Harford County Executive David Craig's ill-fated plan to repeal the so-called "rain tax" has been revealed for the campaign ploy that it was, but the problems with the law requiring the levy still need to be addressed.
Enacted by the Maryland General Assembly and signed into law by the governor, the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Act is the law of the state, and it requires each county to levy a stormwater management fee with the money being used to mitigate the effects of what is known in government jargon as non-point-source pollution.
Though the name has a rather odd ring to it, the issue is an important one that needs to be addressed. Stormwater runoff carries with it everything from road dust and leaked motor oil, to pet waste, to excess fertilizer to anything else that ends up dropped on the ground and washed into gutters.
Such pollution – especially the fertilizer and other sources of plant nutrients – has long plagued the Chesapeake Bay, triggering unnatural algae blooms that are deadly to fish, shellfish and more complex plant life.
Harford County, under Craig's leadership, levied the fee, but did it in such a way that only 10 percent would come due until a detailed study of what the tax would be appropriate to deal with problem stormwater.
That's hardly the kind of bold move a Republican candidate for governor needs to excite the party faithful. Craig announced this fall he would seek a repeal of the county's stormwater management fee, or "rain tax." Then, last week, it became clear such a repeal wasn't going to get very far. The Harford County Council took no action when the legislation came up for introduction. Presumably, the council wasn't in a humor to pick a potentially expensive legal fight with the state.
Keep in mind, even as Craig is running for governor, the man he's looking to replace has presidential aspirations and isn't likely to ignore a challenge to a law he regards as a cornerstone of his environmental legacy. Not surprisingly, the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Act is just the kind of thing that is likely to excite Martin O'Malley's Democratic Party faithful.
Unfortunately, both O'Malley and Craig have failed to come up with a way to do what needs to be done. One of Craig's early criticisms of the stormwater fee requirement is that there are no state rules or even guidelines for saying what kinds of projects the money can be spent on to deal with stormwater-related pollution. This remains the case. Craig's repeal ploy tends to dull his more legitimate complaints about the fee.
Meanwhile, O'Malley, whose focus shifted to national issues shortly after he was re-elected, has shown no interest in clarifying the law so money collected can actually be used to clean up the bay.
Thus, there will end up being county money available across Maryland for dealing with a very real problem, even as local pols are able to make political hay railing against the fee that generates that money.
So long as this dynamic remains in place, there will be money for helping clean the bay available. Whether the waterway is made any cleaner as a result remains to be seen.