'Smart Growth' makes economic sense House committee: Bill should be approved for both fiscal and environmental reasons.

March 18, 1997

HOUSE SPEAKER Casper R. Taylor Jr. and Del. Ronald A. Guns, chairman of the House Environmental Matters Committee, can show statewide leadership by helping to prod along the "Smart Growth" legislation mired in the House.

A similar bill passed a state Senate committee, 10-1, last week. But the House is skeptical of Gov. Parris N. Glendening's pitch for the measure as "next to education, the single most important issue" this session.

"Smart Growth" isn't a bad moniker, but a more accurate one might be "sprawl reform." That's the essence of this proposal.

More concentrated patterns of housing would curb air pollution from all the commuter traffic; it would limit runoff pollution into the Chesapeake Bay. Smarter growth would keep farmers from having to fight with folks who move out to the country and then don't want to smell the country -- one reason rural legislators should be supportive. A majority of respondents to a recent University of Baltimore poll favored growth in areas with existing roads and public schools.

Perhaps the most compelling reason for lawmakers to support "smart growth" is because it aligns with a spending philosophy that many of them and their constituents have been urging. They want the state to spend smarter. This legislation would bar state investments in projects that are apt to create even more infrastructure needs down the road.

Legislators under pressure to hold down taxes while funding innumerable capital project requests should welcome a framework that brings about a more practical approach to land use and the use of state tax dollars. Maryland's challenge is especially acute because its circles of suburbia ripple from two major cities. Under the proposal, a jurisdiction could still grow however it wants, but the state wouldn't subsidize that growth without a sensible plan devised by the locality.

This legislation is a call for the state to allocate its money on big-ticket items more wisely. It makes sense for economic and environmental reasons.

Pub Date: 3/18/97

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