Monday, January 23, 2012

Doubling the Cost of $#!* Won't Be Enough

With the Chesapeake Bay cleanup at a critical juncture, Gov. Martin O'Malley is calling on Marylanders to double down on their contribution to the effort, proposing to raise the "flush fee" every household pays from $2.50 to $5 a month, on average.

Without the increase, administration officials warn, they face a $385 million shortfall starting this year in the funds needed to upgrade pollution controls at the state's biggest sewage treatment plants — most notably Baltimore's century-old Back River facility, the largest in Maryland.

But even if the General Assembly approves effectively doubling the fee, an advisory commission has warned that the effort still could wind up $90 million short because of state debt limitations that have curtailed how much officials can borrow against the expected revenue.
That's the first I've heard about the problem having to do with the amount the state can borrow on the anticipated revenues, although I have to think that's probably a good thing, because governments chronically overestimate the potential for revenue generation, and chronically underestimate the cost of actually accomplishing something. Speaking of which:
In 2004, when lawmakers first approved the "flush fee" to upgrade the state's biggest sewage plants, officials estimated it would take about $740 million in all. But the nitrogen-removal technology was new at the time, and overhauls have wound up costing more than projected, officials say. They now figure the total tab will be nearly $1.4 billion.
 Ah, another instance of Cheops' Law.

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