House votes to levy storm-water fees on state

A proposal to levy storm-water fees on many state-owned properties has cleared the House, setting the stage for shrinking a loophole in the year-old law that requires private landowners pay to help clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

Delegates voted unanimously for HB508, which partially removes an exemption for state lands in the law enacted last year mandating that Baltimore city and Maryland's nine largest counties levy a storm-water cleanup fee on all property owners.  The city and surrounding counties are in the process now of adopting those fees, which are required to be in place by July 1.

The House-passed bill would still exclude levying fees on state roads and other property owned by the Department of Transportation, as well as on the state's college and university campuses.  Local government are not required to charge fees on their own lands, either.

The exemption for state and local government properties was tacked on by the Senate last year as the storm-water fee bill moved toward passage in the final hours of the 90-day legislative session.  Proponents argued it made no sense to charge state or local governments, since they were already bound to reduce storm-water pollution under a bay restoration plan mandated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

But environmentalists and others have pressed to lift the exemption for state-owned lands, arguing that local governments need all the revenue they can get to address one of the most costly types of pollution to reduce since it is so diffuse.  In Maryland, storm-water runoff contributes about 18 percent of the nitrogen and nearly 22 percent of the phosphorus blamed for causing algae blooms in the bay every spring and oxygen-starved areas in the summer where fish and shellfish have a hard time surviving.

Del. Maggie McIntosh, a Baltimore city Democrat who heads the House Environmental Matters Committee, explained Thursday that the bill addresses a "growing concern that if private citizens have to pay these fees, if your constituents have to pay these fees, so should the state government."

The change could yield significant revenues for some localities. According to a fiscal note on the bill, the state, for example, could be liable to pay Montgomery County $152,000 a year for state-owned land there.

The measure now moves to the Senate, which had no companion bill.


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