Category Archives: Business Development

Happy 90th, Helen Bentley!

By Barry Rascovar

November 27 — HELEN DELICH BENTLEY turns 90 tomorrow. Not only is her longevity remarkable, her accomplishments are truly exceptional.

First female maritime newspaper editor. First female chair of the Federal Maritime Commission. First woman to lead any federal regulatory agency. Five-term member of Congress.

Producer, writer and narrator of a ground-breaking, award-winning television program on maritime activity in Baltimore.

The nation’s preeminent advocate for the maritime industry and, especially, for the Port of Baltimore that now bears her name.

Helen Delich Bentley

Helen Delich Bentley

What a lifetime of achievements.

None of it came easy. Her Serbian parents emigrated to a small town in Nevada that no longer exists. They barely could make ends meet.

She had to battle to succeed. It became a template for the rest of his life.

One Tenacious Woman

Her never-give-up attitude, and her unyielding determination, sets her apart.

So does her feisty, pugnacious and grouchy attitude. She still swears like a sailor and rarely hands out a compliment without a few snarls thrown in.

Before “women’s lib” arrived, Helen Bentley was knocking down barriers.

She remains a legend on the docks and wharfs of Baltimore — a man’s world which she dared enter, ask pointed questions and cover extensively as a journalist.

She didn’t just liberate the waterfront for women, Helen Delich Bentley became the nation’s most important and most influential maritime journalist.

Then she went to Washington as a female regulator in another man’s world. She shook up the FMC. Everyone knew who was in charge for those six years.

Rep. Helen Bentley

Helen Bentley at Ship Christening

Next, Bentley had the tenacity and intestinal fortitude to take on a deeply entrenched congressional incumbent from eastern Baltimore County, Clarence D. Long, because of his unyielding opposition to port expansion.

She lost the first time. She lost the second time. Yet she refused to admit defeat.

On the third try, Helen Bentley did the impossible: She knocked off “Doc” Long, a 22-year congressional veteran and power in the House.

Never Give Up

Few politicians have the gumption to spend six years, and two losing tries, in search of an election day upset. Not Helen Bentley.

Her politics are Republican and deeply conservative. Yet her friends include left-wing Democrats.

Bentley’s ideology never stood in the way of her pragmatic goals and objectives. Results are what counts for her.

Fasionable Helen Bentley

Fashionista Bentley

It was striking at her 90th birthday party at the Baltimore Museum of Industry that praise came from leaders of maritime unions and maritime business leaders, from Democratic and Republican congressmen.

Helen Delich Bentley has been a trailblazer all her life. To use a Latin phrase, she is sui generis“of its own kind/genus” or “unique in its characteristics.” 

So as we celebrate a later-than-normal Thanksgiving Day, let’s also toast the Grande Dame of the U.S. maritime industry — journalist, regulator, congresswoman, advocate and defender par excellence of the Port of Baltimore.

Helen Delich Bentley is indeed one of a kind.

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O’Malley’s Folly, Part II

More on the ex-Mayor’s Hotel Fiasco

HOW DEEP IS the hole former Mayor Martin O’Malley dug for Baltimore City by insisting that the city put up its own money to build the now-struggling Hilton Baltimore convention hotel?

Here’s what an acquaintance with years of commercial real estate expertise messaged (in an edited form):

“Without getting too technical, there is an old rule of thumb in hotel finance circles, especially when the facility is of scale (i.e., not just an extended-stay hotel but has meeting spaces, etc.).

Hilton Baltimore

Hilton Baltimore

” ‘Break-even’ operations (enough cash available to pay debt service) equals about 1 percent of room costs with an average daily rate (ADR) of 70 percent occupancy.

“So by that math:  $300 million in bonds, 757 rooms requires $396,000 per room. (Yes, the City is in for almost $400,000 per room just in financing alone.)

“One percent of room cost is $396 per night.

“2012 figures show the Hilton Baltimore booked 161,469 room nights, or 58 percent occupancy.

“There is a long way to go on this one.

“Can we have a sidebar on the hotel’s architecture?”

Nowhere Near ‘Break-even’

Here are more comparisons: Projections called from the Hilton Baltimore to post average daily room rates of $214.70 last year. In reality, it reached an average daily rate of only $170.79.

That’s not even close to the $396 per room rate or the 70 percent occupancy rate needed to break even and keep pace with the hotel’s enormous, overhanging debt burden.

Want to know why cities don’t own convention hotels themselves? It’s self-evident.

Why O’Malley as mayor insisted on such a high-risk venture that saddles Baltimore with a money-losing hotel for years to come is still an open question.

It’s one he may have to answer, though, if his national campaign for higher office develops any momentum.

Architectural White Elephant

As for the request for a sidebar on the Hilton Baltimore’s plain-vanilla, view-blocking (from Camden Yards) architecture, I leave that to others with more credentials.

Suffice it to say the building is antiseptic and lacking in redeeming architectural value.

It adds nothing to the city skyline, even as its finances sink the city deeper and deeper into debt.

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O’Malley’s Folly

By Barry Rascovar

BALTIMORE CITY has a white elephant on its hands, a $301 million, deep-in-debt convention hotel it owns because of the folly of its former mayor, Martin O’Malley.

Back when the city was desperately trying to boost its sagging convention business, then-Mayor O’Malley and his economic development team insisted the answer was a convention hotel directly linked to the meeting facility.

He was right, but his method for getting the Hilton Baltimore built has put his City Hall successors in a frightful financial bind that will only worsen with time.

The Lure of the Buck

O’Malley and his inner circle got sucked into the misguided belief that Baltimore could reap a badly needed bonanza by owning the convention hotel itself.

Martin O'Malley

Martin O’Malley

They fell for the preposterous estimate by one developer group that the city could earn a profit of $300 million over 30 years by owning the hotel, and that Baltimore then could sell the facility for $400 million more.

It was buncombe, as H.L. Mencken might say.

Anyone with a whiff of skepticism could smell the hype and spot the puffery of such an outlandish prediction.

Yet it left the then-mayor salivating for a big payoff for his struggling city.

It was a high-risk gamble that required extensive deal-making with doubting City Council members to gain approval on a 9-6 vote.

And then things fell apart.

What Went Wrong?

The Great Recession wiped out all those rosy forecasts for the convention hotel.

This was predictable.

A convention expert from Texas pointed out that cities too often fall into the trap of believing a headquarters hotel will simultaneously increase convention center business and generate enough revenue to pay off bonds.

It rarely works that way.

Pie-in-the-sky economic projections for convention hotels fail to take one pivotal factor into account, he said – the virtual certainty of a sharp economic downturn once or twice a decade that devastates hotel business.

Red Ink Every Year

Hilton Baltimore lost $17 million in its first, partial year during the Great Recession. It lost in the vicinity of $11 million in each of the last two years as the economy continued to struggle.

Hilton Baltimore

Hilton Baltimore

All told, the hotel’s losses top $50 million.

The city will owe $18.5 million on the Hilton Baltimore’s debt next year and $28 million by 2039. The hotel’s revenue last year, not counting expenses, was only $17.4 million.

And if Baltimore decided to get out of the hotel-ownership business, a consultant says it would lose as much a $90 million in a sale.

Thank you, Martin O’Malley.

Was There Another Choice?

Early in the convention hotel discussion, O’Malley said, “We want to do this with as little exposure as possible for the citizens of Baltimore.”

Indeed, there were other options besides city ownership.

One of the three bidders, the prestigious Portman architectural group from Atlanta, offered three different alternatives, including private financing.

But the lure of a giant windfall for Baltimore city proved too powerful.

O’Malley should have listened to one of the wisest voices on the City Council, the veteran urban advocate, Mary Pat Clarke, whose husband is a developer.

Mary Pat Clarke

Mary Pat Clarke

“Should we really be in the hotel business?” Clarke wanted to know.

“Let [private investors] take the risk.”

Another insightful councilman (now a state delegate), Keiffer Mitchell Jr., noted:

“The city should not be in the business of owning a hotel. We have a hard enough time trying to manage our housing stock and our school system. This is one more headache we don’t need.”

Baltimore’s Dilemma

In a premonition of what was to come, Clarke worried that once the hotel starts losing money, “we would really be cutting into revenues the city expects to use for other uses.”

So now Baltimore is stuck with an antiseptic, view-blocking albatross of a convention hotel that diverts millions in city tax revenue away from schools, housing and neighborhood services.

But the person primarily responsible for this debacle is nowhere in sight.

He lives in Annapolis, across from the State House, and spends his days campaigning for national office.

Baltimore’s on-going convention hotel mess is no longer on his agenda.


The Incredible Shrinking Presidential Debate

O’Malley vs. Perry (Sort Of)

By Barry Rascovar

Sept. 19, 2013 — IF CNN’s DREADFUL news show “Crossfire” is this generation’s version of a presidential debate, we’re in trouble. It was hard to know the featured players on Wednesday’s program: the obnoxious hosts or the demure and all too pleasant guests, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Neither governor could compete with the interruptions and rants in the form of attack questions posed by Newt Gingrich from the conservative right and Stephanie Cutter from the far left.

You had to feel sorry for the two guvs.

They wanted to banter about which state was better for business (Texas) or for the middle class (Maryland). Instead, most of the program centered on the ego-centric, “I’m smarter than you are” political obsessions of Gingrich and Cutter.

Who Won?

From what we could glean, O’Malley and Perry are well-versed in statistics supporting their state’s economic strengths and the other state’s weaknesses. But it was impossible to gauge from the blizzard of back-and-forth data which governor had the better argument.

If you’re looking for low taxes and limited government, move your operation to Texas. If you’re interested in highly educated workers and a high level of government services, move your offices to Maryland.

Yet the program failed to tell us much about the presidential timber of O’Malley and Perry.

MD Gov. Martin O'Malley at play

Presidential Timber?

Is Rick Perry presidential?

Presidential Timber?









They came across as cool, competent, experienced governors – which they are — not as candidates for the nation’s highest office.

What Presidential Debate?

Only one question (Obamacare) dealt with a national issue. On that query, we got predictable answers – Perry is dead set against government-mandated health insurance, and O’Malley is adamantly supportive.

Where do they stand on raising the nation’s debt ceiling, the sequester, gun control, immigration, tax reform, Syria, Iran, Russia, NSA communications surveillance, the farm bill, food stamps, infrastructure funding, unemployment and the next Federal Reserve chairman?

On those issues, “Crossfire” misfired.

Whether either O’Malley or Perry has the skill and know-how to run the world’s dominant nation remains a mystery. That will have to wait for another, more serious debate forum. This one was all fluff and politicized posturing by the hosts.

You have to wonder if the guests would have shown up if they had known what was coming.


Perry vs. O’Malley — Early Presidential Showdown?

Two Longshots Slug It Out In Maryland


By Barry Rascovar

Sept. 16, 2013 — TEXAS GOV. RICK PERRY is poaching in Maryland. He’s camouflaged his Wednesday visit as an economic development pitch — including a $500,000 TV and radio ad blitz — to get companies to move from Maryland to low-tax, pro-business Texas.

He’s not fooling anyone.

It’s all part of Perry’s nascent presidential campaign for 2016. His move-to-Texas gambit comes with plenty of media coverage and new business contacts. He’s done it in other states that just happen to have important primaries like California, New York, Illinois, Missouri and Connecticut, where Perry needs to connect with Republican voters well before the 2016 GOP primary heats up.

It’s a brash, aggressive move that underlines Perry’s macho reputation for sweeping aside political niceties.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry

Texas Gov. Rick Perry

Maryland is an ideal state for Perry to visit, which is ironic considering the state’s overwhelming Democratic tendencies.

By hammering hard in the ads at Maryland’s “job killer” tax increases and the state’s anti-business reputation, Perry sparked a response from Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley, who shares Perry’s presidential ambitions.

“All hat and no cattle,” quipped the Maryland governor. (That’s a Western and Midwestern expression for folks who wear cowboy hats but have never worked a farm.)

You can expect lots of similar zingers from O’Malley this week and perhaps a mano a mano meeting with the Austin poacher. The Baltimore and Washington media will eat it up. That’s precisely what Perry wants.

MD Gov. Martin O'Malley

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley

The two governors are ideological poles apart on issues and philosophy. It’s O’Malley’s strident New Deal liberalism versus Perry’s strident right-of-Reagan conservatism.

A war of words is the script both politicians desire. The more media stories this visit generates, the more Perry and O’Malley grab much-needed visibility.

It’s true that Texas has a warm and cozy relationship with its business community. You don’t see Texas leaders bashing businesses. O’Malley, though, has resorted to angry denunciations of corporations to emphasize his dedication to working men and women. Any time O’Malley needs a scapegoat, he lobs a verbal grenade in the direction of Corporate America.

That’s why O’Malley will have a hard time disputing Perry’s statement that Maryland has a terrible reputation with the business community. A CNBC survey this summer placed the Free State near the bottom (No. 40) when it comes to business climate. (Texas ranked No. 2.)

Advantage O’Malley

The fact that O’Malley’s hostile comments and actions drag down Maryland’s efforts to recruit new companies and jobs is of scant concern to the governor. State corporate leaders are not fond of O’Malley’s policies, but they have to cooperate. As Maryland governor, he holds all the high cards.

O’Malley is most vulnerable on the 40 times he’s raised taxes or fees while in office. Many of those increases socked it to the business community.

In sharp contrast, Texas has a sterling reputation for keeping corporate taxes low and companies happy.

Historically, the Lone Star State has limited government intrusions. The opposite is the case in Maryland.

Down With Washington!

While O’Malley yearns for a return to the days of FDR and LBJ when liberalism dominated Washington’s power centers, Perry expresses disdain for virtually everything related to the nation’s capital.

In his 2012 campaign book, “On Fire! Our Fight to Save America from Washington,” Perry calls Social Security unconstitutional, Medicare too expensive, banking laws unnecessary, consumer protection unneeded and federal education policy illegal.

He’s an unabashed Tea Party conservative who comes close to mouthing the words from that movie classic, “Network”:  “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more!”

Maryland: The ‘Tax and Fee State’

For O’Malley, his spat with Perry indicates what he’ll face as a national campaigner. His record on taxes is unprecedented in Maryland history.

It is true that many of those tax levies were needed to help state and local governments weather the Great Recession, but this subtle distinction is lost on a public that only reads headlines, not the fine print below.

And while the Maryland governor can point to high-achieving schools, low-tuition state colleges and a “green” environmental record, his critics need only point to all those increased taxes and the frightening violence and murder rate in the state’s largest city.

Texas Fracking Boom

Perry’s situation is quite different.

He’s been governor of Texas for 13 years and that state’s economy is charging ahead, thanks in large measure to the oil and gas fracking boom.

He can brag about keeping taxes down and free enterprise free of government entanglements.  He also can draw cheers from conservative crowds by denouncing the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) as un-American. (He skips over Texas’ abysmal record in helping the poor.)

By starting his presidential campaign early, Perry hopes to gain far more name recognition across the country than in 2012. He’ll be better organized this time, too.

Yet he’s still a longshot, as is O’Malley.

In that regard they are much alike – two ambitious governors nearing the end of their terms with nothing better to do than reach for the brass ring that could lead to a presidential showdown.



Smart Growth, Dumb State (Guess Which One)

owings mills metro centreBy Barry Rascovar / June 19, 2013

THE STATE OF Maryland boasts mightily about its Transit Oriented Development (TOD) programs. Just don’t bother looking for much in the way of tangible results.

“Maryland has great TOD potential” brags the state on its transportation website. Dig a little deeper, though, and it turns into wishful thinking, not boots-on-the-ground achievements.

TODs are the ultimate in Smart Growth.

They turn transit stations into job-centered areas of dense, walkable neighborhoods in both cities and suburbs. Other towns, like Seattle and Denver, offer examples of how to do it. (For more on the potential of “transit villages” in Maryland, see my 2006 Goldseker Foundation report – “Five Years, Fifty Thousand Jobs,” page 13.)

The Baltimore-Washington region, unfortunately, offers examples of how to draw up great plans and watch them fall apart or gather dust.

That thought came to mind at a ribbon-cutting Monday for the state’s one true TOD – Owings Mills Metro Centre.

Brand New Neighborhood

What you see along Grand Central Avenue (see photo above) is a long row of apartment buildings on one side of a broad boulevard and a six-story, library-community college building on the other side flanked by a massive garage — soon to be doubled in size — and an office high-rise under construction.

All of this sits beside the Metro station that connects to downtown Baltimore and Johns Hopkins Hospital. On the east side of the tracks is a huge parking lot. This eventually will become part of the mixed-use TOD.

A brand-new neighborhood is being created where none existed before.

The rail station, library and community college are the draws. A short walk up the hill is a multiplex cinema, townhouses and an aging mall that, if reimagined properly, could extend the scope of this TOD. Just down the road is a large retail development in progress, centered around a Wegmans supermarket.

This TOD will boast a residential population of 2,500 with many more office workers populating the area during the work week. Shops and restaurants will occupy ground floor space. Over 11,000 community college students a year are expected to take day and night courses at the new Community College of Baltimore County campus, sharing facilities with the already popular library branch (the largest in the county at 54,000 square feet).

Persistence Pays Off

What made this a reality was the unwavering commitment of county officials, from Dutch Ruppersberger to Jim Smith to Kevin Kamenetz. They not only funded key infrastructure, they stuck to the vision of making the Owings Mills TOD primarily a residential community.

Instead of transplanting a state agency to a transit station – the state’s feeble stab at the New Carrollton TOD in Prince George’s County – Baltimore County insisted on a library and a community college. These are the sort of amenities people want to live near.

(Had officials taken the same approach at the stalled and deeply flawed State Center TOD in Baltimore – by turning the property into a large mid-town residential neighborhood with appealing attractions – there might have been only token opposition.)

The path to the Owings Mills ribbon cutting wasn’t easy. It proved long (well over a decade) and arduous, especially during the dark days of the Great Recession.

But the county persisted. Officials continued their dialogue with developer Howard Brown until the economics worked.

You can see the future emerging at the Owings Mills Metro. It’s what every TOD should look like.

It’s just a shame Maryland has been so slow catching on to what works, and doesn’t work, in making this valuable Smart Growth tool a success.

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O’Malley Keeps a Political Promise


By Barry Rascovar / May 30, 2013

IT WILL BE COSTLY for Maryland taxpayers but never let it be said Gov. Martin O’Malley reneges on a political promise.

This time he rewarded Prince George’s County politicians for their support during his initial run for governor in 2006. They wanted a state agency to relocate to their county and now they’ve got it — at a price to taxpayers of $60 million over the next 15 years.

As for politicians in Anne Arundel County (mainly Republicans), the Democratic governor gave them the political shaft: 380 employees of the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, two-thirds commuting from Anne Arundel or the Baltimore area, will be forced to drive to New Carrollton starting in mid-2015.

Even worse, they will vacate a state owned-and-operated building on the grounds of the former Crownsville State Hospital outside Annapolis that is in fine shape.

Instead of paying $1.5 million in current operating costs, the state will fork over to a landlord 60 percent more — nearly $4 million annually. That equates to $40 a square foot — more than what it would take to lease premium water-view offices in Baltimore.

The state also is footing the bill for $357,000 worth of parking spaces for HCD workers for the first five years. Parking is free at Crownsville.

Comptroller Peter Franchot, who revels when shams such as this pop up at the Board of Public Works, rightly compared the situation to a home owner with no mortgage suddenly moving out and renting similar space for an outrageous sum. It makes no sense — unless you’re a politician.

The excuse for this move is “Smart Growth.” Prince George’s County holds vast potential for “transit oriented development.”  Yet unlike neighboring Montgomery County, there are no large-scale TODs in Prince George’s. O’Malley wants to jump-start that process with a state-supported building at the New Carrollton Metro-Amrak-MARC hub.

Plans to do the same thing a few years ago fell apart because of the state’s poor choice of a developer. The entire procurement process was re-started.

What has evolved is a wonderful concept for the New Carrollton station in which the state plays the role of catalyst. That guaranteed $4 million a year in rental money will subsidize 40,000 square feet of retail space and 250 apartments, plus a second phase essentially doubling those components.

Whether any of this peripheral activity becomes reality is the big, unanswered question. If a mixed-use project at New Carrollton or at other Prince George’s Metro station were a can’t-miss proposition, there would be no need for the state to play Santa Claus.

Where the state dropped the ball is in Crownsville. The Department of General Services botched this entire episode first with the flimsily vetted initial procurement  and now with its lack of planning for the fate of the Crownsville property and HCD workers who don’t want to make this long commute.

Why hasn’t O’Malley targeted redevelopment of the 400-acre Crownsville campus as an economic priority over the past seven years? Probably because he didn’t want to help Republican officials who dominate the county. Still, the lack of a Crownsville master plan is a black eye for the governor.

Long before this matter reached the Board of Public Works, the state should have laid out an assistance program for HCD workers. And seven years is plenty of time to put together a comprehensive “Smart Growth” plan for Crownsville. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

In the end, O’Malley delivered on his long-standing promise to Prince George’s political leaders and left unhappy HCD workers wondering about their future. They became sacrificial lambs. As for the future of the Crownsville building and surrounding land, that’s a problem O’Malley is leaving at the doorstep of the next administration.

Bad Science And The ‘Rain Tax’

By Barry Rascovar / May 24, 2014

Chesapeake Bay   A STORM IS BREWING in the Chesapeake region over ways to go about, and pay for, the bay’s expensive pollution cleanup.

Conservative politicians, especially Republicans, are having a field day deriding the stormwater runoff fee mandated last year by the Maryland General Assembly. Local Baltimore-Washington governments must set fee schedules by July 1. Whoever first attached the derisive moniker “rain tax” to the stormwater levy deserves a gold star from Propaganda Addicts Anonymous.

The phrase stuck like crazy glue. It has come to symbolize — in a gross distortion — the overreach of an oppressive, heavily intrusive government in the Annapolis State House. “Now they’re even taxing the rain!” is the way those in the no-tax crowd describe the situation.

What a great slogan for spinning the story. No tax is a good tax in the eyes of these neo-Republicans, but a tax on rain? How ludicrous.

Never mind that the levy makes eminent sense. Polluted water running off non-absorbing services — like driveways, roofs, roads, and parking lots — contribute mightily to today’s pollution of the Chesapeake Bay, one of the world’s most valuable estuaries.

Truth be told, a tax on impervious surfaces should have been put in place decades ago. It’s so obvious that this dirty runoff, chock full of nitrogen, phosphorus and other harmful chemicals, needs to be treated before reaching the bay.

That’s going to cost a pretty penny, which is compounded by Maryland’s late start. The Environmental Protection Agency’s cleanup plan comes in at nearly $15 billion with the states footing a large share of the bill.

As much as opponents mock the “rain tax,” they haven’t proposed an alternative. Ignore the problem? Let the Chesapeake slowly turn into a massive “dead zone”?  Pollution remedies are not cheap. Some taxes are necessary and inevitable.

Unfortunately, too many local leaders are imposing large and sometimes onerous fees on businesses with industrial and commercial property containing lots of impervious surface. That could drive companies to other subdivisions with cheaper fees.

Things could get far worse in the ten Maryland counties implementing stormwater runoff fees. Indeed, these levies could mount in future years due to flawed scientific data affecting another aspect of the Chesapeake cleanup.

It turns out the EPA may have been dead wrong in blaming farmers, especially poultry farmers, for much of the bay’s pollution problems. A study conducted by two University of Delaware professors and a University of Maryland poultry specialist found the EPA’s computer models for determining Chesapeake pollutants decades out of date.

Bad science leads to bad results. In this case, the study showed actual phosphorous pollution from poultry manure in one Delaware county (Sussex) was less than half the EPA figure. Nitrogen pollution was 38 percent of the EPA number and total chicken manure produced turned out to be just one-fifth of the EPA figure.

These are huge differences. The EPA could be wildly overestimating the extent to which poultry farmers pollute bay waters. The professors, led by James Glancey, studied thousands of manure tests and recent shipment logs rather than relying on old EPA data from the 1980s.

Even though the potentially landmark study has not yet been peer reviewed or published, an EPA work group and state environmental officials may move quickly to modernize the bay’s computer models. Glancey’s results are hard to refute because they flow from current data.

This could mean reduced emphasis on new regulations to rein in pollutants from Delmarva farms and far greater emphasis on the obvious major contributor, suburban and urban water pollution sources.

If that, indeed, is the case, the derided “rain tax” may need to be increased consistently in future years.

After a heavy storm, visit Baltimore City’s Inner Harbor and look at what flows into the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River from the Jones Falls. It’s not pretty.

Cleaning up this mess, and others like it in the Chesapeake catchment area, will take a long time and a lot more dollars from the “rain tax.”