PlanMaryland: O'Malley tries to tell us where to live

Marta Mossburg says Gov. O'Malley's program withholds counties' money if they don't follow his vision of appropriate growth

November 08, 2011|Marta H. Mossburg

If Gov. Martin O'Malley has his way, future generations of Marylanders will be forced to live where current residents are fleeing.

His PlanMaryland — and it is truly his, as it was assigned through executive order — will dangle development money at counties abiding by "sustainable" development paths and withhold it from counties pursuing "unsustainable" growth plans. Sustainable is one of those terms, like climate change, whose meanings are so subjective and mutable that they could raise George Orwell from the dead in protest of their abuse of the English language. But in planning-speak, sustainable translates to high-density housing near public transportation.

The problem with the plan is that internal migration maps of Maryland show that hundreds of thousands of people are leaving high-density areas of the state in favor of more rural places. From 2000 to 2009, nearly 78,000 people left Baltimore City; more than 77,000 left Prince George's County; and about 68,000 people left Montgomery County. The top places that absorbed those migrants in state include the much more suburban and rural Frederick (16,176), Carroll (12,872), Charles (12,349), and Harford (11,673) counties. Thousands of people left the state altogether. The Tax Foundation projects that Maryland lost $5.6 billion from 1999 to 2009 due to outmigration from the state — one of the worst losses in the country.

So any plan that directs most state funding to more dense areas directly contradicts the will of the people — and will likely accelerate the loss of vital tax dollars and population.

Worse, contrary to the plan's assertion that "It will not remove local planning and zoning authority," Mr. O'Malley has already acknowledged it will — by withholding money for those very purposes that local residents have already paid in state taxes. During the annual Maryland Association of Counties conference earlier this year, he promised that the state would no longer subsidize "stupid land-use decisions." Responding to concerns from local lawmakers, he also refused to put a limit on how far the state's mandates will go.

Vaguer is better from his perspective because that gives him more leeway to cherry-pick winners and losers among the counties. Lest anyone think this is all about Mother Earth and future generations enjoying Maryland's natural bounty, take a look at electoral maps. Few Republicans reside in the state's most densely populated areas.

The other major problem with PlanMaryland is that it is based on faulty assumptions about the policy's ability to lessen pollution, lower greenhouse gases, create more job opportunities and reduce infrastructure costs for state government.

As demographer Wendell Cox (a colleague of mine at the Maryland Public Policy Institute) pointed out at a forum last week about PlanMaryland, compact development makes air pollution worse because the slower speeds of cars in highly populous areas intensify air pollution. That increases asthma and other health problems, costs not accounted for in the plan. Mr. Cox's firm, Demographia, works with governments around the globe on public transportation and urban policy. He said fuel efficiency is much more important than increasing density for reducing emissions.

Two other points of interest: Limiting growth makes housing prices go up (not down as asserted by the state), as it shrinks land available for development. It also adds major stresses to 100-year-old-plus water and sewer lines as more people tap into them — one other set of expenses not accounted for in the plan.

And as the center-left Brookings Institution has shown, most jobs are not accessible by transit. In the Baltimore region, only 7.9 percent of jobs are within a 45-minute transit trip, making autos a key component of upward mobility. Even massive transit subsidies will not change the fact that the vast majority of people will continue to rely on cars. As Mr. Cox said, "There is no place in the world where there has been a material shift from auto to transit."

As far as greenhouse gases are concerned, Lord Christopher Monckton, former science adviser to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and another speaker at the event sponsored by the Carroll County commissioners, pointed out that "If you were to shut Maryland down entirely, our emissions would be taken up by China in less than a month." And that's not even accounting for the cost of doing so, which Mr. Monckton estimates at a whopping $7.3 trillion by 2050 — the main reason why he says a "proper cost benefit analysis" is necessary prior to the state launching into such a comprehensive plan.

Maryland needs runaway, unanticipated expenses for social engineering like it needs another Fortune 500 company to leave the state. And the irony is that a governor who prides himself on using data to govern will only look at selective parts of it that bolster his argument, at the expense of property rights, Marylanders' pursuit of happiness and economic growth.

Marta H. Mossburg is a senior fellow at the Maryland Public Policy Institute and a fellow at the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. Her column appears regularly in The Baltimore Sun. Her email is

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