Fee on septic tank users endangers Ehrlich's `flush tax'

General Assembly

April 01, 2004|By Kimberly A.C. Wilson | Kimberly A.C. Wilson,SUN STAFF

The centerpiece of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s environmental program appears to be in danger of collapse over the inclusion of a $2.50 fee that would be levied on about 420,000 septic tank users.

Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, chairwoman of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, said that after promoting the "flush tax" legislation for months, the administration has retracted its support, leaving her with a bill Republicans won't support.

Early in the session, Hollinger, a Democrat, warned that if Republicans failed to vote for the septic fees, she would table the bill or, in the parlance of the State House, "drop it in the drawer."

That's where it will stay, she said, "unless I hear a change of heart from the governor's office and their caucus."

Ehrlich's initiative would apply a flat, $2.50-a-month surcharge on all residential water and sewer bills to create a Chesapeake Bay Watershed Restoration Fund that would finance up to $1 billion in improvements to 66 sewage treatment plants.

A House version stayed true to the governor's vision, but the Senate version was amended to impose the same surcharge on homeowners with septic systems.

But some environmental advocates said the bill was too important to die.

"It would be a very sad day if we're going to lose the progressive steps forward to improving bay health that this bill could do, over the dispute and debate over a $2.50 charge on septic users," said Kim Coble, Maryland executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Henry P. Fawell, an administration spokesman, said the governor hasn't given up on the bill's passage.

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Read the text of proposed legislation, including the Senate slots bill, SB 197; the budget bill, SB 125; the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, SB 349; and the flush tax, SB 320.

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