Gov. Martin O'Malley's bid to boost the "flush" fee every resident pays moved to the full House Tuesday, as did a measure requiring Maryland's largest counties and Baltimore city to start raising funds for curbing polluted storm runoff from streets and parking lots.
The House Environmental Matters Committee voted to approve HB446, which would double the Bay Restoration Fund, aka the “flush tax.” The additional funds would help the state's Chesapeake Bay restoration effort by financing the completion of upgrades to the state's 67 largest sewage plants, so they discharge less bay-fouling nitrogen into creeks, rivers and the bay.
The committee rejected a late administration bid to increase the fee beyond $5 a month per household that had been proposed, on average, in the governor's original bill. The amended measure also would waive the fee for up to 10 percent of the state's neediest residents who are receiving some sort of government financial aid.
The House panel also endorsed HB987, which would require the state's nine largest counties - Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Charles, Frederick, Harford, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George’s - plus Baltimore city to collect a fee for improving local storm-water drain systems and for treating polluted runoff. Officials from msot of those communities had testified in favor of a state-mandated storm-water fee, though all but Montgomery have balked at adopting one locally.
In the Senate, meanwhile, lawmakers are preparing for what President Thomas V. Mike Miller calls a "very dicey" debate over another of the governor's green legislative priorites - SB236, which would curb rural development using septic systems. Environmentalists back the administration's contention that in order to restore the Chesapeake, limits are needed on sprawling development that relies on nitrogen-leaky septic systems. Rural lawmakers, though, oppose the measure as an infringement of local development authority.