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Md. Initiative aims to create new state

Scott Strzelczyk has his way, Maryland’s iconic shape — stretching from the
mountains around Deep Creek Lake to the Atlantic coast and creeping alongside
the nation’s capital as it hugs the Chesapeake Bay — would cease to exist.

Carroll County resident is spearheading the Western Maryland Initiative, which
aims to create a new state from five heavily Republican counties in Maryland.
The reasoning, he said, is “decades of continuous non-representation in

first problem, he said, is gerrymandering. Because of government districting,
the normal election process does not allow for the citizens of Western Maryland
to effect change.

major problem — increased tax rates and the creation of new taxes, Strzelczyk
said, are “nonstop.”

least one prominent economist can see the point. Daraius Irani, executive
director of the Regional Economic Studies Institute at Towson University, said
the revenue from these taxes does not always benefit the entire state. Even the
sales tax accumulated in each county is not returned on a one-to-one basis.

taxes, the General Assembly’s gun control approval earlier this year, which
created stringent rules for purchases, was “the last straw.”

Strzelczyk is taking to the radio and the Internet, garnering support for a
divorce from Maryland. He has a long way to go, but if successful, could create
a state slightly more than one-tenth the current population and about a quarter
of the land size.

hypothetical 51st state

what would the state of Western Maryland look like?

would be similar to West Virginia or the counties of southwestern Pennsylvania,
Irani said. It would be rural, with the biggest industry sectors in
agriculture, mining, natural gas extraction and some light manufacturing.

would also market its leisure and hospitality offerings aggressively, said
Anirban Basu, chairman and CEO of Sage Policy Group Inc., capitalizing on
attractions in downtown Hagerstown, Deep Creek Lake and the Rocky Gap Casino
Resort at Rocky Gap State Park.

would be a “haven for retirees,” — a collection of peaceful, safe communities,
Basu said.

a part of the state that many Marylanders don’t think about very often … it’s
surprisingly diverse” as an economy, he said.

new state’s most populous cities would be Frederick (66,000), Hagerstown
(41,000) and Cumberland (21,000).

economic issues, however, supporters of this movement — its Facebook page had
about 3,500 likes as of Thursday — might not have examined all the data about
what such a split would mean, according to economists.

the counties would gain influence legislatively, they would lose funding from
Annapolis, including an average of $1,370 in state grants per capita, as well
as valuable state resources available in other parts of Maryland.

ranked fourth among the counties in 2011 for state grants, according to recent
data, accounting for 33 percent of its revenue in 2011. Allegany that year
received 43 percent of its revenue from these grants. Each western county
received, on average, about $120 per capita more in state grants than the
average county elsewhere in the state.

new state would have some strong industries, but its weaknesses would include a
higher unemployment rate, less-educated workforce, and a weaker infrastructure,
Irani said.

a bit more rural poverty that you see in those general areas,” he said.

creating a state government is no easy task. They would have to set up a
capital, create a budget and figure out how to raise revenue, most likely via

amputating itself from the rest of Maryland, those western residents would also
lose out on state-run resources to the east, the Chesapeake Bay and cultural
offerings in the city of Baltimore.

new state would retain Frostburg State University, but would have to pay
out-of-state tuition at colleges and universities in the University System of
Maryland, including University of Maryland, College Park, Towson University and
Salisbury University, among others.

think they would miss us,” said Del, Bill Frick, D-Montgomery. “They would lose
access to a whole host of infrastructure.”

unlikely divorce

successful secession by Western Maryland is highly unlikely, Basu said. Even
Strzelczyk himself said that he is still working to get enough support from all
five counties, and has no intention of forcing the change if a majority is

if the movement is popular among residents, it will require approval from the
state legislature and Congress. While it may not always represent the region
evenly, the state government holds its western counties dear, Basu said.

he understands the frustration Western Marylanders are feeling, Basu said their
energy would be better used in developing the regional economy.

like the shape of our state, we like the history, we like to say that our state
stretches from the mountains to the ocean,” he said. “This is not going to go

solution, he said, likely will not come from the legislative body, due to
population distribution across the state. It could, however, come from a
governor who advocates for the rural areas — an asset he said has been absent
for decades.

been quite some time since we’ve had a governor that viewed Western Maryland as
important,” Basu said. “Rural Maryland has a lot to contribute, but because of
the policy-making environment in Maryland, it’s not able to contribute nearly
as much as it otherwise would.”

Frick, the argument against secession is somewhat sentimental.

the five counties, the state “would lose part of its essential Maryland-ness,”
he said. “This is the Old Line State and we’re all in this together.”