Saturday, March 21, 2015

Maryland Senate Votes to Rein In 'Rain Tax'

Maryland Senate unanimously approves easing ‘rain tax’ terms
The Maryland Senate voted unanimously Friday to no longer require that the state’s largest jurisdictions charge a storm water remediation fee, which Republicans dubbed the “rain tax” on the campaign trail last year.

The legislation now moves to the House of Delegates, where there has been stronger opposition to changing the fee because Democratic leaders say they do not want to do anything that could impede the reduction of pollution reaching the Chesapeake Bay.

One of the loudest critics of the fee has been Gov. Larry Hogan (R), whose vow to kill it became his campaign rallying cry. Hogan introduced his own legislation to repeal the mandate that the state’s nine most-populous counties and Baltimore City charge a fee — while acknowledging that he did not have the power to actually eliminate this jurisdiction-level tax. But the governor’s bill died in both chambers.

Just like Hogan’s bill, the version introduced by Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) version gets rid of the requirement that major jurisdictions charge a fee to at least partially fund anti-pollution efforts that are mandated by the federal government. But Miller’s measure requires these counties to document how much their anti-pollution programs will cost and where they will find that money.

For counties that decide to continue charging this fee — as many plan to do — Miller’s bill would exempt some veterans organizations from having to pay. A similar exemption already exists for volunteer fire departments.
The 'Rain Tax', technically speaking a tax on impervious surfaces was imposed under the O'Malley administration at the behest of EPA, has been uniformly unpopular except in environmental circles, even in the areas not (yet) affected, for the entirely forgivable feeling that it will likely expand. The money raised from the tax was to be designated towards stormwater remediation. However, Maryland has a long tradition of raising taxes for special purposes, and then diverting the money back into the general pool when times get tight.
But once it was time for a final vote Friday morning, Sen. Bryan W. Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel) rose on the floor to support the legislation — and then complain that the original 2012 law was passed too hastily, that it is unfair that some counties charge a fee while others do not and that the administration of former governor Martin O’Malley (D) used environmental funds to plug holes in the general budget.
Now to the House of Delegates.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) said his chamber is “certainly going to take a close look at it.”

And after the Senate adjourned, Miller had a more optimistic take on his bill’s chances in the House. “The bill is obviously supported by the governor very vigorously,” Miller said. “I would hope the House could deal with it appropriately.”
I'm agnostic on the 'Rain Tax' since it does not (yet) apply in Calvert County. But I would expect it to in time. And where it's been applied, the tax only counts impervious surfaces, and does not account for the offsetting pervious surfaces common in rural areas, who face high taxes on long driveways, and parking areas for agricultural equipment.

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