State legislators need to fix the 'rain tax' mess [Editorial]

Those thinking "done deal" after the state adopted a stormwater runoff fee may have another thing coming. Even though counties, including Baltimore and Howard, have adopted measures to comply with the fee, resistance is building to what some are now scornfully calling a "rain tax."

Not only was the fee structure bill in Anne Arundel County recently vetoed by the county executive, but now there are predictions the state legislature will reconsider how to apply the state mandate.

"As you see this thing played out, the legislature will do something," said state Sen. Ed Kasemeyer, whose district overlaps Baltimore and Howard counties, speaking to the Howard County Chamber of Commerce.

As chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, Kasemeyer likely knows whereof he speaks.

To recap on this issue, the 2012 General Assembly, complying with orders from the feds, adopted a bill mandating that nine counties and Baltimore City begin collecting a new fee from homeowners and businesses tied to the amount of stormwater runoff — that is, rain running off impervious surfaces — they caused. The revenue from the fees would be used on projects to restore the health of the Chesapeake Bay, which is polluted by runoff.

It was left up to the counties what to do next, and that's where the problems began. Each county set up its own fee structure, some markedly different from others in who pays and how much.

Many businesses and churches felt vulnerable because the fee would largely be determined by the size of their parking lots. Small businesses were upset that large firms could get tax abatement because they had stormwater controls already in place. Some were angered that no public hearings were held.

Also, it seemed unfair that government-owned impervious surfaces were not subject to the fee.

Instead of dying out, voices of the "rain tax" opposition have gotten louder and are catching the ears of policymakers, the latest being Anne Arundel County Executive Laura Neuman, who nixed what her County Council came up with. The reason given was that questions were unanswered and constituents were not ready.

We agree. This legislation needs another look at the state level, as Kasemeyer and others have said. It's uncertain how or when this would happen since the new fees kick in this July when tax bills are delivered and the legislature does not reconvene until January.

So, it's a mess. Whatever solution exists, our legislators have to find it. They created this problem, now it's their job to straighten it out.

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