ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — The Maryland Senate voted unanimously Friday to end state-mandated stormwater management fees, a priority of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.
The vote sends the measure to the House of Delegates. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, the bill’s sponsor, said while he wasn’t sure the measure would pass the House, he was hopeful, particularly after the unanimous Senate vote.
“The bill is obviously supported by the governor vigorously, and supported by all 47 senators — 33 Democrats and 14 Republicans — so I would hope that the House could deal with it appropriately,” Miller, D-Calvert.
Asked about the bill’s prospects, House Speaker Michael Busch noted that the Senate and the governor recently worked out a good compromise on fertilizer regulations, an issue of concern for both farmers and environmentalists who are concerned about pollution.
“We’re certainly open to dealing with the Senate bill,” Busch, D-Anne Arundel.
The law, which was passed in the last hour of the 2012 legislative session, requires nine counties and the city of Baltimore to pay fees to raise money needed to clean pollution from stormwater runoff that gets into the state’s waterways and the Chesapeake Bay.
The measure repeals the mandated fees, but it still requires local officials to prove they can pay to meet federal requirements to clean up polluted stormwater. The bill was recently changed to strengthen the financial assurance plan counties would have demonstrate, if they chose not to assess fees. The bill also includes an enforcement provision that allows the state to withhold state funding for programs that pay for waterway improvement.
Critics have derided the stormwater remediation law as a “rain tax,” and Hogan campaigned on repealing it last year. The governor called Friday’s vote “a tremendous victory for the taxpayers of Maryland.”
“As I have said over and over, forcing counties to raise taxes on their citizens — against their will — is wrong and it has to end,” Hogan said in a statement after the vote.
Hogan said he looked forward to working with the speaker and House leaders over the next few weeks.
Alison Prost, the Maryland executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said the group is neutral on the measure, now that it has been improved by changes.
“They added in additional transparency and accountability,” Prost said.
The affected counties are Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Charles, Frederick, Harford, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George’s. The counties have varied widely in how they have followed the law. Carroll County, for example, already has stopped imposing the fees by looking for alternative ways of paying to meet the federal requirements.
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