ANNAPOLIS — Ten of Maryland’s largest jurisdictions would have the option of not charging residents a stormwater management fee under a proposal from Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.
Hogan said the bill is the fulfillment of a campaign promise to repeal a tax he called “nearly universally despised.”
“No issue resonates as strongly and no tax increase has as much opposition as this one does,” Hogan said Tuesday.
The measure would remove language from a 2012 law that Hogan and others say mandates counties to charge the fee to pay for stormwater projects to meet federal mandates for reduce sediments and other pollutants running off into the Chesapeake Bay.
Hogan said the repeal of that language would leave counties the option to meet the federal requirements as they each see fit.
“A county would still have the option to create a stormwater remediation fee,” Hogan said. “Counties have always had that right.”
Currently, the law applies to eight counties and Baltimore City. Montgomery County has imposed a similar fee for more than a decade. Each county enforces the law differently.
Frederick County imposes a 1-cent fee. Carroll County pays for remediation efforts out of its existing budget. Harford County repealed its fee two weeks ago.
Other jurisdictions, such as Baltimore County and city, impose substantially higher fees for both residential and commercial properties.
Hogan acknowledged that the repeal of the language in state law would not automatically eliminate the fees currently in place. Each jurisdiction would have to repeal its respective fees.
Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, a Republican, said that even though there is an attorney general’s opinion that gives local jurisdictions the option to not charge a fee, legal questions persist. There are concerns, he said, that an outside group could take his county to court claiming it was violating the federal mandate.
“Without the legislation it puts a rain cloud over our heads and it could rain at any time,” Glassman said.
Environmental groups expressed disappointment in Hogan’s announcement.
Brent Bolin, clean water coalition director at the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, said the governor’s bill will eliminate the flexibility local governments have in addressing stormwater pollution.
“Several have already put this funding to work and have seen positive outcomes,” Bolin said. “This law has given them the flexibility to find the solution that works best for them. Now the governor is threatening to take away that local control and undo all of the progress they have made.”
Others said it will cause local governments to seek other sources of funding.
“Without these dedicated funding sources, they are faced with the choice to either raise property taxes even further or cut services like education, public safety, and other social programs,” said Dru Schmidt Perkins, president of 1000 Friends of Maryland. “
Hogan said he believes he has the support of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.
Miller said he expects the Senate to take up a number of related bills this session and is considering sponsoring one himself, though he did not provide details.
But Miller, who has in the past said that the legislature may want to tweak the law, did not sound like he was 100 percent behind the governor.
“It’s not going to be eliminated,” Miller said. “The people are going have to pay for this remediation some way or another, whether it’s the general fund or a special fee. I think if anything passes it will be something giving the counties more discretion to find some ways to pay for the improvements they’re going to have to make.”