ANNAPOLIS—With a 14-7 vote, the General Assembly’s House Environment and Transportation committee turned down Governor Larry Hogan’s proposed bill to repeal the state’s “rain tax” law— the first major piece of legislation he presented in his tenure. Hogan said the committee’s decision to vote down his bill disappointed him, but given the surge of opposition […]
ANNAPOLIS—With a 14-7 vote, the General Assembly’s House Environment and Transportation committee turned down Governor Larry Hogan’s proposed bill to repeal the state’s “rain tax” law— the first major piece of legislation he presented in his tenure.
Hogan said the committee’s decision to vote down his bill disappointed him, but given the surge of opposition Maryland citizens have against the law, he will continue to fight it.
Current state law requires the 10 largest jurisdictions in Maryland to charge a stormwater management fee to homeowners and businesses based on how much impervious surface they have on their property.
“No issue resonates as strongly and no tax is as universally detested as the rain tax,” Hogan said. “Passing a law that forces only a handful of counties to raise taxes on their citizens—against their will—is wrong, unfair, and it needs to end.”
Marylanders have spoken “loudly and clearly” on the issue, Hogan said, and some counties have already taken steps to repeal the tax.
During the hearing of the bill, Prince George’s County Delegate Anne Healey (D-22) said she has concerns about how the state will enforce counties’ following the Environmental Protection Agency’s federal mandate for stormwater management while not compelling them to do so on a state level.
“How are they going to make this happen without the legislation that is in place now?” Healey said. “If the jurisdictions cannot be compelled to do something even if they are required by the federal government and the mandate will be harsh on them locally, it will also be harsh on the state as a whole.”
The EPA mandates large jurisdictions with a population of more than 100,000 people to implement a policy to control stormwater pollution to the “maximum extent practical,” according to the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE).
Punishments would occur for failing to comply with the mandate, said Patrick Hogan, deputy legislative officer of the governor’s office and the governor’s younger brother. However he could not describe how the governor’s office would enforce the federal mandate for the jurisdictions required to follow it.
“Maryland Department of the Environment will be monitoring and providing resources and support and making sure that these counties are complying with the federal mandate,” Hogan said. “They will be providing the information for these counties and staying on top of what these counties are doing to make sure they are complying with the EPA requirement.”
Delegate Kumar Barve, chairman of the Environment and Transportation committee, said he voted for the bill but could not offer his full support for it because of the lack of a description on enforcement of the EPA’s policy.
“Obviously there is a division of opinion in this committee. And I’ll leave it at that and just say that, for myself, I voted for this bill because I believed it was the only thing we could do to solve this problem,” Barve said. “But as the chairman of this committee, I’d really like to have a detailed answer of how the administration would enact an enforcement because without a detail like that, it makes it very difficult for a person like me to consider going down the road of repealing this law.”
Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker III shared concerns about the possible repeal of the rain tax when Hogan first announced his intentions in early February.
Baker said he worried the county would bear the burden of following the EPA’s regulation without help from the state and other jurisdictions.
“We certainly, as a county, don’t want to carry the complete load for the entire state when it comes to the stormwater management federal mandate,” Baker said in response to Hogan’s State of the State address.
Baker said he is thankful to the Environment and Transportation committee for keeping legislation in place to allow local government flexibility.
“The county executive thanks Chairman Barve and the Environment and Transportation Committee for keeping legislation in place that allows local government flexibility and resources to implement tools to reduce polluted stormwater runoff, which has been federally mandated by the EPA,” Baker said.
Senate President Mike Miller has also put forth a piece of legislation to reform the rain tax law. Miller’s legislation, instead of requiring jurisdictions to implement a stormwater management tax, gives them the authority to do so or create another policy.
According to a Department of Legislative Services Fiscal and Policy note, the requirement for taxing citizens would be repealed, but jurisdictions would still have the authorization to do so.
“Local stormwater remediation fee revenues may be eliminated in several jurisdictions in FY 2016; other local revenues may increase to offset the elimination of any fees,” according to the note. “Local watershed protection and restoration fund expenditures may decrease for jurisdictions that cease collecting fees, unless fully offset by other revenue sources.”
The bill currently has 44 sponsors behind it, according to the General Assembly’s website. The bill is scheduled for a hearing on Tuesday at 1 p.m.