Members of the local delegation are slated to take the mound in Annapolis this afternoon to make the pitch for a Mountain Maryland license plate. Hearings are scheduled at 1 p.m. for both Senate Bill 124 and its companion legislation, House Bill 153.

This will be at least the third year that local lawmakers have pushed for the commemorative license plate, similar to existing tags celebrating the Chesapeake Bay and Maryland farming. It is to their credit that they keep plugging away, because this is a fight worth waging. Western Maryland deserves its own tag, and we're confident legislators will eventually agree.

Traditionally, the holdup has been in the House Environmental Matters Committee, whose members jealously guard the uniqueness of the Bay tag - and the revenue stream it provides to the Chesapeake Bay Trust, which spearheads environmental preservation programs. We applaud that commitment to the Bay and the Trust, but committee members' concerns are misplaced.

Unlike previous bills, which dedicated revenue from a mountain tag to the state, the current legislation dedicates the tag fee to the Bay Trust, as well as a similar organization that promotes agricultural interests in the state. Thus, there would be no revenue loss. In fact, when thousands of Marylanders who would not have otherwise purchased a commemorative tag buy a mountain tag, revenue would actually increase to the Trust. And by dedicating Mountain revenue to the Bay, the plate would promote the educational mission of the Bay Trust, reminding Western Marylanders that we all have a role to play in protecting this vital estuary.

As for the concern that a Mountain Maryland tag would prompt a rush of similar plates, there are no other regions waiting in the wings for their own tag. The Bay takes care of the Eastern Shore and Southern Maryland, Central Maryland is a mush of suburbia, and Northern Maryland doesn't exist.

Like the Chesapeake itself, the Bay plate is a thing of beauty. But Western Maryland is a thing of beauty as well, a panhandle place unto itself, yet proudly part of the Old Line State. As surely as sun rises over the Bay and sets among the hills, Mountain Maryland deserves its own license plate.

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