Of the 40 new taxes, fees and tolls the O'Malley-Brown administration has enacted, the most egregious is the so-called rain tax. It is a national embarrassment and a case study in ill-conceived public policy. Officially known as the "Stormwater Management Watershed Protection and Restoration Program," it requires 10 Maryland counties to adopt and implement local ordinances to reduce runoff into the Chesapeake Bay. In government jargon, this legislation establishes an annual stormwater remediation fee and a local watershed protection and restoration fund. Stated another way, the law penalizes businesses and consumers for having a roof, driveway or a parking lot and takes their money and gives it to local government.
Illustrating the haphazard approach of this law, my county staff calculated the rain tax of a family-owned General Motors dealership in Harford County. This dealership would be required to pay anywhere from one penny in an outer suburban county to $12,051 per year in Baltimore City. In Charles County it would pay $43; in Harford $296; and in Montgomery $7,749. If you wanted to open a business with a parking lot, would you want to come to Maryland and figure out this new tax? It is easier in our small state for many businesses to simply locate in Delaware, Pennsylvania or Virginia.
When we first introduced Harford County's legislation as required under the state law, we did so in good faith in order to remain in compliance and to avoid costly penalties that were threatened. We had serious questions regarding this state-required fee from the beginning. We now have even more questions.
For starters, why are there wild inconsistencies in the application of the fee from county to county? Secondly, how do we know that the data and the science used to determine the baseline and benchmarks related to stormwater are sound? Finally, how can the expenditure of tens of millions of dollars in local taxpayer-provided funds be justified in order to achieve a relatively small reduction in locally-generated stormwater, when far more nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment are flowing into the Chesapeake Bay from a variety of sources in neighboring states?
I have not seen any of the answers to these questions come from the O'Malley-Brown administration, the Maryland Department of the Environment or the EPA. Regarding the all stick and no carrot approach to this law, I am convinced that political leaders in Annapolis cannot follow through with imposing penalties for non-compliance given the public backlash the rain tax mandate has received.
It is for these reasons that I will introduce legislation to the Harford County Council later this fall for a full repeal of the stormwater remediation fee. We must go further, however. It is time to take this message to Annapolis and give the voters a real choice as to whether or not they want to continue along the path of penalization or whether we want to look for real environmental solutions for cleaning up the bay.
When the governor of Texas spends advertising money in Maryland to attract our businesses we are clearly ready for new leadership. Gov. Rick Perry points to the rain tax as a reason for businesses to leave Maryland. When they leave, they take not only tax revenue but jobs with them. Maryland continues to lose businesses, jobs and taxpayers to other states, and there is no effort on the part of the administration to reverse policies that are causing this problem. They are in denial that a problem even exists.
Baltimore City alone estimates it will collect $24 million from the rain tax per year. This jurisdiction already has the state's highest property and individual income taxes and leads the state in taxpayer exodus, according to the latest Internal Revenue Service data. Baltimore is sealing its own fate like Detroit — a downward spiral caused by raising taxes and fees on a shrinking base. Baltimore can ill-afford to saddle residents and businesses with the highest rain tax in the state because our largest city will only circle the financial drain that much faster.
One of the consequences of a one party-state is government becomes bloated, expensive and careless. The rain tax must be repealed in every local jurisdiction and next year in the Maryland General Assembly. The alternative is fewer businesses, fewer jobs and fewer taxpayers and more PowerPoint presentations among government bureaucrats on what needs to be done to clean up the bay.
David R. Craig, a Republican, is the Harford County Executive and a candidate for governor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun