Md. campaigns for governor clash over environment
Maryland's two leading gubernatorial candidates engaged in a brawl over their environmental credentials Wednesday as former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) visited a riverside bar in eastern Baltimore County.
Ehrlich's visit to Essex was designed to highlight the most heralded environmental initiative of his tenure -- the so-called "flush tax," passed in 2004 -- that is helping fund upgrades to sewer and septic systems across the state.
The two campaigns started sparring even before Ehrlich arrived at Brewer's Landing Bar and Grill on the banks of the Black River. That was largely due to a media advisory issued by Ehrlich's campaign indicating that he would take aim at O'Malley for diverting $155 million this year intended for the upgrades to help balance the state's general fund budget.
During his actual remarks, Ehrlich barely made mention of that charge and -- completely unprompted -- acknowledged that O'Malley had replaced the money with funds from the state's capital budget (or, as Ehrlich put it, "he's replaced the dollars with debt and all that.")
Most of Ehrlich's remarks, in fact, focused on the impact of what he called "this one historic act" and how happy he was to be in a part of the state that has long been a political stronghold of his. (A truly stunning number of Ehrlich yard signs on the roads leading to the event were testament to that.)
"This bill really counts every day," Ehrlich said of the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Act. The event was held near the Back River Treatment Plant, among those that has benefited from the act's funding.
Before Ehrlich's event had ended, the O'Malley campaign issued a statement calling the former governor "clearly out of touch" and lambasting him for diverting land preservation money to help balance the budget during his tenure.
"Governor O'Malley did not cut funding to the Chesapeake Bay Fund," the O'Malley campaign said. "But he did make the tough decisions to make sure that Bay programs -- including Program Open Space -- were funded, along with the state's other priorities. It was actually Bob Ehrlich who diverted $420 million in Program Open Space funds ... after imposing his flush tax on every Maryland family."
Asked by reporters about the diversion of land preservation funding, Ehrlich acknowledged that his administration had done "a little bit of that" but then sought to brush aside the issue.
"This 'he said, she said' is not leadership," Ehrlich said. "I would put our environmental record up against anyone's."
The Maryland League of Conservation Voters, an environmental group that has endorsed O'Malley, soon rallied to his side.
"You gotta admit, the guy's got chutzpah," Cindy Schwartz, the league's executive director, said of Ehrlich in a statement. "Governor Ehrlich has no credibility when it comes to protecting funding for the environment. ... While his signing of the 'flush tax' is a net positive for the Chesapeake Bay, its benefits are far outweighed by his administration's entire body of anti-environmental work."
July 28, 2010; 3:08 PM ET
Categories: 2010 Elections , John Wagner
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