Ehrlich, Hollinger work to salvage `flush tax'

Leaders reach agreement on charging septic users

April 06, 2004|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and a leading Democratic senator have reached a tentative agreement that could salvage the governor's No. 1 environmental initiative, the lawmaker said last night.

Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, who had shelved Ehrlich's proposal for a surcharge on water bills to pay for sewage plant upgrades, said she was invited to a 4 p.m. meeting yesterday in the governor's office to end a weeklong deadlock over the proposal known as the "flush tax."

The Baltimore County legislator, who is chairwoman of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, said she and Ehrlich reached an agreement on applying the charge to users of septic systems.

Ehrlich spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver confirmed that the meeting had taken place. "They spoke for an hour and discussed common ground," DeLeaver said. "Both parties would agree progress is being made."

Septic tanks became a sticking point after the committee amended the legislation to extend Ehrlich's proposed $2.50-a-month charge to their owners as well as to users of public water and sewer systems.

After the committee approved the bill with those amendments, the governor's office told Hollinger it was withdrawing its support and that no more than two of the Senate's 14 Republicans would vote for it on the floor. Hollinger responded by declaring the bill dead.

Hollinger said she and the governor agreed yesterday that users of septic and sewer systems would pay equivalent charges, but possibly at a lower rate than in Ehrlich's original bill. She said the governor's staff would work with her committee's staff to craft language they can agree upon.

Hollinger said she was dropping her demand that Ehrlich round up a specific number of Republicans to support the bill.

"I'm hoping that they'll be able to get Republicans to support it," Hollinger said. "But I'm sure Senate Democrats will support a bill that's fair."

The House has passed a bill that includes a charge on septics with bipartisan support. Unlike the Senate bill, the House bill would collect the septic charge from the so-called "honey-dippers" who pump out septic tanks. The Senate wants to apply the charge directly to septic users, giving the administration a year to devise a means of collection.

The Ehrlich initiative has won praise from environmentalists, but urban Democrats have objected to the exclusion of septic systems, which are common in rural areas and outer suburbs.

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