Governor Larry Hogan followed through on his campaign promise to try to get rid of the rain tax, and it’ll probably pass, but in the end, it won’t actually do much.
The “rain tax” itself was the state getting in between a Federal Environmental Protection Agency and any place that operates a stormwater management system (you know, sewer drains). Montgomery County already had a stormwater fee on their citizens, so the State legislature pushed this onto the other 9 counties after the EPA mandate came down. The EPA Mandate applies to those in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed which other than Maryland is New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and DC. Out of those States, Maryland was the only one to enact a rain tax.
The EPA’s logic is that rainwater that runs across non-porous surfaces and directly into the sewer drains, carrying with it pollutants. If humans didn’t build these non-porous surfaces, the rain water would be filtered through the ground and the pollutants wouldn’t make it to the waterways. Pet waste, car washing, lawn chemicals, highway runoff, sediment, and litter are flowing directly into the bay without any filtering.
I remember I used to see on every storm drain a sign that said something about not pouring oil down there because it flows directly into the water. Those pollutants are not caused by the storm drains, but just like our previous logic of blaming the Conowingo Dam for the pollution created upstream, the owner of the storm system has to pay for the pollution traveling through it.
In this case, it makes a little more sense than blaming Constellation Energy, since the one that owns the storm water system is the taxpayer, and they are the ones creating a majority of this pollution (the assumption being that all fecal matter going through the storm water system is attributed to pets).
The rain tax was designed to pay for upgrades that would filter the water flowing through the storm drains before it is dumped into an actual waterway, forcing the counties to comply with the EPA mandate. Carroll County stepped up and said that they were not going to increase taxes on their citizens, but they were going to use existing property taxes to pay for the required upgrades. After some huffing and puffing, Governor Martin O’Malley allowed this to continue. This paved the way for Harford County’s repeal of the rain tax on a local level. You’re still paying for the cost of the rain tax, but rather than having an actual line item on your tax bill, it’s lumped into the rest of your property taxes.
Governor Larry Hogan’s rain tax repeal is just saying that the State isn’t going to get in the way and force the counties to comply with the EPA mandate, but will rather just leave that to the EPA to sue the counties to force action if they do not comply. Essentially, nothing will actually change in the requirements and the amount of your tax dollars that need to be spent. Democrat controlled counties such as Prince George’s, Montgomery, Baltimore City and probably Baltimore and Howard Counties will continue to have a rain tax. Anne Arundel, Carroll, Harford, and Frederick will get rid of their separate tax, or continue to not have one, and use property tax funds to pay for it.
So nothing will change other than the name of the dollars used. Maryland could go to court and fight the EPA mandate as not being authorized under the Clean Water Act, like Virginia did with minimal success, but that would have taken Attorney General Brian Frosh to want this happen, and being a Montgomery County Democrat that voted for the rain tax, he wasn’t going to go that route. And Governor Hogan is trying to have it both ways and is saying he wants the counties to continue to spend the money to protect the bay, just not call it a rain tax.
And that’s why this repeal means everything. The Republicans used the term “Rain Tax” to demonize the Democrats as being so ridiculous that they would tax God’s tears. It brought great electoral success with them winning a record number of seats in the legislature, the Governor’s seat, and the Howard County Executive’s seat. So Governor Larry Hogan cannot allow this tax to continue… under the name “Rain Tax”.