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Coalition fights bill to repeal ‘rain tax’

ANNAPOLIS — A coalition of environmental, religious and commercial developers came out in opposition Tuesday to a number of bills seeking to repeal the so-called rain tax or exempt individual counties from it.

The Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee took testimony on three Republican-sponsored bills, including one by Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, R-Howard, that seeks to repeal the controversial stormwater management fee.

“The going is going to get tougher with bay cleanup,” said Kim Kobel, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. “We don’t want to turn over the apple cart because the majority of [counties] are working with it.”

And Tom Ballentine, a lobbyist for NAIOP Maryland and its 700 commercial development members, said Kittleman’s proposed repeal would “interrupt the funding sources in place to comply with the federal permits.”

“We just can’t support repeal at this time,” Ballentine said.

The General Assembly passed legislation in 2012 requiring that nine of the state’s most populous jurisdictions implement a stormwater management fee in order to pay for federally mandated remediation efforts focused on reducing nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment runoff into the bay.

Each of those counties passed legislation setting fees ranging from 1 cent in Frederick County to hundreds and even thousands of dollars on properties in other areas.

Montgomery County was exempted from the state law because it already had a local law in place mandating a stormwater management fee program.

Sens. David R. Brinkley, R-Frederick and Carroll, and Bryan Simonaire, R-Anne Arundel, each sponsored bills seeking to exempt their own counties from the state law. Both said the counties would still be required to comply with federal mandates but would be free to do so without being bound to institute fees as required by state law.

The 14 other jurisdictions in Maryland are not part of the 2012 state mandate. Brinkley, Simonaire and Kittleman all said the mandate places an unfair burden on a minority of counties.

Allan Kittleman, Nancy Jacobs

In this Feb. 24, 2011 file photo, State Sen. Allan Kittleman, R-Howard Co., speaks on the state Senate floor in Annapolis, Md. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

Kittleman said repeal was “completely fair to all jurisdictions because it completely eliminates what was enacted in 2012 and provides real local autonomy.”

“If we repeal the rain tax we don’t repeal the federal requirements,” Kittleman said. “This is a talk about funding. It has nothing to do with whether or not we should clean the bay.”

Patrick Donoho, president of the Maryland Retailers Association, urged repeal of the fee, calling it “fairly disruptive” to retailers and other businesses.

“We support this to start a conversation,” Donoho said, adding that his group was concerned about an effort to exempt fees for nonprofit organizations.

“Stormwater has no idea about the tax status of the impervious surface as it runs off it,” Donoho said.

A repeal or exemption of counties seems unlikely. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and other legislative leaders have expressed concern about uneven application of fees among the affected counties and about how religious and nonprofit organizations have been affected by the law.

“I think it’s going to take some real discussion to take what we’ve got and improve it, not take away what we’ve got” said Sen. Ronald N. Young, D-Frederick and Washington.