No, really: Maryland has a tax on rain now

Oh, my neighbors to the near north are always finding new and interesting ways to torment their citizens with new taxes. The state just plopped an escalating tax on top of its 23.5-cent gas tax, and now there’s a tax on rainfall.

Rain has a price. A last ditch attempt to delay a new stormwater fee failed this week and now Maryland residents could get an unexpected bill this summer.

When rain falls, pollutants get flushed into the Chesapeake Bay and because of that the fees will go into effect – a move critics are slamming as a “rain tax.”

The Watershed Protection and Restoration Program was signed into law in April 2012. It established “a system of stormwater remediation fees and a local watershed protection and restoration fund,” according to the Maryland Department of Environment’s Water Management Administration.

Residents in Montgomery, Prince George’s and Charles counties already pay a similar fee but it will soon apply to residents and businesses in all of Maryland’s 10 largest jurisdictions:

Anne Arundel County
Baltimore City
Baltimore County
Carroll County
Charles County
Frederick County
Harford County
Howard County
Montgomery County
Prince George’s County

Not incidentally, those 10 jurisdictions are also where all the moolah is in Maryland. The Baltimore Sun, which totes loves this tax explains the rationale:

In 2012, the legislature approved a new program to reduce the fastest-growing source of water pollution in this state: stormwater runoff. What may fall as ordinary rain quickly picks up such contaminants as lawn and garden fertilizers, pet waste, septic tank overflow, chemicals like motor oil, litter and chemicals produced by cars and industry.

Hard, impervious surfaces make this problem much worse. Instead of naturally filtering into the ground, the pollution is sped along to vulnerable streams and rivers and eventually, at least for most of the state, the Chesapeake Bay.

These hard surfaces, such as roads and buildings, have rapidly increased over the last two decades. Between 1990 and 2007, the amount grew by an estimated 34 percent in the bay watershed even as population grew by only 18 percent. Lawmakers finally recognized that something needed to be done — particularly if the state and local governments are to meet the Chesapeake Bay “pollution diet” goals enforced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Note that Maryland’s hand is not exactly being forced by the EPA, here, as the Sun implies. A federal court ruled in January that the EPA cannot enforce “pollution diet” goals by taking a “surrogate approach” to regulating rainfall runoff.

And, in Maryland, good luck trusting the government to actually use this fund for its stated purpose. Here’s the reason Maryland has a new gas tax, as I noted in February:

Governed by Democratic presidential aspirant Martin O’Malley, the state raided more than $1 billion from the Maryland Transportation Trust Fund to pay for non-transportation projects. After appropriating those funds for the General Fund and refusing to put them back, O’Malley is of course asking for a hefty gas tax increase…for underfunded transportation priorities. Maryland is essentially a one-party state, but one Democrat, State Comptroller Peter Franchot has warned O’Malley’s gas tax hike will hurt the economy and won’t even be used to improve infrastructure.

“If we move forward in this direction with this gas tax increase, it’s going to be for general fund relief, not traffic congestion relief.”

Photo credit for front-page photo to Moyan Brenn on Flickr.

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