy and implementation — targeting areas for preservation and various levels of development. It included a whole section on implementation, coordination, mapping policy areas, etc. There also was much more data and analysis in PlanMaryland to provide background and to support its policies. It also got notice in national media. A Better Maryland does not do this, and that isn't by accident.

This effort is a microcosm of the Hogan administration priorities overall: weakening policies and programs the governor’s supporters don't like with slick cover. People need to look beyond the smokescreen. There have been important roll-backs in environmental and transportation efforts and staff (all part of the smart growth umbrella), but all of this has gotten little attention from the media, public, elected officials and advocates.

KAL checks in with the polar bears on how Maryland should handle a new Chesapeake Bay crossing.
KAL checks in with the polar bears on how Maryland should handle a new Chesapeake Bay crossing. (KAL/Baltimore Sun)

Governor Hogan has recently been in the news regarding his pressuring the Pennsylvania governor and EPA to do more to limit pollution to the Chesapeake Bay. That is a good thing, but it is also a good example of his diversionary approach. He talks big when pointing the finger at another state, while quietly weakening our programs at home — the very ones a governor oversees. Keep in mind that Maryland consistently elects governors that are progressive on these issues and the state has consistently been a national leader on them. Despite all of this, Governor Hogan is still often viewed as a moderate. It seems he has greatly benefited by being graded on a "Trump-curve.”

It is hard to briefly illustrate most of the related subtle internal changes to state government. One example is how the Hogan administration has subjected even mid-level staff to political review in the hiring process. At the Maryland Department of Planning, where I worked for 23 years, much of the agency's talented staff have left or been fired, and it appears the administration has now had to hire outside consultants to try to figure out how to use MDP’s growth model, which was developed in the early 1990s with EPA funds that former U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski obtained to improve efforts to link growth issues with the Chesapeake Bay clean-up program.

While not as dramatic as what President Trump is doing with environmental programs, Maryland is in reverse under Governor Hogan. I am hopeful the reality of this pause in progress and its effects will be realized by the citizenry and we will get the state back in its rightful place as a national leader for smart growth, transportation, and environmental progress. Back in 1962 a Marylander wrote a foundational book in the country’s environmental movement — “Silent Spring.” If she were here, today Rachel Carson would probably find the silence on these issues deafening.

Richard Eberhart Hall (richard.eberhart.hall@gmail.com) spent 23 years in the Maryland Department of Planning, eight of them as its secretary under the Martin O’Malley administration.

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