Government Off Backs of the Few


March 12, 1995|By BRIAN SULLAM

We all learned in high school civics classes that our democratic system of government calls for the election of people whose job is to attend to the public's business.

In the past couple of months, some Carroll elected officials have seemed more interested in catering to the needs of the county's special interests.

They are doing this under the guise of cutting taxes, getting government "off our backs" and eliminating unnecessary regulation.

What they are really doing is accommodating a few at the expense of the many.

The most obvious example is the effort by Republican Sens. Larry E. Haines and Timothy R. Ferguson to exempt the EnterTRAINment line from municipal admissions and amusement taxes.

In the name of reducing taxes, Mr. Ferguson is pushing this ill-conceived piece of legislation. If a groundswell of protest has grown against Union Bridge's 5 percent admission tax or Westminster's 10 percent levy, only Mr. Ferguson seems to have heard the rumble. The rest of us have been oblivious -- but with good reason.

This bill has nothing to do with the public's antipathy toward taxation. It has to do with a company that runs a tourist excursion train and that is stuck with about $330,000 in taxes that are owed to Westminster and Union Bridge.

When Mr. Haines said the towns should have placed liens on the EnterTRAINment company to alert prospective buyers about the unpaid back taxes, he seems to forget the old saying "caveat emptor" -- let the buyer beware. The obligation to check out the business rested with the new buyers. If their investigation failed to turn up the back tax bill, they have only themselves to blame.

EnterTRAINment's owners only compound the problem by refusing to pay a legitimate tax that movies, video arcades, golf courses and others willingly pay. As a result, the company's unpaid tax bill grows by about $4,200 a month.

If Carroll's two senators succeed in bailing out this company, which has lost in all of its administrative hearings, the taxpayers of Union Bridge and Westminster will have to make up the lost revenue. So much for Mr. Haines and Mr. Ferguson protecting the "little guy."

Another obvious example of trampling on the public's interests is the determined effort to eviscerate the county's forest conservation law.

All the yelping about the complexity of this bill comes from one segment of the population: developers and homebuilders.

They have never liked the forest conservation law. They feel it impedes their ability to develop the land as they see fit. This group also complained about the complexity of sediment

controls, which have had the beneficial impact of reducing the runoff from development into streams and reservoirs.

Preserving trees also helps to reduce soil runoff. Large trees also provide shade that helps to reduce energy consumption on hot summer days. A shaded lot means homeowners might not have to spend a king's ransom on air conditioning.

Not only are the county's streams in better shape, but the statewide effort should help restore the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

Having failed to kill the county's bill 2 1/2 years ago, the developers have pinned their hopes on Del. J. Anita Stup's bill that would exempt all but Baltimore City and six metropolitan counties from Maryland's forest conservation law.

The Frederick Republican claims that since the seven "urban" jurisdictions want to protect trees, they should abide by the law. Since the rest of the state doesn't feel so protective about its woodlands, she contends, those 16 counties should not have to comply with the law.

Carroll delegates Donald B. Elliott and Joseph M. Getty apparently agree with this illogical approach to environmental protection. They have signed on as co-sponsors of the repeal of the forest conservation bill.

Whose interests are these legislators attending to?

Not the prospective homeowner who will have to shell out hundreds of dollars for young trees and then wait decades until they become large enough to provide shade.

Not citizens interested in clean streams that can sustain fish and other aquatic growth that is the food source for birds, small mammals and other wildlife.

Not the rest of the state interested in a revitalized bay. Support of this bill means only that Mr. Elliott and Mr. Getty are looking out for the interests of developers.

Carroll County's forest conservation law may not be perfect, but developers are complying, which means trees that otherwise might have been cut are standing and new trees are being planted. Almost a quarter of the county is forested, and that ratio will grow if the forest conservation law remains on the books.

If the complexity of the regulations presents problems, they should be reviewed and amended. But repealing the entire measure is akin to closing the Pentagon because the Air Force spent $600 on a toilet seat.

In this age of deregulation and devolution of government, it is a good idea to re-examine regulations and laws to ensure they are working efficiently. But the process should be done with a high degree of skepticism.

Unfortunately, many elected officials seem all too willing to sacrifice the public's interests in order to serve special interests under the guise of "simplying government."

Brian Sullam is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Carroll County.

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