The Maryland House of Delegates heard testimony on the Green Fund Bill (HB 23) on Nov. 2 in the Environmental Matters Committee. The hearing went well with many proponents, including groups as diverse as the Maryland Homebuilders Association to other environmental groups. Governor O’Malley's administration testified, saying it “strongly” supports the Green Fund.
The Maryland Farm Bureau and Delmarva Poultry Industry along with the Marine Trades Association of Maryland, Association of Soil Conservation Districts, Sportsmen Foundation, and the Partnership for Sustainable Forestry are also among those who showed support for the Green Fund bill, which would reduce pollution to Maryland's rivers, streams, and the Bay.
Chair Del. Maggie McIntosh convened a work group after the hearing to work on the legislation. The discussion revolved around the administration’s suggested amendment to have the state's BayStat group manage the resources; the bill's original proposal outlined how much of the funds would go to the three agencies primarily responsible for Bay cleanup. The administration said it prefers the flexibility of the BayStat approach to allow for spending flexibility from year to year, depending on the needs.
On Friday, Senate President Mike Miller dropped his own bill to create a Chesapeake Bay Trust Fund (SB 28). The bill does not provide a funding source for the Trust Fund, but President Miller has said he is looking for a source to bring in $30 million to $50 million per year.
After the hearing, The Baltimore Sun reported that the Green Fund was "dead" in the Special Session because of Senate opposition to the Green Fund bill, but many pundits and people close to the process say this is not the case. What may be the case is that the Senate will not pass the House version of the Green Fund because it doesn’t like the funding mechanism, but will instead create its own funding source during the Special Session. If the House passes a bill that includes directives on where the money goes, the two bills would go to conference committee. In conference, the bills might be melded into one bill with a Senate funding source and House policy measures. Keep your fingers crossed.
Two weeks ago, we had no idea where we were headed on the Green Fund, but with the help of thousands of Marylanders and partner groups concerned about the Bay, we now have the Senate President dropping his own bill to create a dedicated fund to cleanup the Bay. And it is the only bill he is sponsoring. The debate has shifted from “should we do this?” to “how are we going to do this?” Thanks to all of those who have contacted their legislators and asked them to support the Green Fund!
The session may run another 5 to 10 days with the Senate voting first on the revenue package. As much is still in flux especially slots, and new service taxes, anything could happen. But we are very hopeful we will eventually come away with a new funding source for the Chesapeake Bay.
If you want to help, call your State Senator today and ask them to support dedicated funding for Bay conservation programs. To learn who your Senators are and to get a phone number, visit http://mdelect.net/.