Md. officials urged to back new tax for bay cleanup

October 04, 2007|By James Drew | James Drew,Sun reporter

A coalition of several environmental groups and the home builders association are urging Gov. Martin O'Malley and the General Assembly to support a new tax that would raise an estimated $85 million a year to clean up the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.

"Maryland has been slipping behind in the race to save the bay," said William C. Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. "Little has been done since the `Flush Fee' was passed in 2004," he added, referring to the law that raises about $65 million a year to upgrade sewage treatment plants.

The latest "green fund" proposal would assess on commercial, industrial and institutional properties an annual fee of 1 cent per square foot of hardened surfaces --- areas impervious to rainwater such as roofs, roadways, and parking lots, said Kim Coble, the foundation's Maryland executive director.

For residential property owners, the fee would be 1 cent per square foot of enclosed space after the first 1,000 square feet. The owner of a 2,000-square-foot home would pay $10 per year, Coble said. A typical large retail outlet would pay $3,250 per year, with fast-food businesses paying $320 and a small office building $50 annually, she said.

Counties would be in charge of collecting the money, such as through property taxes or water bills, Coble said.

Revenue would be used to help local governments pay for storm water management projects, expand forests and nonagricultural wetlands, and help farmers reduce runoff, she added.

Environmentalists said that despite a projected $1.7 billion shortfall in the state budget starting July 1, 2008, the time is right to set aside more funds for bay restoration.

"Maryland taxpayers are going to be asked to make sacrifices to solve this problem. But ... we better make sure we get something for our investment," said Cindy Schwartz, executive director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters.

Heather Hamilton, a lobbyist for the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, said the group has not taken a position on the proposal.

This year, the House of Delegates approved a bill that would have raised an estimated $130 million per year through a fee on new development, but the measure died in the Senate.

The Maryland Home Builders Association opposed that legislation. But at a news conference yesterday in Annapolis along College Creek, a tributary of the Severn River, John Kortecamp, the group's executive director, said the new proposal is "fair, inclusive, progressive, and it is not unduly burdensome."

Rick Abbruzzese, an O'Malley spokesman, said the governor has not taken a position on the proposal released yesterday.

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