The Maryland General Assembly is in session again, and just about everyone believes that the storm water remediation fee -- the infamous "rain tax" -- will be back on the agenda. And lawmakers are feeling the pressure from all sides of the issue.
The fee is part of the federal effort to clean up Chesapeake Bay. The Clean Air Act called for the 10 largest jurisdictions in Maryland to design, fund and implement projects that would reduce storm water runoff. The runoff carries pollutants like fertilizer and waste into the waterways that feed the bay. In 2013, the fees debuted.
If the counties had the power to address the federal requirements, state lawmakers apparently reasoned, the storm water programs would be tailored to each county's unique makeup. So, Carroll County decided not to levy a fee; the county is using existing funds instead. Howard and Baltimore counties, however, have established fee schedules that differentiate between homeowners and businesses -- and run from $40 to thousands of dollars.
Some property owners complain that the fee structures are inequitable, if not outright burdensome. Some have no problem with the fees if they are countered by tax credits for remediation efforts -- why continue to charge a property owner who has successfully eliminated runoff? Others believe the fees are unnecessary. On the other side, environmentalists are hoping that some of the successful storm water runoff initiatives will get more attention.
For example, advocates say, programs involving Howard County places of worship have been successful. A grant program in Prince George's County show promise as well. Advocates warn that the worst possible outcome of the legislative session would be for the state to move backwards, to undo the progress made so far -- to return to the "old ways" that endangered the bay in the first place.
The session lasts just 90 days, and commentators point out that it is an election year. The debate should be lively.
Source: ABC 2 News/WMAR, "Environmental groups pushing to keep stormwater fees in place," Jan. 8, 2014