Baltimore County state Del. Pat McDonough said he's launching a grass-roots campaign to pressure state officials to repeal the new fees that homeowners, businesses and nonprofits will have to pay to help clean up pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.
With the stormwater fees taking effect Monday, McDonough said he's heard complaints from hundreds of constituents on what he called "the No. 1 hot potato" right now.
"This is a beautiful issue for activating civic citizenship," McDonough told reporters at Carson's Creekside Restaurant and Lounge in Middle River, where he announced the effort and later held a lunchtime political fundraiser.
The General Assembly passed legislation requiring 10 local governments in Maryland to impose the fee. Supporters say the fees are critical for helping fund projects that will reduce the amount of pollutants entering the bay from stormwater runoff.
McDonough called the fee "an economic burden" and said his "Stop the Rain Tax" campaign will be a bipartisan effort and will include bumper sticks, lawn signs and radio ads. He's also working with the conservative foundation Judicial Watch to explore the possibility of a lawsuit against the state, he said.
Chesapeake Bay Foundation spokesman Tom Zolper said "a lot of debating and compromise" went into the stormwater legislation.
"I hope he's not suggesting that should all be shelved," he said of McDonough.
Pollution affects residents everyday, Zolper said, citing recent beach closures in Anne Arundel County.
"This time of year is the perfect illustration of why we need it," he said. "That's directly as a result of this kind of pollution."
Carson's Creekside Restaurant and Lounge owners Gary and Debbie Houck estimate that the fee could cost them up to $2,000 per year.
"These economic times being tough, we've got to watch every penny," Gary Houck said. "This is going to be an additional cost that we didn't budget for."
The fees vary widely throughout the state. Under Baltimore County's fee structure, homeowners will pay between $21 and $39 annually, but businesses and nonprofits will pay a fee based on the amount of impervious surface they own.
"Our entire property is impervious," Gary Houck said of the waterfront restaurant on Dark Head Creek. "So that's a huge expense for us, and we're not looking forward to it."
Patricia Esposito, a Dundalk resident at the restaurant for McDonough's fundraiser, called the fee an unfair burden on residents.
"We're on fixed incomes, and we can't afford too much more," said the retired clerical worker.