A panel of Maryland lawmakers voted down one of Gov. Larry Hogan’s key campaign promises Friday — to eliminate the unpopular “rain tax.”
The House Environment and Transportation Committee voted along party lines, 14 to 7, to defeat Hogan’s proposal, which would have lifted a requirement that local governments charge a storm-water remediation fee to pay for removing pollutants from rainwater before it reaches the Chesapeake Bay.
The 2012 Maryland law requires that the state’s 10 most populous jurisdictions charge their residents the fee, which can range from $15 per year for a condominium owner in Howard County to thousands of dollars for a business in Baltimore County.
Eliminating what he derided as a rain tax was one of Hogan’s central campaign promises last year, when the Republican won an upset victory over then-Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D). But it has drawn strong rebukes from environmental groups, who said the fees are needed to pay for essential cleanup programs.
“When we pushed the bill in 2012 it had broad-based support, and it was politicized during the campaign,” said Del. Anne Healey (D-Prince George’s), a committee member who voted against the bill.
Del. Barbara A. Frush (D-Prince George’s) said the votes were less about political party and more about lawmakers saying “we have to continue our fight” to protect the bay. “We can’t let up just because there’s a new governor in office,” she said. “This is about protecting what we have worked so hard to clean up.”
Hogan said in a statement that he is not giving up, given public support for his proposal.
“No issue resonates as strongly and no tax is as universally detested as the rain tax,” he said. “Passing a law that forces only a handful of counties to raise taxes on their citizens — against their will — is wrong, unfair, and it needs to end.”
Another chance remains for lawmakers to reform the fee: Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) has introduced legislation that would remove the mandate that the 10 counties charge a fee, just as Hogan’s bill did. But Miller’s proposal would require those counties to submit a plan showing how they would pay for cleaning the storm water. Republicans have said this bill would accomplish many of the things they would like to see done.
A Washington Post-University of Maryland poll released last month found that 65 percent of residents support reducing the fee. Dislike of the rain tax runs across party lines: 78 percent of Republicans want it gone, as do 68 percent of independents and 58 percent of Democrats.
Montgomery County — which established its own storm-water management fee system long before the state mandated it — is an exception: Fifty-five percent of its residents said they opposed reducing the fee.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) said this year that he was doubtful his members would pass a repeal of the mandate because doing so would severely hurt the state’s environmental progress.
While on the campaign trail, Hogan’s lambasting of the rain tax was part of ongoing criticism of the taxes and fees imposed during the tenure of Gov. Martin O’Malley (D). Hogan even gave donors black umbrellas labeled: “Who’ll stop the rain (tax)?”
Proponents of the fees say there is already an enormous amount of flexibility in the law. Only 10 of the state’s 24 jurisdictions are required to have a fee, and local officials can decide how it’s set and how the money is spent.
Carroll County received permission not to charge a fee, while Frederick County charges a penny annually. Harford County leaders recently repealed their fee, and the Baltimore County Council voted earlier this week to reduce its fee.