The Maryland General Assembly is a petty, petty place. And at first blush, the short-term goals of the Board of County Commissioners may seem admirable. By passing a 1-cent tax rate, three of the five commissioners have thumbed their nose at the federal- and state-mandated stormwater remediation fees that must be in place by July 1 — the so-called “rain tax.”
And it sure feels good telling the state, which hasn’t found a tax yet it doesn’t love, to take a long walk off a short pier, as Commissioners President Blaine Young indicated he’d like to do in a recent story, where he referenced his controversial cussing out of a teenage referee at a youth basketball match.
“I apologized for my tantrum I threw with the referee,” Young said, “but I can tell you right now, my words to that referee would be the same words I’d give to the governor.”
Setting the rate at 1 cent, the minimum possible to comply, may avoid penalties for noncompliance for now, but if Frederick County is the only rebel among the 10 jurisdictions required by the state to impose these fees, we wonder if there’s not a price for going it alone.
Baltimore city and Harford, Montgomery, Anne Arundel, Howard and Baltimore counties have rate structures in place spanning a wide spectrum of cost, from $144 in Baltimore city to $39 in Baltimore County for residential. Nearly all have a component that charges per square foot of impervious surface. Charles, Prince George’s and Carroll counties have yet to enact their legislation.
The whole tax is driven by a $14.8 billion mandate from the Environmental Protection Agency on states abutting the Chesapeake Bay.
We don’t like it, as we’ve editorialized before. While we appreciate that one of the goals is to delay having to impose this tax until state lawmakers return to session in January 2014, when they’ve signaled they may tweak the legislation, we further wonder if they might use that opportunity to make an example of us.
As we said above, the General Assembly can be petty with counties (especially the red-tinged ones) that buck the system and even with ones who don’t (remember when lawmakers pushed the cost of teacher pensions onto the local jurisdictions?). We’d urge the county to at least consider a Plan B here. Eventually, the cost of upgrading stormwater treatment will fall on the taxpayers, whether these fees are in place or are not.
In any case, this is not the end of the debate. Lawmakers failed at the end of this year’s session to modify the tax and said it’ll be back in 2014. But don’t expect it to be friendlier to taxpayers on the whole — delegates and senators don’t seem as worried about individual constituents as they do about large businesses and nonprofits (e.g., churches).
While the state has largely left it up to each jurisdiction to craft the fee structure as they see fit, there’s nothing to prevent state lawmakers from imposing this tax on the county, especially if egged on by the environmental lobby, which has the state’s Democratic majority by the, ahem, ear.
The commissioners have set us up for a David vs. Goliath showdown, only it’s less likely we’ll get off that one, lucky shot. Trusting the Maryland General Assembly for a solution is a bad gamble.