Tuesday, March 11, 2014 10:54 AM
Published on: Thursday, January 30, 2014
By Holden Wilen
ANNAPOLIS – The stormwater management fee, or “rain tax,” continues to cause a stir in the Maryland General Assembly.
In this year’s legislative sessions several bills have been proposed to exempt certain counties from the state’s law, or to repeal the act altogether. Sen. Allan Kittleman (R-9), who represents Carroll and Howard Counties, proposed a full repeal.
Kittleman said he fully supports cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay and his bill would not stop that. Instead he said the state needs to allow jurisdictions to comply with federal environmental laws in the ways they see best fit.
“This is the first time the state told local jurisdictions they must have a tax,” Kittleman said. “It doesn’t make any sense. Some counties say they can (comply with the federal law) through their regular budgets. Why does the state care about how they raise their money? We shouldn’t care.”
The state should not force local jurisdictions to raise money in a particular way, Kittleman said, and if they can meet requirements then they should not be forced to implement a tax. Repealing the rain tax would not stop jurisdictions from having to comply with federal requirements.
According to a fiscal analysis completed by the Department of Legislative Services for the bill, the 10 jurisdictions in Maryland required to collect stormwater management fees are projected to collect almost $671 million from 2014-2018. Montgomery County is projected to collect the most—more than $147 million.
Carroll County Commissioner Robin Frazier testified in support of Kittleman’s bill because she said the fee is not needed in her county. Carroll County refused to implement a stormwater management fee, but she said the county funds its watershed protection and restoration program through its budget.
“Implementing the fee is counteractive,” Frazier said. “Even the threat of a fee has slowed down business in our county. The farming community cannot take another hit.”
Jay Sakai, director for the Water Management Administration in the Maryland Department of the Environment, opposed the bill and several others asking for exemptions. Sakai noted the jurisdictions collected more than $100 million in fiscal year 2013.
“To repeal this law would be a step back and not be in our best interest in my view,” Sakai said. “It would be detrimental to efforts to move forward with the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay.”
Sen. Paul Pinsky (D-22) of Prince George’s County said the tax was an effort by the state to minimize a problem before it gets worse. The law was not a mandate, he said, and jurisdictions were allowed to implement the program however they thought would be best appropriate. He noted each jurisdiction conducted public hearings and went through a detailed process when determining how to implement their stormwater management fee.
Wendell Thompson, testifying on behalf of People Acting Together in Howard, said the rain tax is important because it focuses attention on the main problem—cleaning the Bay.
“It is the beginning of an opportunity for conversation and education,” Thompson said. “We need to deal with the problem at its source. The stormwater management fee may not cover all that we need and education can help mitigate the problem.”