If there is a scorned stepchild in Maryland politics, it is the so-called "rain tax." Intended as a means to fund various methods of curbing stormwater pollution of the Chesapeake Bay, it has been derided in Annapolis, and even nationally, as well as ignored by county governments that are supposed to implement it.
Yet almost everyone wants to see its goal achieved — a cleaner, healthier Chesapeake Bay.
The latest effort to put an end to the furor over the stormwater remediation fee, as its supporters prefer to call it, comes from Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who is sponsoring a bill to retool the fee. Now, critics of the Miller initiative, especially county officials and commercial developers, say it is his bill that needs retooling.
The key change Miller is proposing is an end to the requirement that Baltimore City and the other nine affected counties levy fees on property owners, both commercial and private. Instead, jurisdictions would have the option of setting stormwater remediation goals and reporting to the state on how they intend to reach them, i.e., pay for them. With the carrot — counties get flexibility — comes the stick: the state can withhold funds for environmental projects if a county's progress is subpar. The idea is that each county can raise the required money by the least onerous method at its disposal.
Now, counties are complaining the Miller bill is too stringent, having the potential to put their bond ratings at risk. Developers and commercial interests say safeguards protecting them in the existing legislation would be removed in Miller's new version.
Even environmentalists are less than enthusiastic, saying the bill strays from their original intent — raise money to pay for bay clean-up. Still, Alison Prost, Maryland director for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, admitted that hostility to the original financial structure has hindered progress on the ground.
Some may see this as even more disdain being heaped on the already-unloved stepchild. Perhaps. But it could also be the compromise — no one gets everything, everybody has to give up something — that becomes a solution.
The current stormwater remediation initiative has been a thorny issue in Maryland for three years and it's not going away. The state is under federal mandate to take concrete steps to clean up the bay by controlling runoff, which is the bay's worst cause of pollution and the only one still increasing.
Our sick Chesapeake needs strong medicine. That medicine is not cheap. But we owe the generations to come our best effort to give them the same heritage enjoyed by ourselves and our ancestors here in Maryland. "What we need to do is find a way to come together and make things happen," Miller said. We agree.