Parkland hypocrites

November 09, 1992

There was enough hypocrisy tossed around Annapolis last month to fill an entire state park. No matter where you looked, another politico was trying to have it both ways. What's troubling is not the two-faced nature of politicians -- which is to be expected -- but the potential loss of valuable farmland just a mile from congested Towson.

What precipitated this outpouring of demagoguery was the decision to use bond money to buy park sites. The Board of Public Works approved the purchase of 10 parcels totaling 2,023 acres, in line with a General Assembly bill. Normally, such land is bought with money from the state's transfer tax on property. But in the past three years, the state has raided that fund of $117 million.

Rather than abandon this land-preservation project, lawmakers agreed to use bond money this year. That set the stage for the political double-talk.

First, Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein blocked approval for months, claiming the state had better uses for the money. This from someone who has loudly championed park purchases for years and who knows the General Assembly specified this money could be used only to buy parkland.

Next, Gov. William Donald Schaefer jumped in, waxing eloquent about these purchases. "Should we allow developers to come in and destroy the good land that is available? If we do, it's gone forever." Then he turned around and got even with his foes in Baltimore County by cutting out a key parkland purchase in the Cromwell Valley slated for inclusion in Gunpowder Falls State Park.

And finally, along came Del. Martha Klima, who has bashed the governor repeatedly for his free-spending ways. Why was she outraged this time? Because the governor had deleted the $3.7 million Cromwell Valley purchase -- which happens to lie in her district. She called it "an abomination." For once, she didn't call the governor a big-spender.

Lost in all this political yammering was the perilous situation of the 216-acre Cromwell Valley property, which could fall into the hands of developers. That would be tragic. Vast expanses of green spaces near densely populated centers are precious commodities. They must be preserved. If we fail to act, it could be too late -- forever. The governor said as much, but he let politics fog his judgment.

Such flawed decision-making gives government a bad public image. Acquiring green spaces with public funds is an undertaking with broad support. Letting key tracts of greenery slip into the hands of developers is an abrogation of responsibility. Worst of all, these officials are forcing future generations to pay for their mistakes -- forever.

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