Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Sen. Jim Brochin, D-Baltimore County (The Daily Record/Bryan P. Sears)

Md. ‘rain tax’ repeal bills face scrutiny

ANNAPOLIS —Three bills, including a proposal by Gov. Larry Hogan, seeking to repeal a controversial stormwater fee faced tough questions by members of a Senate committee, many of whom voted to pass the three-year-old law.

The hearing before the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee highlighted the deep divide between opponents of the fee, sometimes called the rain tax, who believe the results of the recent election was a mandate for repeal, and legislators and environmentalists who say the money is needed to help meet a federal requirement to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

Sen. Jim Brochin, D-Baltimore County and sponsor of one repeal bill, called on the legislature to repeal the law because the nine largest counties and Baltimore City have each enacted the fees differently, saying that businesses in many cases are paying more in fees than property taxes.

“Everybody’s in a different place with this,” Brochin said.

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 Harford County repealed its fee two weeks ago.

On Monday, the Baltimore County Council voted to lower the fee in that jurisdiction.

Patrick Hogan, deputy legislative officer for the governor, who also is his brother, lauded the goal of meeting federal requirements to reduce the amount of sediment and nutrients that flow into the bay with stormwater.

‘We don’t think the state should be mandating (a fee),” Hogan told the commission.

Last month, the governor said his bill would give more flexibility to counties to pay for the costs of their own programs.

But legislators on the committee and some opponents of the bill were skeptical.

Sen. Joan Carter Conway, D-Baltimore City and chairwoman of the committee, and others said the governor and others wanted to remove the mandate but still allow counties to charge a fee but call it by another name.

“Regardless of what we call it, many jurisdictions are going to need revenue to pay for it,” Carter Conway said.

Sen. James C. Rosapepe questioned the need for the bill saying that jurisdictions already have the ability to set or eliminate fees as they see fit.

Rosapepe called the three bills a “bait-and-switch tax shifting” scheme that would allow the governor to say he repealed the tax even though counties could still charge the fee.

Indeed, last month Hogan acknowledged to reporters that passage of his proposal would not eliminate the fee in counties that charge it. Those counties would have to eliminate the fee at a local level.

A fourth repeal bill, sponsored by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., is scheduled for a separate hearing on March 10. That bill has 29 co-sponsors including 11 Republicans, more than enough to ensure passage.

Similar to Hogan’s legislation, Miller’s bill would repeal the fee mandate but require the 10 jurisdictions to submit plans to prove they will be able to pay for the required stormwater pollution mitigation projects.