- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 18, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — The state’s budget problems are expected to reduce the increasing amount of environmental legislation in the upcoming General Assembly session, a voters group said yesterday.

The state League of Conservation Voters’ report card for last year’s legislative session gave Maryland lawmakers high marks for supporting bills supported by environmental groups. They included measures requiring cars to have cleaner emissions and dishwashing detergents to have less water-polluting phosphorus.

It is not clear whether the trend will continue, said Cindy Schwartz, the group’s executive director. She said environmental and other concerns are being overshadowed by a projected budget deficit that threatens to slow progress. Maryland is barred by law from running a deficit, so the fiscal pinch has dominated debate since lawmakers adjourned work for the year.

“We have a very tight budget coming up,” Miss Schwartz said. “It will be a real test of the legislators.”

Among the biggest questions relating to money and the environment are the prospects for a so-called “Green Fund,” a tax aimed at development that would increase spending on Chesapeake Bay restoration. The fund was approved by the House but stalled in the Senate because of concerns it would cost too much as the state is looking at other new taxes to cut a projected $1.5 billion deficit.

“Because of the fiscal situation, the environment is on a back burner,” said Sen. Robert J. Garagiola, Montgomery County Democrat. He favors a special session of the legislature to consider taxes so lawmakers can resume routine business next year.

“We need to get that 800-pound gorilla out of the room” before the fund gets a second look, he said.

One of the few Republicans given high marks by the environmental group was Delegate Steven R. Schuh of Anne Arundel County.

He said the Green Fund debate was flawed from the beginning because Maryland lawmakers routinely act as if new spending needs a designated source of funds, which leads to delays.

Environmental improvements “should not be on hold year in, year out until some new funding source is invented,” Mr. Schuh said.

“Maryland citizens hold environmental conservation among their highest issues,” he said.

Environmental improvements were made, despite the failure to pass the fund legislation, the voters group said. The report cited a requirement that Maryland use more solar energy and a ban on power dredging in the Atlantic Coastal Bays.

The group also said freshmen lawmakers were especially receptive to environmental legislation.

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