United front on BRAC favored

But counties resist sacrificing top priorities for good of all

August 18, 2007|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,Sun Reporter

OCEAN CITY -- Local leaders say they favor a coordinated approach to planning for the thousands of military jobs expected to come to Maryland in the next few years -- as long as it doesn't mean giving up too many of their own priorities.

Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, who is heading up Maryland's planning efforts for the military Base Realignment and Closure process, or BRAC, recently told local leaders that they will have to subordinate their parochial interests in favor of roads, schools, mass transit and other capital projects that are best for the region.

Interviews with county executives, who are in Ocean City this weekend for the Maryland Association of Counties meeting, suggest they're willing to play along -- up to a point. County executives typically serve as the chief advocates for their jurisdictions, fighting for as large a share of the pie as they can get for schools and transportation projects, and the calls for cooperation haven't entirely erased that tendency.

Harford County Executive David R. Craig said his county has taken a regional approach from the start. Harford was a founding member of the Chesapeake Science and Security Corridor, which now also includes Baltimore and Cecil counties and Baltimore City, and county officials regularly meet with their counterparts to discuss strategy, he said.

"We were the locomotive driving the train on that when it came to regional issues," said Craig, a Republican whose county is slated to get thousands of new jobs in and around Aberdeen Proving Ground.

But he added, "The reality is when it comes to certain things, though, the jobs are going to be in Harford County. People are going to need to get through Harford County to get to Aberdeen Proving Ground."

Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr., whose county could see spillover effects from new jobs heading for Harford and Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County, said the region's most important priority should be improving MARC train service, a project he noted would require the greatest investments in counties other than his.

But there are limits, he said.

"As a blanket thing, I'm not going to say I want to give up Baltimore County projects so they can happen elsewhere," Smith said. "It depends on the nature of the projects. If you're just talking about a road somewhere, that's going to be a harder sell."

Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson, whose county is home to Andrews Air Force Base and could be affected by BRAC growth in neighboring Anne Arundel and Montgomery counties, said he is interested in cooperating, not sacrificing.

"I don't know whether we will have to give up anything," Johnson said.

Regional thinking on major transportation projects such as the MARC system or highway improvements could be an easier sell than some other aspects of BRAC planning, said Howard County Executive Ken Ulman. Although the Baltimore Beltway, for example, runs almost entirely through Baltimore County, Harford County residents have an abiding interest in whether it will be improved, Ulman said.

Tougher, Ulman said, will be land-use planning. Counties consider their authority over zoning and land use to be sacrosanct, but accommodating all the new people without allowing sprawl will require regional thinking, he said.

"Where are people going to go? Where are people going to move?" Ulman said. "I appreciate what the lieutenant governor was saying, but it's going to be delicate."

The key question, Smith said, is how much funding is going to be available. He and the other executives said state transportation funding in particular is too low, making a coordinated BRAC approach difficult to imagine without an influx of new money. "If you're fighting over what we've already got, that's a tough fight," Smith said. "Everybody knows that's not going to do the job."

U.S. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, said Maryland could get financial help from the federal government. But, he said, Brown is right: A coordinated plan and teamwork are needed to make that happen.

"Ultimately, the decision-makers are looking for a good plan, continuity and setting priorities," Ruppersberger said. "If we have one county that goes off and complains ... ."

Ruppersberger knows what it's like to be a local official competing for money. As Baltimore County executive from 1995 to 2003, he is widely credited with having perfected the art of fighting for school construction funds, so much so that his tactics in dealing with the Board of Public Works are now employed by every county in the state.

Ruppersberger employed a miniaturized version of what he and Brown now want the counties to do with the federal government. He convinced legislators from Baltimore County to come together behind the county's school construction priorities, even if that meant a delegate from Catonsville would have to push for a school in Dundalk rather than his own district. As a result, Ruppersberger had dozens of lawmakers backing him up, instead of just a few. The legislators went along, knowing that it would benefit everyone in the end.

The same thing will work in Washington, Ruppersberger said. It's just a matter of convincing the counties to wait their turns.

"It's got to be a total team effort -- federal, state and local," Ruppersberger said. "Anne Arundel might get something ahead of Carroll County that it needs, but you ask those jurisdictions to have patience."

andy.green@baltsun.com

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