The flush tax, officially known as the Bay Restoration Fund, was Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s top environmental initiative this year, but Howard County's two rural Republican delegates voted against it.
"I wholeheartedly support the governor, but, at the end of the day, I have to do right for my constituents who have septic systems," said Del. Warren E. Miller, a western county Republican who voted with his 9th district Republican Party colleague, Del. Gail H. Bates.
State Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, a Columbia Democrat, bucked his party to support Lynn Y. Buhl, a former Chrysler Corp. attorney chosen by Ehrlich to lead Maryland's Department of the Environment. Buhl's appointment was ultimately defeated by Democrats.
"I thought she was very competent to do the job. I thought we [Democrats] went after her unfairly," Kasemeyer said.
Party loyalty doesn't dictate every environmental vote, but a two-year voting scorecard of Maryland legislators by the nonpartisan Maryland League of Conservation Voters shows Howard County's western Republicans scored lowest, while Democrats representing more developed areas scored highest on the group's assessment of environmental issues.
Geographic differences also divided the legislators. Rural Republicans opposed a transit funding bill that kept the minimum amount of mass transit revenue recovered from fare boxes at 40 percent instead of raising it - forestalling fare increases. Roads in rural areas don't get enough public funding, Republicans complain, while their constituents are forced to subsidize mass transit they don't often use.
Susan Brown, executive director of the conservation league, said that view is "ludicrous." According to Brown, "for many, many years, roads got all the money," while their true costs to the environment weren't counted.
On the flush tax, which adds a $2.50 per month charge to pay for sewage treatment plant improvements, Brown said "the idea here is that everybody is contributing to the problem. Every household should be contributing to the solution."
Republican state Sen. Sandra B. Schrader, who with fellow GOP Sen. Robert H. Kittleman voted for the tax, agreed. "I don't care where you live in Maryland, but the [Chesapeake] Bay affects all of us. Whether you're on water and sewer or septic, we all benefit from a clean bay," she said.
'You see a pattern'
The Democrats trumpet their scores as proof they are on the right side of a sensitive issue, while Republicans claim they too champion the environment, but get a bad rap from a narrowly focused group.
"Clearly, you see a pattern as you look across the board. Democrats are far more protective of the environment than are Republicans. Within District 13, all the Democrats are 100 percent," said Del. Neil F. Quinter, a Democrat who is chairman of the county House delegation. His district senator, Schrader, got a score of 61 percent from the group, he said.
"I tend to believe that when it comes to the environment, I'm reasonably balanced," said Bates, noting that she co-sponsored the House version of Ehrlich's flush tax, but objected to billing septic system owners monthly.
Kittleman said that as a farmer, "I do everything I can to help the environment, but a lot of those [environmental] things are just off the wall."
In the survey, eastern county delegates Steven J. DeBoy Sr., Elizabeth Bobo, Shane E. Pendergrass, Frank S. Turner and Quinter all received 100 percent ratings from the group.
At the other end of the scale, Miller got the county's lowest environmental rating - zero.
"I just don't take the same view on the needs of the environment as this radical group," Miller said.
Between the extremes, Del. James E. Malone Jr. got 93 percent, followed by Kasemeyer with 73 percent and Schrader with 61 percent.
Bates scored 11 percent, while Kittleman got a 7 percent rating.
Kittleman supported Ehrlich's flush tax bill because he said it could help the bay by improving sewage treatment plants, but he did not support the conservation league's goals on any of the other bills the group rated.
"You have to take the bitter with the batter," Kittleman said about his take on the flush tax bill's septic issue, explaining that the eventual compromise on the bill gives the General Assembly another year to decide exactly how the fee will be collected from septic users.
Role of influence
Despite Schrader's score, Brown praised the senator, whom the group endorsed in the 2002 election.
"Sandy has more votes to be scored because she sits on the environmental affairs committee," Brown said. "We're glad she's on the committee because she's very good for trying to find environmental solutions. We look to her for leadership."
Bobo, a former Howard County executive, said Republicans had to be pushed to support their party's governor on the flush tax, and that it's their view of mass transit that's skewed.
"When you look at the facts, the percentage of transportation money going to roads is increasing at a much more rapid pace than the amount going to transit - any way you run those figures," Bobo said.
Brown said the report is an attempt to influence future votes.
"This is an interim report card. Hopefully they [voters] will encourage their legislators to do better," she said.
The recent Maryland League of Conservation Voters' voting report card showed these ratings for Howard County legislators. On a scale of 0 to 100, higher scores reflect agreement with the nonpartisan, nonprofit group's positions.
Robert H. Kittleman, (R).................. 7 %
Sandra B. Schrader, (R) ................. 61%
Edward J. Kasemeyer, (D).............. 73%
Warren E. Miller (R)......................... 0%
Gail H. Bates (R) ............................11%
James E. Malone Jr. (D)................. 93%
Elizabeth Bobo (D) ........................100%
Steven J. DeBoy Sr. (D) ............... 100%
Shane E. Pendergrass (D).............. 100%
Neil F. Quinter (D)........................ 100%
Frank S. Turner (D) ...................... 100%