Maryland Coastal Bays

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“Rain Tax” Repeal Sparks Debate - March 1, 2015

This past week Maryland State Senate President, Thomas Miller, followed Governor Larry Hogans lead and proposed a new bill to end the storm-water management taxes and fees created during Ex-Governor Martin O'Malleys past term. The newly proposed bill would effectively repeal the storm-water management taxes and fees that can be implemented in several counties throughout Maryland, wrongly called the “rain tax” by many. This misnomer is meant to inflame and mislead homeowners and citizens about the taxes, which are collected to help pay for storm-water management infrastructure and education along with stream and wetland restoration projects. Simply put, the taxes help pay to have the rain and storm-water moved quickly out of developed areas to prevent flooding and damage, along with helping to reduce pollution reaching our waterways through stormwater and runoff. Regardless of what the tax is called it has created turmoil since its creation and subsequent implementation and, with changes on the horizon, it could spark up even more controversy. 

A hot-button issue for many Maryland citizens, Governor Hogan used the “rain tax” and its public unpopularity as a part of his gubernatorial campaign for 2014. Since being elected, Hogan has thus far made good on his campaign promises and has already made moves to repeal the “rain tax” for counties that do not wish to utilize it. 

The 2012 Storm-water Management Watershed Protection and Restoration Program, the program that the “rain tax” goes towards, only states that 10 of Marylands largest counties must implement a local Watershed Protection and Restoration Fund (WPRF), the fund that the “rain tax” goes into. These 10 counties include; Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Charles, Frederick, Harford, Howard, Montgomery, and Prince George’s Counties along with Baltimore City. The WPRF does not dictate how much the taxes should be or what each county needs to collect. Fredrick county only charges a penny for the fees, Harford county recently repealed their storm-water management taxes, while Carroll county won a court case to not implement a tax but instead use other funding.

Maryland Senate President Thomas Miller's new bill would require the local governments to submit a report on how they plan to pay for storm-water management projects instead of forcing a fee or taxes. Ultimately, Miller wants more flexibility for the local governments in how they pay for storm-water management and projects. During the introduction of his bill, Miller stated that he did not believe it was necessary for the state to dictate how local governments meet their bay cleanup obligations, but he said they should be required to show how they intend to pay for the required storm-water control projects. 

While they come from different political parties, Miller being a Democract and Hogan a Republican, they think similarly about the “rain tax” and its utilization. Miller's statement echoes what Goveror Hogan stated a few weeks ago; Hogan stated his legislation would allow counties to scrap the fees if they want and that local officials should be free to decide how to pay for required programs to prevent polluted stormwater from reaching the Chesapeake Bay. 

Many Maryland residents agree with Miller and Hogan, regardless of their political ideology. In a Washington Post and University of Maryland poll released a few weeks ago, they found that 65 percent of Maryland residents support reducing the fee. Dislike of the rain tax runs across party lines: 78  percent of Republicans want it gone, along with 68  percent of independents and 58 percent of Democrats. These numbers seem to support Hogan's assertions that the “rain tax” is extremely unpopular and that those critics of the new changes to the bill should be careful, as opposing him and his supporters on this might be a politically perilous thing to do. "This is a real big loser for them," Hogan stated, apparently referencing House of Delegates Speaker Michael E. Busch and other Democrats in his chamber who might be opposed to the changes. 

Despite what poll numbers and supporters say, there are still many who dislike the proposed changes to the bill and question whether or not these changes will maintain funding for storm-water management programs and projects. House Speaker Busch responded to Governor Hogan and his supporters, stating "Doing the right thing is never being a loser." Busch also pointed out that Annapolis has had such a fee for about a dozen years and added, "Why should the citizens of Annapolis be the only ones to protect the bay?"

Other opponents of the new changes to the bill voiced their opinions as well. Brent Bolin, a spokesman for the Maryland League of Conservation Voters stated that "This law is important because it is about ... having dedicated revenue to address a growing source of pollution," and that the point of the fees was to make sure cleanup projects would not have to compete with police, schools and other needs for scarce funding. 

Tom Zopler, a spokesman for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, pointed out the fact that Maryland counties have not regularly provided adequate funding to reduce polluted runoff. "Look at the history," said Zolper, "To promise is one thing. The history is otherwise.”

Two years after its creation and implementation, the “rain tax” is still a major issue for many Maryland residents and the fight to reduce or eliminate the fees and taxes associated with it might linger for many years to come. 

 

Harrison Jackson is the Coastal Stewards Coordinator for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program.



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