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Craig signs scaled down Harford 'rain tax' bill into law

Laws and LegislationFinanceExecutive BranchMaryland General Assembly

Explicitly referring to it in the pejorative and reiterating previous statements that state officials bear all the blame, Harford County Executive David Craig signed Harford County's new "rain tax" into law this week.

In doing so, Craig signed off on legislation passed last month that is significantly different than what he himself had proposed two months earlier. The net effect is Harford went from potentially having one of the highest residential stormwater remediation fees in the state to one of the lowest, or at least for the next year.

Friday afternoon, Craig's office issued a lengthy statement "regarding the county's compliance with the state-mandated collection of a stormwater remediation fee, a measure that the General Assembly passed and the Governor signed into law last year."

"Recently I received Harford County Bill 13-12 on my desk, approved by the County Council after having been introduced at the request of my administration," the statement reads in part. "This is the county legislation for a stormwater fee, also rightly referred to as the Rain Tax, which is required based on a law that the Maryland General Assembly passed back in April of 2012. The state law requires Harford and nine other jurisdictions in the state to levy fees on developed land by this coming July 1, and to use the funds raised on stormwater management projects."

"The legislation that was passed here in Harford County pursuant to this state law places a fee of $12.50 per residential tax account for next year, and a fee of 70 cents for every 500 square feet of impervious area for commercial properties," the statement continues. "Farms and nonprofits will only pay the residential rate, and properties within a municipality are not subject to the fees. It will be possible to get up to a 100 percent credit for doing remediation on one's property."

Craig's statement also notes: "These amounts for next year represent 10 percent of the fees that were calculated as being necessary for complying with federal and state stormwater requirements."

A Republican who is expected to announce his candidacy for governor in the coming weeks, Craig originally proposed a $125 annual tax on residential and agricultural properties and $7 for every 500 square feet of impervious surface on residential and commercial properties, continually making the point the state's requirements left him with no choice. Craig also submitted a proposed fiscal 2014 budget to the council last month calling for the creation of a $10 million stormwater remediation fund, fueled in part by the revenue from the new fee.

As the county council took up the legislation, however, indignation was sharply on the rise around the county and the region over the rain tax, to the point where Maryland also got plenty of unwanted national publicity over it. The council, most of whose members are considering some kind of election bid of their own last year, among a conservative constituency that is not kind to new taxes or government spending, ended up cutting Craig's proposed fees by 90 percent, effectively delaying any major impact from the legislation until at least next year and likely longer.

One of the other changes the council made to the legislation before passing it was to create a task force to study how money should be collected in the long run and how it should be spent to meet the state mandate. The delay will at least give the council members – and Craig – some cover in expectation of the rain tax coming before the General Assembly again when the legislature convenes next winter.

Craig, who was one of the few local officials in the state to speak out against the stormwater fee when the requirement was being enacted in Annapolis last year, said he concurs with the county council's reduction of the proposed fee and creation of the task force.

"I commend and thank the County Council for working with my administration on this difficult issue, and I fully support their task force to further study this heavy-handed state mandate," the county executive's statement Friday said.

"For Harford County, it is estimated that we will have to spend a minimum of $10 million per year beyond what we already do in order to work toward meeting our federal and state guidelines for managing urban runoff into the Chesapeake Bay," the statement continues. "There is no easy or painless way to raise such a large amount of additional money, and as a result, the effects of these fees on taxpayers would be severe."

"While we all share a desire for a clean, healthy and vibrant Bay, this desire must be tempered by a consideration of what we can afford when Marylanders face high unemployment, lower incomes and tighter household budgets," Craig said.

"Clearly something is amiss here. And as long as we have leaders in Washington and Annapolis who have no concept of the financial decisions that individuals, families and businesses have to make on a daily basis, things are sadly not going to improve."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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Laws and LegislationFinanceExecutive BranchMaryland General Assembly
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