Harford County Executive David R. Craig, a candidate for the Republican nomination for governor in 2014, will use an auto dealership as a backdrop Tuesday for an attack on the storm water management fee that opponents have dubbed the "rain tax."
Craig will appear at the Boyle Buick GMC Truck dealership in Abingdon to criticize the impact of the fee on businesses that have large areas of parking lot and other impervious surfaces. The fee, which finances projects to decrease the amount of nutrient runoff into the Chesapeake Bay, is based on the amount of impervious surface a property owner owns.
Sherrie Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Harford County government, said the news conference is not a campaign event. She said Craig will make an announcement about his plans for dealing with the fees in Harford County.
Johnson admitted there had been some confusion because the county executive's office and the Craig gubernatorial campaign both sent out announcements of the event.
In a release on campaign letterhead, Craig presented figures Monday showing the disparities in the fee's impact in the counties in which it has been imposed. They showed that a dealership the size of Boyle would pay anywhere from $12,051 in Baltimore to one cent in Fredrick County, where the county commission enacted a token fee as a form of token compliance. In Harford, the fee is now $296 for a dealership of Boyle's size and will rise to $2,953 when fully implemented.
In a press release, Craig predicted that having the state's highest fee would mean dire consequences for Baltimore.
"Baltimore City is sealing its own fate like Detroit – a downward spiral caused by raising taxes and fees on a shrinking base," he said. "Baltimore especially can ill-afford to saddle residents and businesses with the highest rain tax in the state; it will only circle the financial drain that much faster."
Craig predicted the fee would have a negative impact on businesses statewide.
"If you wanted to open a business with a parking lot, would you want to come to Maryland and figure out this new tax?" Craig said. "It is easier in our small state for many businesses to simply locate in Delaware, Pennsylvania or Virginia."
Maryland's 10 metropolitan counties were required to impose the fees under a 2012 state law signed by Gov. Martin O'Malley, who cannot seek a new term in 2014 because of term limits. Storm water runoff is considered to be one of the major sources of nutrient pollution in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The state is subject to an Environmental Protection Agency mandate to reduce runoff.
Craig criticized Maryland's storm water fees as the costliest in the nation, but in his release he did not say what he would do to change the current system. The Harford executive is one of three declared GOP candidates. The others are Del. Ron George of Anne Arundel County and Charles County business executive Charles Lollar.